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Documentarians bring truth into focus at the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival

click to enlarge Springs native Director Amy Scott.
  • Springs native Director Amy Scott.

Forty-seven films in three days.

Tackling the 28th annual Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival can feel daunting, even for a film fanatic.

That's why we recommend pacing yourself. This year's lineup includes 35 documentaries on topics ranging from homelessness and poverty to racism and suicide.

But this is hardly new territory for RMWFF.

As Executive Director Linda Broker explains, the festival's feature programming is traditionally dominated by documentaries. The selection committee includes community and board members in the process of whittling down the final lineup, Broker says, with quality and diversity as top priorities.

But Broker is quick to clarify on the latter, saying that maintaining an open mind is key to ensuring that quality is not trumped by ideology:

"It can't just be the diversity that we want to reflect."

A case in point for this year's festival might be A Courtship by Amy Kohn.

While typical RMWFF attendees may disagree with Kohn's point of view, "that doesn't make it a bad film," Broker says. "It's an excellent film and one that will hopefully expand people's mindsets."

That said, camaraderie is always welcome in such situations, which is why it's important to take advantage of the filmmaker access RMWFF provides — about a dozen will be on-site this year. Through forums and Q&A roundtables, you have an opportunity to process what you've viewed by learning the story after the stories. — Vanessa Martinez

click to enlarge From Oyler: One School, One Year by Springs native Amy Scott.
  • From Oyler: One School, One Year by Springs native Amy Scott.

Stories like those of filmmaker Amy Scott. Scott, who was born and raised in Colorado Springs, is a Baltimore, Maryland-based reporter for American Public Media's Marketplace radio show, and she stumbled on her topic while covering education in Cincinnati.

Scott's documentary Oyler: One School, One Year (produced in association with Marketplace) tells the tale, she says, "of a public school principal fighting for his job, and one of his students fighting to be the first in her family to graduate from high school."

More generally, though, it's about a public school trying to break the cycle of poverty in its urban Appalachian neighborhood.

click to enlarge Amy Kohn, A Courtship.
  • Amy Kohn, A Courtship.

Oyler School is part of a national movement of what are called "community schools," loaded with services beyond academics, Scott explains. Within Oyler's walls, community members will find a health center, a vision clinic, a dental clinic, a food bank, parenting classes, and a preschool serving kids from 6 weeks to 5 years old.

"The idea is that in order to help close the achievement gap for kids growing up in poverty, you really need to address the effects of poverty itself."

Scott admits that it's kind of cliché, but making this film taught her the cold hard fact that "there really are no silver bullets in education." Despite tremendous progress in this neighborhood, it became obvious to her that the obstacles are enormous and that it'll take a generation or more to learn if this model really works.

"The principal really sets out to take on, not only a school that's in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, but also the streets surrounding the school, the crime, and the poverty. And that's a lot to bite off."

She admits her film is a little discouraging because it shows just how hard it is for any one person, or even a set of people to really make change in a system.

"But they keep trying, so I hope there's a hopeful message as well."

If you're a savvy film festivalgoer, you'll ply the visiting filmmakers with questions about the stories behind the stories as well — like those of Amy Kohn, filmmaker of A Courtship. (The festival will be your last opportunity to see the film before nationwide distribution via Video-On-Demand, beginning on Nov. 17.)

The New York City-based reality television producer was researching the topic of arranged marriage for a possible new series when she read an article that mentioned the concept of Christian courtship, or the process of a woman turning over responsibility for finding her husband to her parents and God's will.

"I'd never heard of anything like it before," Kohn says. But she thought it had a lot of themes — like vulnerability, how we look for love, and what constitutes a deal breaker in a relationship — that would appeal to both a Christian and a non-Christian audience.

People she contacted were skeptical of a secular filmmaker, but her research finally led her to Ron White of beforethekiss.com. He and his wife Dawn agreed to share their story of acting as spiritual parents for Kelly, the 33-year-old woman featured in the film.

The story behind the story? Kohn was dating at the same time Kelly was seeking love, but Kohn was going about it in about as different a way as possible ... online.

"Kelly would never Internet date," Kohn says. "She believes that God is going to bring the person to her, and that doesn't mean going out and searching for him on the Internet."

Even though online dating worked for Kohn (right after she finished shooting she met her now-husband), she said doing this film gave her the chance to reflect a lot on the pros and cons of the secular experience of dating — as well as the pros and cons of Christian courtship.

"There's something relatable to the idea of, well, what if I could give somebody else this responsibility, and take away the work, and take away some of the pain or the vulnerability or the challenges.

"It's a very complicated process, finding the right person," Kohn says. "Whatever you think about what they're doing, the reason they're doing this is that they think it's the right thing for their kids and their lives, and they actually think it's going to lead to better relationships. ... People may take something different away from [the film], depending on where they are on the political spectrum, but ... everybody finds her story relatable. They're rooting for her." — Kirsten Akens

  • Documentarians bring truth into focus at the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival

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