Five years ago, the Denver Film Society moved into a new theater space at the Lowenstein Arts & Culture Complex on East Colfax. After settling in to the space’s nooks and crannies, the Sie FilmCenter is finally ready for its close-up, and hosting a fundraiser to celebrate its status as one of our city’s most important film organizations — and prepare for its future.
Last week — on the anniversary of the Sie (pronounced "see”) FilmCenter’s official lease-signing at the 11,285 square foot, three-screen concrete movie palace at 2510 East Colfax — the Film Society held a private celebration with Anna and John J. Sie, whose generous donation allowed DFS to own its new home after the organization left the Starz FilmCenter space on the Auraria Campus. The ceremony came complete with a ribbon-cutting, a dedication from Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, and a visit from actress Marisa Tomei.
It also marked the debut of some highly visible new signage for the Sie FilmCenter that cuts a smooth yellow line across the Colfax corridor and acts as an official welcome mat for the film community, concrete proof that the Film Society has found its home on Denver’s most historic avenue.
On Thursday, October 15, DFS will launch a new annual fundraiser called Mise-En-Scene (which refers to the arrangement of everything within a single frame of film) at the Sie FilmCenter to raise funds for its educational programs and new filmmaking initiatives. The gala event will feature a new set of Hall of Fame awards for Colorado film luminaries and the Denver premiere of Rolling Papers, a documentary that focuses on The Cannabist, and the Denver Post team covering cannabis.
To further secure its future, the Film Society is searching for a new executive director to take the organization to even greater heights. In the meantime, though, it has the strong and steady presence of festival director Britta Erickson, who has been with organization for sixteen of its 38 years. During that time, Erickson worked nearly every job there before being placed in charge of the biggest film event that the city sees every year. As she prepares for the 38th annual Denver Film Festival, she took a few minutes to discuss the past and future of the Sie, and why Mise-En-Scene is worth the $200 ticket price. (Full disclosure: I was the DFS programming manager from 2003 to 2013 at both the Starz and Sie FilmCenter.)
Westword: You’ve seen the opening of both home theaters with your own eyes. What are the key differences in having gone from opening the Starz FilmCenter to the Sie?
Britta Erickson: The Starz FilmCenter definitely solidified the organization as a brick-and-mortar home for film, due to the generosity of both Starz Entertainment and John Sie, and at the time it was an amazing thing to have that year-round presence. Starz FilmCenter being on the Auraria campus, though, over time, began to feel a bit like an island — so close to downtown, but Speer and Auraria managed to make it feel really divided. And although we were able to attract audiences, they were on the smaller side, and we eventually realized that the home that we were so happily able to occupy was a little too large, a perfect fit for the Denver Film Festival audience — but it was like building a house to accommodate everyone for the holidays but then not needing that much space for the rest of the year.
When that lease was up, we had an amazing opportunity to jump to a new space in a very hot location at the Lowenstein complex with two other great artforms — books and records — and two amazing local businesses, Tattered Cover and Twist & Shout. That move really upped the ante in terms of what DFS could do on a year-round basis in a home that is more suitable for the curation that we can do on a monthly basis, and really attract an audience that finally fits.
What’s really great about the Sie FilmCenter is we’re in a neighborhood where neighbors can walk to us and see a great film each and every day, and we have the added comfort of a bar and lounge. The Starz FilmCenter years were something that we all look fondly on and we loved the time that we had there, but what has really accelerated us even more as an organization is having this new home — and it’s where we were always supposed to be. Starz never quite felt like the final place for the organization; it always felt like we were renting, which we were, but now we own our house and we’ve made it a place we’re very comfortable in...and ready to entertain!
You’ve been at the Sie for five years, so what have you learned about the space to get it to where it is today?
I think we’ve really learned how to use the space, given that it does have great room for events and has three amazing auditoriums for the core of our mission, which is to show movies and create dialogue with filmmakers and panels whenever we want to. In five years we’ve learned a lot about the balance of how to use the space, and it gives us the opportunity to do some other creative out-of-the-box thinking that isn’t off-mission but that brings community together, like trivia night and karaoke, and they can coexist in this space and be real icing to our daily cinematic operation. Sometimes, like this week, we take the space over for a party in place of programming, and how we do that works with this home. It allows us to offer more than what we’ve ever been able to offer before, and now to a larger audience and with much more engagement. We hope it feels like a second home to the neighborhood and the film-loving community at large.
Speaking of a big event, what about the new fundraiser has you excited to get down and party on Thursday?
I’m very excited that our board stepped up to take on a new annual fundraiser. For years it was around the Academy-sanctioned Oscar telecast, which they’ve since done away with — and we learned that our members and supporters wanted to stay at home that night, like I do, in their pajamas and watch the telecast on their own. So just like every other arts and cultural organization in town, we need to have some annual event to raise money — but this new event is specifically crafted to raise money for our educational programs, which is really exciting. With the Sie FilmCenter having everything we need for a great time, we don’t have to go off-site to do it, and every year we’ll keep a focus on Colorado and get to watch and acknowledge our film community continue to grow.
This year we’re excited to premiere Rolling Papers, which was produced by myself and Alison Greenberg Millice, who is a member of our staff. That film was helped with funds raised through our filmmaker focus program, which includes fiscal sponsorship for filmmakers. It brings all of these pieces together towards supporting our filmmaking community and showcasing our Colorado talent. We love bringing the world to our screens, but want a place to spotlight the talent in our state — and what better place to bring all of these things together than the home of the Denver Film Society, where we’ll continue to do all that we can to make our film community, both -watching and -making, the best around.
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Mise En Scene starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, October 15, with a reception at Henderson's Lounge in the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. The Denver premiere of Rolling Papers starts at 7 p.m., and will be followed by a reception and party. Tickets are $200 (tax-deductible, less $50) at Denverfilm.org.