Arts & entertainment

Sharing stories at Vail Film Festival

Four indepenent films to keep an eye out for


There’s something counterintuitive about being in a place as gorgeous as Vail in the late summer and spending most of it inside dark rooms. But the films I watched over the weekend of Aug. 15-18 as part of the 16th annual Vail Film Festival revealed a different kind of beauty. That special beauty that comes with sharing your story with other people.

There are large, celebrity-speckled festivals like Telluride, Sundance and Cannes that are launching grounds for award campaigns and best-of lists, but Vail prioritizes intimacy and personality. Most screenings don’t have more than 50 people in the audience, and the filmmakers are almost all on hand afterward to discuss their project and how it can be supported.

The festival also focuses on women filmmakers, which is always encouraging to see in an industry that has been so male-dominated for decades. Some of the best moments of the festival are when the minds behind the movies offer advice and wisdom to those looking to get tell their own stories.

“Naïveté is an amazing quality to have when you start making films,” said Kerry David, director of “Breaking Their Silence,” during a panel discussion. “It’s awesome because you don’t know what you don’t know, and its how you learn tenacity and passion are what gets films made.”

In a little over two days, I was able to check out nine movies - “Banana Split,” “Being Frank,” “Bring Me an Avocado,” “Burning Kentucky,” “Don’t Be Nice,” “Hiro’s Table,” “Once Upon a River,” “Stalag Luft III” and “Standing Up, Falling Down” - and there was nary a dud among them. All are worth your time and support, and I selected four from new filmmakers to highlight.

“Bring Me an Avocado”

Grief is a strange and unpredictable thing that every person experiences differently. For the family and friends at the center of writer/director Maria Mealla’s “Bring Me an Avocado,” grief is a special kind of hell when a violent incident leads to a mother, wife and friend being in a coma. Bernardo Peña gives a slyly funny performance as a man trying to hold it together, and Candace Roberts is utterly relatable in her performance as family friend, Jada. Like real life, it leaves plenty unanswered, but there’s hope for the future.

Mealla began working on the film when her mother was diagnosed with dementia and provided her with a creative outlet to explore the issues this brought up.

“It’s more an exploration of death and how we deal with it before we have to deal with it,” she explained.

Visit for more on the film.

“Burning Kentucky”

Addiction, whether it’s to drugs (prescriptions or otherwise), alcohol or any other behaviors, doesn’t simply affect the person dealing with the disease. Set in writer/director Bethany Brooke Anderson’s home state, “Burning Kentucky” is a searing examination of addiction, family bonds and the limits of forgiveness, which has echoes of Shakespeare and Faulkner. In her first role, Emilie Dhir is all quiet strength and frayed nerves as Aria, the beating heart of the film.

“Addiction is the great equalizer, and everyone has or knows someone who has struggled with it,” Anderson said in a post-screening Q&A. “The ending changed maybe 20 times. The story could change by the characters’ cores had to remain intact.”

To learn more about the film, visit

“Hiro’s Table”

The fact that as soon as director Lynn Hamrick’s documentary “Hiro’s Table” ended, I had an immediate craving for sushi should be proof enough that the film makes every dish master chef Hiroji Obayashi prepares look vibrant and delicious. But what caught me off guard was how human and wise the movie ends up being.

Shot over a 16-year span, the film follows the famous Los Angeles chef and his wife Yasuyo as they open the Hirozen Gourmet restaurant, which goes from a little hole in the wall joint to one of the most beloved restaurants in the city.

There’s a kinetic energy to Hamrick’s filmmaking and also a deep warmth for her subject. As the man himself says in the film, “Food is not cooking. Food is heart.” So is this movie.

Check out for more.

“Once Upon a River”

Haroula Rose’s feature directorial debut, “Once Upon a River,” is so assured that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the work of someone who has sat in the chair for numerous films. It’s even more astounding when you consider that the movie is lead actor Kenadi Delacerna’s first feature as well.

Based on the novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell, Delacerna gives a hypnotic and riveting performance as Margo Crane, a young woman in the late 1970s Michigan grappling with who she is and where she fits in a world that doesn’t seem to care. If you’ve ever felt hopelessly at odds with everyone just because of who you are, you’ll see yourself in the film.

“I loved how free she (Margo) is in the story,” Delacerna said. “She finds this great heart within herself.”

It’s quite something, and you can learn more at


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