Film and TV

Boulder International Film Festival Beats the Odds in Second Decade

In a cinematic universe where the rules for viability are changing almost daily, the film festival is becoming an endangered species. Less than 25 percent of them make it past the sixth year. But next week,  Boulder International Film Festival will celebrate its eleventh season, which runs from  March 5 through March 8. How do they do it?

Asked what makes BIFF unique, founders, directors and siblings Kathy and Robin Beeck answer almost simultaneously:

“It’s the conversation.”

“It’s the dialogue.”

We’re in a culture that seems to be coming untethered from the movie house at the same time that film festivals strive for survival. U.S. cinema attendance in 2014 was at its lowest since 1995; critic Anne Thompson recently wrote, “Many consumers want movies for free everywhere at the same time, which won’t make money for anyone.” 

BIFF remains a viable regional festival by virtue of its consistencies. It has retained its limited scope (four days, around fifty movies) and its programming is uniquely attuned to the Boulder zeitgeist – a documentary-heavy program that trades heavily on nostalgia (past fest hits include '60s music docs Troubadours and Muscle Shoals, and evenings with Peter Fonda and Shirley MacLaine) and social concerns (its Call2Action program features not just post-screening talkbacks, but puts relevant activists at the events to engage and empower the audience). And its short-film programs are among the best curated anywhere.

Part of the Beeck sisters’ savvy comes from being on the other end of the festival circuit themselves. After years making their own films – their 1998 feature documentary Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed is largely responsible for the creation of Nederland’s Frozen Dead Guy Days – they decided to put on their own big annual film party.

This year, BIFF will offer an in-person tribute to the Oscar-winning actor and director Alan Arkin, as well as two Academy Award winners from Colorado: Daniel Junge (Fight Church, Saving Face) will premiere his new doc Being Evel, and Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) will bring his new eco-caper flick Racing Extinction.

However, the meat and potatoes of the fest is the inclusion of all the participating filmmakers it can gather. At last count, 43 of them will be milling about downtown Boulder March 5 through 8, gauging audience response, holding Q & A sessions, and attending the many parties that form a daisy chain from the fest’s opening to close. This is the irreducible advantage of a film festival: the opportunity to have real, unmediated interaction with the creators themselves.

Add some ancillary components, such as a live-streamed Global Town Hall hosted by eTown’s Nick Forster, a three-day Youth Pavilion for kids six to eighteen, a [email protected] evening run by university students featuring acclaimed director and University of Colorado prof Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) and a singer/songwriter showcase, and you’ve got a pretty decent program.

“No big changes,” says Kathy Beeck when asked about this year’s festival. At a time when filmgoing may soon be an outmoded phrase, this could be the smartest course to follow.

The Boulder International Film Festival takes place March 5 through 8 in downtown Boulder. Visit the BIFF website for an online program, tickets and further information.

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Brad Weismann became an award-winning writer and editor after spending years as a comedian. He's written about everything from grand opera to movies for a diverse array of magazines, newspapers and websites worldwide.