You may not have heard much about Colorado’s film industry. When you think cinema, you think New York or Hollywood. If you do think about film in Colorado, you probably don’t go much further than the big festivals in Telluride, Denver and even Boulder.
But the fourth annual Front Range Film Festival wants to change that. The Longmont-based event is aiming to not only add to the community’s arts scene, but also turns itself into a conduit for filmmakers to express themselves in ways that are unique to the state.
“We want it to be a Colorado hub, we want it to be almost an industry festival, where filmmakers go to meet each other, filmmakers go to learn about film,” says Jessica Kooiman Parker, the executive director and curator of the Firehouse Arts Center, which is putting on the festival.
The festival runs from April 27 through May 1 and features 40 films by 31 filmmakers, ranging from feature films to documentaries to shorts to experimental art films that’ll be shown in venues all over downtown Longmont. And, as in years past, the festival will host educational workshops about animation and film scoring, among other topics.
“I think you need a concerted effort like a festival to bring these people out of the woodwork,” says Jake Fink, who has been a filmmaker for more than 20 years and was hired to help produce this year’s festival.
“That’s something that is apparent and relevant to the public.”
New to the festival this year is a three-week filmmaking contest that started on April 8 and concludes April 29. In that time, participating filmmakers have to make a short film, from writing to shooting to post-production. They have to shoot entirely in downtown Longmont, and films chosen by the competition’s jury will be screened to the public on May 1. Finalists will receive cash prizes and filmmaking equipment.
“We wanted to make it unique to the festival, where there was that educational component as well as getting people involved in Longmont and invested in Longmont,” Kooiman Parker says.
The contest is a continuation of the festival’s exponential growth since it started four years ago. At first, it focused only on local filmmakers who made their films locally, but those were hard to find. Kooiman Parker says they’d screen films with tenuous, far-off connections to Colorado. The festival got a local boost when it joined the University of Colorado’s film program and brought film students into Longmont to screen their work and discuss it with the audience.
This engaged local audiences, Kooiman Parker says, and brought Colorado filmmakers back to their home state to showcase their work. As the festival grew, it also attracted filmmakers from around the country to showcase films they made about Colorado.
The festival’s 40 films more than doubles its count from last year, and 25 of its 31 filmmakers are from Colorado, including Mitch Dickman, the director of Rolling Papers, a documentary about the rise of weed journalism as an industry in Colorado since the legalization of marijuana in 2012.
“We’ve expanded from not putting ourselves in that box of having to be only local filmmakers, but having local connections,” Kooiman Parker says. “Topics that are important in Colorado, like adventure and energy and entrepreneurship and environment and communication and collaboration between people. Craft beer, craft marijuana, those things, kind of what makes Colorado, Colorado.”
Other films, such as Moving the Giants, by the Boulder-based filmmaker Michael Ramsey, cover issues that are important to many Coloradans; it’s the true story of a Michigan man who has spent 20 years cloning some of America’s biggest, oldest trees — including redwoods and sequoias — to create what the film calls a “Noah’s Ark of tree genetics” to preserve them from climate change.
“To escape or to inform, [the festival] can provide whatever you’re looking for,” Fink says.
The local flavor goes beyond the films, into the other art that the festival is incorporating this year. Not only are they showcasing films related to immigration, such as In the Shadows, a documentary about a family of undocumented immigrants, but they’re also putting on live performances about the topic. Do You Know Who I Am? is a series of spoken-word monologues put on by undocumented immigrants from Longmont, who tell their stories to help the community better understand their situation. It’ll be performed in Roosevelt Park on Cinco de Mayo, and is part of the festival’s efforts to reach every part of its community.
“We’re trying to get this ownership in Longmont, to say that this is our film festival,” Kooiman Parker says. “Coloradans are prideful people, they’re proud of their towns, and I think we wanted to help people recognize that this is Longmont’s film festival, and you should be proud of it and there’s a lot of stuff happening.”
As a filmmaking environment, Fink adds, Longmont is rich and diverse, from the mountains in the background, to the run-down industrial areas on the southeast end of town, to the artsy downtown.
“Longmont has a really edgy side, and I love that,” Kooiman Parker says. “I think the more that we can embrace that, instead of polishing it and hiding it under the rug, the better.”
On the Bill: Front Range Film Festival. April 27-May 1. Various locations in Longmont. For full schedule, visit frontrangefilmfest.com.