The year 2020 was remarkable for a lot of reasons, and most aren't worth celebrating. But there's at least one exception: Denver filmmakers Rob Shearer and Amanda Blaurock's short film, My Father’s House, winning the Cannes Film Festival's Jury Award for Best Documentary. Two years and one pandemic later, the short will finally screen at the Cannes American Pavilion on May 22.
The sixteen-minute film brings into focus St. Matthew Lutheran Church in northwest Aurora during its 2017 transition from a traditional place of worship to a Colorado nonprofit called the Village Exchange Center (VEC), a community center and multi-faith worship space. The VEC’s mission, according to its website, is to “celebrate religious and cultural diversity by creating an inclusive environment where residents from all backgrounds can practice, interact, share, and develop together.”
Now in its fifth year, the VEC continues to offer cultural, nutritional, informational and legal services to internationally displaced families in the Denver and Aurora area, many of which are first-generation immigrant families from 26 countries. It serves over 10,000 people with programs including
economic support for individuals and minority businesses, food pantries, multi-faith worship and even a farm.
Shearer, who directed My Father’s House, and co-producer Blaurock, will be in Cannes for the festival to attend the screening and take part in a live Q&A immediately following. It will be the first time the short film is shown to an in-person audience. Its debut will be an important part of the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase, which has supported exceptional and diverse filmmaking from fresh sources of filmmaking worldwide since 1989.
"I’m incredibly proud to screen our film at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase,” says Shearer. “It’s a great platform to show the international film community the amazing assistance that VEC provides to newcomers to Colorado. My Father's House is a story of death and rebirth, and one that I hope resonates with audiences during these trying times."
Blaurock isn’t just a co-producer of the short film — she’s also one of its subjects, and serves as the co-founder and executive director of VEC and the stepdaughter of Pastor Marcel Narucki, who led the congregation of St. Matthew in 2016, when the idea of the transition was first floated. In discussions about how to better serve their growing and changing community, the unanimous decision was made to donate the building and grounds on Havana Street to what would become the VEC. In the first five years of operation, the VEC has become an anchor in the community for support and empowerment — a valuable resource, especially for its foreign-born neighbors.
“Our work in the middle of the United States is an example of what is happening around the world as people are encountering each other and being forced to reimagine community and religion,” says Blaurock. “There are over four million refugees throughout Europe looking for a place to find home and acceptance. Our work in Colorado is an example of how religion can be reimagined as an outward-facing, inclusive ministry.“
My Father's House has also received accolades from several other Colorado organizations, as well Governor Jared Polis.
“Here in Colorado, we are so proud of our thriving arts and culture scene, and we are thrilled to see a Colorado film on the international stage,” says Polis. "This incredible film shines a spotlight on the Colorado spirit of community, resilience and strength, and introduces the world to Colorado’s incredible refugee support organizations that work hand in hand with the state to provide a Colorado for all.” For more information on the VEC, check its website. For more on the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase, see the 2022 schedule.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.