Find Film Installations Throughout RiNo Art District With Side Stories

A past Side Stories installation on the side of Biju's Little Curry Shop.
A past Side Stories installation on the side of Biju's Little Curry Shop. Courtesy of Side Stories
Winter weather can make it tempting to stay inside, but Side Stories, a large-format, walkable film installation spread across the RiNo Art District, was created in part to give locals a reason to hit the town during Colorado’s coldest months.

“It’s a great way to get out, and RiNo is such a fun place to walk around,” says returning Side Stories artist Andi Todaro. “The experience is self-led, free, and allows folks to see five artists who may or may not typically be in the limelight. I’m pretty unconventional, and gallery art is not my thing. The opportunity for me to do something public-facing is rare, so this program is pretty cool. I’m not doing a commission; I’m just doing my art.”

This is Side Stories' fifth year taking over the RiNo Art District with a walking tour of short digital films created by Colorado artists that are projected onto buildings' exterior walls. Visitors are encouraged to use an interactive map on the Side Stories website to locate the walls, listen to an audio tour in which artists discuss their work, learn about nearby food and drink options, and even receive access to exclusive deals at businesses along the walk.

“Side Stories really changes your thinking about what film can do by forcing you to use it in a format you aren’t used to producing in,” Todaro says. "It's also a creative alternative to the mural art that is commonly done here, as well as a fascinating way to transform buildings for a short period of time. This changes the view you’re familiar with, using massive projections in a really exciting way. I applied again this year not thinking I’d get it, so I just feel flattered to be invited back.”

Side Stories was mounted in 2018 by Fiona Arnold, founder and president of the real estate and business development firm MAINSPRING, along with the RiNo Art District, the Martin Family Foundation, the Denver Film Society and the Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media.
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Patrons take in a Side Stories piece projected along the silos in the RiNo Art District
Courtesy of Side Stories
The festival’s goal is to beautify the art district and increase foot traffic to businesses in RiNo. Arnold got the idea for the installation after visiting Montreal and attending one of the city's outdoor festivals.

“Despite it being the middle of winter, people were outside looking at these art installations that were across the town and projected around these big walls,” Arnold says. “I got to thinking about the RiNo area of Denver, which at the time was fairly new, and how something like this would be a great opportunity to get people into Denver to explore RiNo. A lot of Denverites were interested in the area but didn’t know what to explore, so we gave them a map with art on the walls and suggestions on what to do.”

Although the event has continued to evolve over the years, its core remains the same. Each year, artists respond to a theme, and the best projects are selected by a panel of judges to receive a stipend to create a site-specific film that will be loop-projected onto the side of a building.

“We love to see what artists create and how the piece develops once they are assigned a wall,” Arnold says. “Some of the walls have features, like windows or certain fixtures, that they have to creatively integrate into the experience. As we’ve developed, we chose to reduce the number of walls because, even though winters can be mild, we don't want people to have to walk too far to reach them.”

The organizers like to move the event around the neighborhood to spotlight different businesses each year. In the beginning, Side Stories placed walls in areas that were off the beaten path, which occasionally made it difficult for attendees to access all the spots featured in the festival. By choosing areas that are geographically close to each other and in established parts of RiNo, Arnold hopes to make the installations more accessible and easier to navigate.

“The location has so much to offer around it in terms of art galleries, restaurants and entertainment,” Arnold points out. “People should plan on making a night of it. Take in a couple of walls, have dinner and take in the last few walls — really take your time with it. It’s a lovely evening in winter when there isn’t a lot going on.”

While the event was paused in 2021 because of the pandemic, the festival received a jump start in 2022 with Side Stories: Love Story. For 2023’s festival, artists were invited to submit project proposals to a panel of judges around the theme “What Moves You,” for the opportunity to receive an $8,000 grant to develop their original film.

The independent jury received a number of submissions from a variety of genres, including live-action, documentary, historical, motion graphics, animation and experimental. “We were blown away by artist submissions for this year’s theme of 'What Moves You,’” says Side Stories partner Mary Lester of the Martin Family Foundation. “Our panel of judges joined us from a variety of art institutions and creative backgrounds, and everyone was very impressed with the concepts submitted, each of them with a unique take on movement within the human experience.”
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Crowds gather to watch one of the short films play on the side of the Infinite Monkey Theorem.
Courtesy of Side Stories
Alejandra Abad, Jank Films, Payson Wick, Waveform Experiential and Todaro were selected for this year’s festival, and they have been working hard to complete their projects in time for the installation's opening on Friday, February 24. Side Stories 2023 will project the five artists’ short films on walls on Larimer and Walnut streets between 25th and 29th streets.

Each of the films explores the idea of movement from a unique, original perspective. Abad’s work, located on the 2900 block of Larimer Street, tells the story of how people of different abilities engage with music. Jank Films' piece, found on 27th Street between Larimer and Walnut, is about the motion of skateboarding through Denver. Wilk’s installation, at 29th between Larimer and Walnut, explores American landscapes and the healing power of nature.

On Walnut Street's 2600 block, Waveform Experiential’s installation showcases how movement can stimulate the imagination. And at 25th and Larimer streets, Todaro’s film looks at the way AI-generated faces can mimic human movement and emotions. The idea for Todaro’s piece came from the feeling Todara experienced while scrolling through social media and noticed that the content could shift dramatically in tone from post to post.

“When you scroll on Instagram, sometimes you'll see something really happy, then someone is dead, then it's a hot girl's yoga butt, then a dog and then a war video,” Todaro says. “There’s got to be something happening besides just being desensitized when this occurs; it’s this loss of empathy in how we relate to one another. Machines and algorithms are serving up content to us, but are we programming the machines or are they programming us? ”

In order to explore these emotions, Todaro used UnReal Engine, a 3D computer graphics game engine, to generate faces using the software that simulates the gamut of human emotions. The artist then used motion capture to record the faces of the fake models to create the individual images used for the resulting short film.
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An audience members snaps a picture of a Side Stories display.
Courtesy of Side Stories

“I’m using a computer to give fake people fake emotions to look like real people with real emotions,” Todaro explains. “The film is less a film and more of an algorithm of my feelings. It essentially asks, 'Did I even make this?' Obviously, I assembled it, but am I the artist if everything was made using technology created by other people? I like to think I am doing what AI is doing: I’m just amalgamating data that was written by a computer in an artistic form.”

The grassroots festival will project the films for ten nights, from 6 to 10 p.m. Arnold hopes that the experience will move attendees and that they will enjoy the work of Colorado artists in a relaxed outdoor environment.

“The large-scale digital art medium is quite unique, and this is such a fun event for Denver," Arnold says. “Everything is local, and I think everyone’s going to find something that appeals to them. We run it for a long time, so you can pick any night of the week that works for you to get into bars or restaurants. It’s a very relaxed Colorado-style event that requires no planning; you just show up and enjoy it.”

Side Stories opens Friday, February 24, and runs through March 5. Find more information here.
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