Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rocky Mountain Women's Film Institute's Shorts Night returns with more award-winning stories

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Shorts Night, April 21, 7:30 p.m., Stargazers, 10 S. Parkside Drive, - FRANK DION
  • Frank Dion
  • Shorts Night, April 21, 7:30 p.m., Stargazers, 10 S. Parkside Drive,
Short films aren’t just about catering to an audience’s short attention span (though admittedly that’s an unintended bonus). No, shorts set out to tell a condensed story, presenting a snapshot of a life or a unique narrative, and providing only exactly what the viewer needs to see. Some filmmakers do that incredibly well, and I’m not talking about the geniuses behind Vine (RiP). The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Institute has, as it does every year, selected some of the best of the best in recent short films, collecting nine award-winning shorts of all genres to screen April 21 at Stargazers. Enjoy animation, documentary and narrative shorts that explore themes from mental health to pornography to racial tension — even one, In a Nutshell, that attempts to condense the world into five minutes, “from a seed to war, from meat to love, from indifference to apocalypse.” This event is known to sell out, so be sure to get on getting tickets. Fast.
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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Vail Film Festival continues with challenging, topical films

Posted By on Sun, Apr 8, 2018 at 11:34 AM

Diane Bell's Of Dust and Bones premiered at the Vail Film Festival. - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Diane Bell's Of Dust and Bones premiered at the Vail Film Festival.
Feeding myself on budget in Vail has been tricky — all too many places in this resort town charge $15-plus dollars a plate, too rich for my meager journalistic means. Bless the heavens above for La Cantina, a little Mexican joint on the third floor of the Vail Transportation Center with a full bar and some of the only sub-$10 entrées I've seen in town, and with complimentary chips and a diverse salsa bar, it's been a lifesaver for eating on a budget.

Saturday's daytime highlight from the Vail Film Festival was the "Shoot from the Heart" workshop, taught by Diane Bell — she's a native of Scotland currently living in the Denver area, and her third film, Of Dust and Bones, had its world premier at the festival. She outlined the 16-step method she used to make both Of Dust and Bones and her debut film, Obselidia, from revising the script to shopping for distribution opportunities. She teaches a two-day workshop that goes into detail about budgeting, networking and more through her production/training company, Rebel Heart Film.

Later that afternoon, festival-goers saw the results of Bell's methods with the debut of Of Dust and Bones (not to be confused with Denver death metal crew Of Feather And Bone). It's hard to be objective about the narrative in Of Dust and Bones as a journalist — the film evokes the filmed execution of journalist James Foley in Syria in 2014.

After the death of her husband, war photojournalist Bryan (played by David Zaugh), Clio (played by Gaynor Howe) lives in monastic solitude in the desert somewhere outside of Pioneertown, California. She's visited by Alex (played by Michael Piccirilli), a news producer and friend of Bryan, who wants Bryan's last photos to get out into the world, continuing the work he did in life. It's a slow film with a lot of space and silence, burning slow and exploring heavy themes of how we deal with grief and suffering in Western culture. Hell, co-lead Clio's first line comes well past the 30-minute mark. But it's an interesting film, to be sure, and all the acting's well done. And for anyone who's spent time in the desert, the atmosphere's on point.

Of Dust and Bones will likely spend the next year on the film festival circuit. Expect it to show up on streaming services like Vimeo and Amazon sometime in 2019 — details are still to be determined.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Vail Film Festival celebrates women filmmakers

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 9:47 AM

Jennifer Morrison's directorial debut, Sun Dogs, was the opening night film at the 15th annual Vail Film Festival. - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Jennifer Morrison's directorial debut, Sun Dogs, was the opening night film at the 15th annual Vail Film Festival.
Thursday, April 4, marked the first day of the 15th annual Vail Film Festival, which this year celebrates women filmmakers — every film, documentary and short was written, directed or produced by a woman, in order to tell stories with a feminine perspective. That's important — the 2018 iteration of an annual study by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen of San Diego State University showed that, in 2017, only "18% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films" were women, suggesting a systematic failure within Hollywood to support women seeking executive positions in the industry. But, given that those figures haven't changed by more than a percentage point or two she began the study in 1998, what else is new?

