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Growing up, film festivals never seemed like something one attended.
They were something you only heard about on television, when insiders were discussing what the new films were that everyone would be talking about come awards season, or places filmmakers and actors came to discuss the process and pitch their movies to the studios.
In other words, film festivals were something for industry insiders only.
And yet, here I am at the 15th annual Vail Film Festival. Not sure how that happened.
Organized by the Colorado Film Institute, the mission is to “foster independent film through film screenings, panels, workshops, networking events, and educational projects,” according to the festival’s website.
This year’s festival is focusing on women storytellers – writers, directors, actors, producers, and crews. At a time when more attention than ever is being paid to treatment of women in all industries, this is a great theme for a festival. Women have played such a vital role in the film industry since it’s creation, and it’s more than time they received their due for vital voices they add to the conversation.
In the ensuing coverage, I hope to take you behind the scenes of the Vail Film Festival, share details on exciting new movies, and highlight the work of so many talented women.
Day 1 – April 5 7 p.m. – Blue Starlite CinemaOpening night for the festival, and what is really fascinating right off the bat is the celebration of up-and-coming filmmakers. The first people to arrive are the winners of the festival’s screenwriting competition – women who will be writing the screenplays that will keep us entertained and informed for years to come.
TV8 Vail has correspondents on hand for interviews, after the filmmakers face a blinding barrage of flashes from photographers.
The team behind the short film, “The Invaders” – producer Claudia Murdoch, lead actor Isra Elsalihie and production assistant Will Veguilla – stop by to talk about the world premiere of their 7-minute short, and how it reflects the dangers many women face.
Elsalihie plays a young woman who is followed on her way home, and she said that instead of playing the fear in her character, “It’s all about a focus on survival.”
Director Luz Zamora is friendly and eager to talk about her documentary “De Colores,” which tells the story of Colombian Aura Taibel, who has been cleaning apartments for people for 30 years and is becoming a business woman in her own right.
“The movie was shot 85 percent on an iPhone, and it’s just the first part,” Zamora said. “We want to keep telling her story and share more information about her family.”
About a half dozen more filmmakers stop by the red carpet, and by then the theater is filled with filmmakers, supporters, and fans of the arts ready for the opening film.
Before the show starts, Corinne Hara, festival director, gives a brief welcome, saying, “We hope this festival creates a dialogue between filmmakers and lovers as like.”
And then it’s time for the show.
Film No. 1 – “Sun Dogs” I don’t think I’ll ever be able to override my memory of Michael Angarano as young William Miller in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” shouting “11!” with all the outrage that comes from knowing your parents have lied to you.
Once I’m able to put that memory aside, Angarano (also seen in “The Knick,” and “I’m Dying Up Here”) does an admirable job building a funny, flawed and ultimately inspiring young man in the directorial debut of Jennifer Morrison (who fans will know from “Once Upon a Time,” “House,” and more).
Angarano plays Ned Chipley, a young man in 2004 obsessed with joining the marines and fighting Al-Qaeda. Despite the loving – and humorous – tolerance of the idea from his parents, Ed O’Neill and Allison Janney (who won an Oscar just a month ago for “I, Tonya”), there’s something not quite right about Ned.
At one-point O’Neill’s character remarks upon Ned’s obsession with 70s war films like “The Deer Hunter” and “Platoon” with the hilarious observation, “Who watches ‘The Deer Hunter’ and wants to enlist?’”
When he befriends Talley (Colorado’s own Melissa Benoist, who you might recognize from “Glee” and “Supergirl”), a friendship and attraction builds as audiences learn more about who Ned really is.
Morrison’s film is heartwarming and even has a few tricks to play on the viewer. Add in more than a few references to “Catcher in the Rye,” (a book I unabashedly adore) and I was hooked. This gem is available for streaming on Netflix now.
10 p.m. – La TourI guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that everyone you meet at around this event is connected to the film world, but it really is everyone – on the drive from Starlite Cinemas to La Tour French restaurant for the opening night party, our driver is a volunteer whose daughter studied film, one passenger is the proud father of a filmmaker whose documentary, “Uncle Silas,” is having its Colorado premiere, and the third passenger is one of the screenwriting competition winners, who is in Vail from Los Angeles to network and meet other industry people.
The opening party is a great opportunity for this kind of networking, and simultaneously the worst, because it’s one of those parties with so many people packed into one space it can be hard to hear what anyone is saying.
Despite all this, the party is full of people passionate about their work, and no one is shy about chatting up a stranger and discussing what they’re working on. Everyone has a story to tell, and in this room, in between bites of grilled shrimp and macaroons, connections are being made.
At one point, I hear what I expect will be a theme for the weekend, “You’re a director? That’s great! We need more women doing that.”
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