Most movie theaters have reopened across the state, and now even a few local film festivals are welcoming guests back in-person. That’s the case for the long-running Boulder International Film Festival and the Ouray International Film Festival, which launched during the pandemic in 2020.
“We were able to have 40 people our first year,” said Ouray festival co-founder Jared LaCroix of its modest beginnings. “Colorado has loosened its occupancy guidelines, so our festival this year will look a lot more like a normal festival.”
LaCroix says he and his fellow co-founders, his filmmaking collaborator Jacob Abell and actor Terry Kiser, wanted to bring a celebration of film to the town after filming in the area. It came together in just a year.
“We just started brainstorming about how can we get a festival in this beautiful town,” LaCroix said. “We were all on board and we talked with the opera house, and so we kind of transitioned from a filmmaking team into a film festival team.”
Most of the festival’s screenings and events will take place at the historic Wright Opera House. The pace of this festival’s schedule is more leisurely than most, with only one feature film a day, a mix of shorts and events in-between. Ouray’s co-founder Abell said the organizers designed the festival to create a space for thoughtful conversations inspired by the movies they screen.
“Part of what is exciting to us about movies is not just making movies, which we love to the moon and back, but it's that conversation afterwards at the cafe,” he said. “We often say that our kind of mission statement is that we want to bring the best of international cinema to the San Juan mountains, and then we want to bring the San Juan mountains to the best filmmakers in the world.”
Over on the Front Range, Kathy Beeck is getting ready for this year’s edition of the Boulder International Film Festival. She co-founded the event with her sister Robin 17 years ago, and the pair are excited to bring the festival back in person to Boulderites.
“We believe in the power of film to change the world, and we certainly saw that at some of the festivals we attended,” Beeck said. “It's like if you were in a library, reading a book and the author stepped out in front of you and you could ask them questions.”
The Boulder International Film Festival added the historic Chautauqua Auditorium as a venue for this year’s edition. Movies will also play at the Century 16 Boulder and Boulder High School. The school's soccer field will host nightly outdoor screenings during the festival.
Beeck said there was no shortage of filmmakers interested in coming to Boulder to screen their movies. “When we reached out, so many people said, ‘You want to show in person? Yes, I want my film screened and when do I leave?’ We just had an overwhelming response and we have more industry filmmakers and even film subjects coming this year than we've ever had before,” she said. That means a busy schedule for moviegoers who may want to pick which movies to catch ahead of time.
A free screening of the film “Us Kids” on Saturday is especially meaningful to Beeck. The documentary follows the young students who survived the Parkland shooting in Florida in 2018. Beeck hopes the screening and special guest speakers, including Parkland shooting survivor Sam Fuentes, will help residents of Boulder heal after the community experienced its own shooting tragedy earlier this year.
“We're still in that healing process from our event in March,” Beeck said. “We wanted to offer it for free to the whole community. It's impossible to do something like put closure on something like that, and we'll never have closure for that, but, you know, I still feel like this community needs to heal.”
In addition to movies, visitors to the festivals can also check out extra events. At Ouray’s festival, guests can catch screenwriter James V. Hart giving a masterclass and Brian Foster reading from his book “I Don't Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life.” Boulder’s festival will feature a daylong community fair and concert outside of the Chautauqua Auditorium on Saturday. There will also be a handful of post screening discussions with filmmakers throughout the festival.
Beeck said it’s good to get back to some normalcy. “It's been a busy time, but I can't tell you how excited we are to have all these great people coming in from these films,” she said. “To have the selection that we do this year is so exciting.”
If you’re not ready to trek out to a theater, both festivals will feature a virtual selection of their titles available to screen through their website.
The Boulder International Film Festival begins Thursday and the Ouray International Film Festival starts Friday. Both events end Sunday, but some virtual titles will remain available after the in-person screenings have ended.
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