In any case, the filmmakers on site for the beginning of the festival presented an exciting range of independent films, many of which will be available for mass distribution within the next year — once they've finished their trips around the film festival circuit, building hype and support.

While waiting for the red carpet arrivals, I met a few of the filmmakers to be featured: producer Claudia Murdoch, actor Isra Elsalihie and production assistant Will Veguilla of the Mateo Márquez short film The Invaders. The film's plot rests on fear of the Other, theorizing social structures that may grow from an increasingly xenophobic society. The film has its world-premiere screening on Saturday, April 7, at 1:30 p.m., for those interested — individual tickets are available for any individual production.

The opening kicked off with a screening of Sun Dogs, the directorial debut of Once Upon A Time/House actress Jennifer Morrison. The film follows Ned Chipley, played by Michael Angarano. Chipley's an intellectually disabled young man who, after 9/11, wants to join the U.S. Marines, attempting to enlist every year and getting rejected. After four years, nobody's had the fortitude to tell him it'll never happen — not his nurse mom, not her injured trucker partner and certainly not anyone at the recruiting office. The plot kicks off when recruiting office head Master Sargent Jenkins, played by rapper/actor Xzibit, strings him along, giving him a fake assignment as a "sun dog," supporting the fight on the homefront. This leads to Chipley recruiting implied sex worker Tally Petersen (played by Melissa Benoist) to help stalk casino owner Sameer Singh (played by Nicholas Massouh), who he thinks is really Uday Hussein. After his dreams crash down upon him, Chipley goes to San Francisco, where he cosplays as Robert De Niro's character from The Deer Hunter and tries to talk people out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

And if you think I could make this up, go watch it on Netflix.

The acting's strong across the board, make no mistake, especially by Angarano who embodies "sweet boy who inspires those around him to follow their dreams." And it is beautifully filmed, with memorable visual and auditory quirks. But there's a contempt in that stereotype of the sweet, inspiring simpleton, an infantilization. Everyone around Chipley treats him like a child, except Petersen, who thinks he suffered a traumatic brain injury overseas until the climax — and when she finds out, she calls him retarded and a virgin to boot. Classy.

While talking about this festival, a friend brought up an interesting point: how are the films selected for this festival making those in attendance look at themselves and how they interact with the world around them? Dodging all questions of class contempt like an oncoming bullet, the characters in Sun Dogs set a low bar for how to treat people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; it's easy to feel like one is better than the people on screen. But could you really do what they couldn't and tell this "sweet and earnest boy" to his face that his dreams are doomed? That he'll never be a Marine? Do you really have that in you? And are you really any better than any of these people whose good intentions lead Chipley to humiliation?
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Monday, February 26, 2018

Idris Goodwin, Cody Spellman create short film about the Black Lives Matter movement

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 1:11 PM

Idris Goodwin - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Idris Goodwin
Award-winning playwright and Colorado College professor Idris Goodwin, in collaboration with director  J. Cody Spellman, has produced a short film based on his 2015 play #Matter.

Starring Kimberly Vaughn and Ryan Hake, the film examines the cultural conflict between the phrases "black lives matter" and "all lives matter," presenting an intimate conversation between two not-quite friends about an argument they shared on social media, and about the different ways they see the world.
was filmed entirely on an iPhone to emphasize the importance technology has played in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Watch it below:

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Pikes Peak Library District offers streaming movies through Kanopy

Posted By on Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 3:13 PM

  • Screenshot
If the "safe place" partnership with Urban Peak, the DIY venue and the makerspace weren't enough to prove the Springs has an amazing library system, the Pikes Peak Library District has added a free streaming film service. It's called Kanopy, and it's been around since 2008 — the company offers a selection of independent films, world cinema, cult classics and documentaries, working primarily with libraries and educational institutions.

“It’s a wonderful, diverse collection of films," says selection librarian Tammy Ross. "A lot of their content is hard to find elsewhere.”

And for library cardholders, it's free — Kanopy will charge the library on a per use basis, which Ross described as an attractive model for the budget-conscious institution. Patrons can check out up to six movies a month, with checkouts lasting three days. That checkout does include public performance rights, so patrons can do public screenings of any films available. Ross hopes community programs and schools in particular will find the service useful.

Kanopy runs in a web browser, and there's an app for iOS, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku, but not Amazon Fire TV. Check out the selection here.
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