Last year, local director Pete Schuermann didn't attend the Indie Spirit Film Festival.
"I thought it was a few guys getting together and showing films in their garage or something," he confesses.
Once he learned that it was a "bona fide film festival that was just at its birth," he contacted the organizers to introduce himself.
"I really believe in what they're doing," he says, "so I'm trying to support it as much as I can."
Schuermann made the promotional trailer for this year's festival, and will appear in a filmmaker forum. And Indie Spirit organizers apparently believe in what he's doing, too; they've selected him as the festival's first featured director.
That means Indie Spirit-goers can see three of his films as part of the weekend's "Colorado Spotlight": Haze, a documentary about the death of University of Colorado at Boulder student Gordie Bailey in a hazing incident, plus two films Schuermann calls "goofy shorts." They include Jimmy Hits the Big Town, a Reefer Madness-style spoof intended to "make fun of the old mentality toward homosexuality," and his latest, Evil Brain from Planet X, a four-minute short starring Colorado Springs Business Journal reporter (and former Indy columnist) John Hazlehurst.
"What the movie needed was ... um, a reanimated corpse come back from the dead who goes around kidnapping women and things like that," says Schuermann, laughing. "Needless to say, John loved the part."
Playing the part
Evil Brain also features a cameo by Indie Spirit's senior programmer, Matt Stevens, who plays "shocked boy." Stevens says he became a Schuermann supporter after seeing Haze. He's in good company in that regard: Haze has been accepted by a number of festivals, such as the AFI Dallas International Film Festival, where Schuermann walked the red carpet with the movie's producers and actress Robin Wright Penn, who appears in the film.
"Haze has really kicked open a lot of possibilities," says Schuermann. "The business is full of who you know and how you're connected. But the big thing on my mind right now is really trying to invigorate the filmmaking community in our town."
It's a mission shared by Indie Spirit's organizers and their Independent Film Society of Colorado, and by Steve Mack, another local director. Mack helped form the Filmmakers Alliance of Southern Colorado, an informal networking group that holds monthly screenings of local films at the Rocket Room and will host Saturday's filmmaker reception. While the first festival brought people together, says Schuermann, the monthly screenings are keeping them connected.
"What Steve Mack has done is kind of turn the rock over," he says. "And people are coming out and saying, 'Wait, there might be somewhere I can show my film.'"
Mack's own Key Change — a short about a rock band at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind — is another Colorado Spotlight film that will play at the festival. (To learn more about the Bad News Bulldog Band, read the Indy's March 6, 2008 feature story, "In the band," at csindy.com.)
Making the cut
Some of the other Colorado films in the festival include Sudden Change, a short by Elijah Atkins that won Colorado Springs' first F3 competition; Sweet Talk, a music video made by local teen director Dillon Novak and co-director Ashley Adamson; Flying, a short from Colorado College student Rachel San Luis; and You Don't Know Me at All, a music video by San Luis Valley resident Eric Shiveley, whose feature film Everyone But You opened the '08 festival.
Besides Haze, two other documentaries from Colorado directors made the cut: Looking for Roots, Finding Flowers, a feature-length film by Denver's Dan Jacobson about his grandfather's return to the town where he was captured during the Holocaust; and Plight of the Honeybee, a sobering 15-minute film by Denver college student Jenny Townsend about the insects' mysterious disappearance.
Festival-goers can also enjoy two films from outside the state that feature Colorado Springs footage. A few shots of Colorado Springs are sandwiched into Fagbug, a documentary about a woman's cross-country journey to raise awareness of homophobia. And local scenery appears — as does local artist/musician Don Goede — in Abraham Obama, a documentary about the popular poster combining the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. (Goede's band, the Electric Illuminati, will play following the film showing.)
Just because films have local connections, however, doesn't mean they're guaranteed a festival spot.
"I think we're especially hard on local filmmakers," Stevens says, "because we want them to represent Colorado in the best way."