email@example.comPutting Boulder on the celluloid map
The Boulder International Film Festival has reached its fourth year, and the event continues to grab the attention of Hollywood stars, international directors and film geeks from across the globe
by Gene Ira Katz
Colorado has a strong film festival base,” says Kathy Beeck. “If we were doing this somewhere else, it may be harder to attract people, but Boulder’s a perfect town for a film festival.” Kathy and her sister Robin are the founders of Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF), which has become something of a phenomenon in the past four years. Attracting award-winning directors and producers from around the globe, the event has quickly made a name for itself both in Colorado and on the international film festival circuit. “We’re pretty young, and it takes a few years, but I think that the buzz is starting. When you put out a call for entries and you get over 700, that’s a pretty good indication that filmmakers want to come here. Everybody wants to come to Boulder. I think word is getting out that this is a great festival, so we’re happy about that.”
The Beeck sisters are the Coen brothers of the local documentary film scene. Kathy has produced a number of independent films directed by Robin, and together they have amassed more than a dozen awards. The topics of their films include: castaway sled dogs hitched up to run the 1,100-mile Iditarod race in their 1996 film Dead Last: A Tale of Triumph; 2000’s A Farewell to Arms: The Don Becker Story, about a Denver comedian who lost both arms in a rail yard during a fit of depression; and their most celebrated, Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed, the 1998 documentary about the corpse who is kept on dry ice in Nederland, in whose honor the internationally known Frozen Dead Guy Days festival is held. That film, with the aid of Academy Award-winner Michael Moore, was followed up in 2003 with Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed. The Beecks have circled the globe on the film festival circuit, but their thoughts always returned to their hometown.
“We’ve traveled all over the country and even overseas with our films, and always wondered why Boulder didn’t have this kind of festival. It does have some wonderful film festivals, like the Shoot Out and the Asian Film Festival, and some other terrific niche festivals, but why wasn’t there this kind of mainstream film festival? So after attending so many festivals ourselves, we just decided to go ahead and start one. We took the best elements out of all the festivals we had attended and put them into one great festival here.”
Attending a film festival is one thing, but what is it like starting one from scratch? “Well, gosh, it’s not easy. It’s one of those things that when you start, you don’t know what you don’t know, and then you get into it and you get deeper and deeper. Fortunately, we attended so may festivals that we knew what a festival should be. We had to learn things like where do you get the films, do you need consent from the filmmakers to show their films — a lot of those kind of nitty-gritty details. So we’ve learned that and honed our skills very well over the past three festivals, and now, going into the fourth one, I think we’ve really nailed it. We’re definitely getting better and better.
“We’re beginning to be put on the map. We’ve gotten such a great reception from the filmmakers who have attended. They’re going out there and really talking us up to their associates in the filmmaking industry. That certainly helps.”
It also doesn’t hurt to receive a pat on the back from festival insiders. Well-known critic Chris Gore, author of the respected Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, will be leading a panel at this year’s BIFF and is expected to include Boulder’s festival in the next addition of his guide.
This year BIFF hosts some 50 films from around the globe, and they all have one thing in common. “A good story is the most important thing,” says Kathy. “I think that all of the films in the festival, not only this year but in other years as well, have that in common. They have good stories, whether it’s a documentary or a feature or animated or whatever.” She says that BIFF has a pretty strict selection process, and this year the committee had to choose from more than 700 entries. “We have a 12-person selection committee that reviews those entries, and those are film professors, film critics, filmmakers. They just go through the films and rate them, and then we end up with our final 50 at the end of the day.”
With the democratic convention coming to Denver this year, BIFF decided to spotlight some political films that they thought would show well at the festival. One film that has already received a lot of attention is Taxi to the Darkside, created by Alex Gibney, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2007 for his film about Enron. “This is a very powerful documentary,” Kathy says, “that talks a lot about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. policy on torture… or lack thereof, if you will.” This entry has been nominated for an Academy Award, and has been widely publicized in the broadcast and print media. The central story of the movie, about an Afghani taxi driver who was unjustly killed while in U.S. detention, is a heart-rending indictment of the Bush administration’s repudiation of the Geneva Convention.
Other politically oriented entries cover such issues as the death penalty, Afghani women seeking political office, overcoming economic hardship in India, and a documentary called Iron Ladies of Liberia that chronicles the struggles of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman elected as President of the African nation of Liberia.
BIFF is also featuring a number of adventure titles this year. 3 Peaks 3 Weeks is directed by local filmmaker Michael Brown. It tells the story of 10 novice, female climbers from Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. who ascend the three highest peaks in Africa to raise money and awareness for African charities. “They ended up raising $300,000,” says Beeck. “And all of those women are coming to Boulder for the world premier of the film, which none of them have seen yet.” Another climbing film, King Lines, was also created by an area filmmaker, Peter Mortimer. King Lines focuses on one of the world’s great crack climbers, Chris Sharma, who is also expected to attend the screening here at BIFF.
The Beeck sisters are especially proud of their opening night selection, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt, Then She Found Me, starring Hunt, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick and Bette Midler. The film opened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival last month, and it won the audience award. “They said it was their best night ever. It’s gotten great reviews. We spent a lot of time choosing our opening night, and I think it’s going to play really well in Boulder. We’re very excited to have it.”
Aside from the films, Kathy also emphasizes that BIFF likes to party… a lot. “You can’t forget that. [Parties are] an important part of the film festival. We’ve got a party just about every night.
“We’re always excited about opening night,” Kathy says. “That’s our big night of glamour at the festival. It’s a party, basically. It’s red carpet, paparazzi, black tie optional. This year it’s a Valentine’s theme because it’s on Valentine’s Day, so we have a chocolate fountain and roses will be given away. It should be a fun night.”On the Bill
Boulder International Film Festival takes place at three main venues: 1) Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., 303-786-7030, 2) Boulder High School, 1604 Arapahoe Ave., 303-442-2430, 3) Boulder Public Library Auditorium, 1000 Canyon Blvd., 303-441-3100. For festival information and a complete schedule of events, go to www.biff1.com
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