Op-Ed: How the Denver Film Festival Can Survive Another 45 Years

With the recent announcement of a new interim CEO and the anniversary of long-time artistic director Brit Withey's heartbreaking passing, it's been a tough week to reflect on the history of Denver Film. While it's grown significantly in 45 years, its future has never been more at risk. Audiences don't have the same relationship with cinema that they used to. iPhone ads promise that anyone can be a filmmaker, while the streaming wars promise that anyone can watch anything they want from the comfort of their homes. For Denver Film to thrive, it needs to become agile and find new ways to stay relevant to Denverites.

If history is any guide, Denver Film's path won't be easy, regardless of who's CEO. Kevin Smith's appointment marks the sixth executive hired or promoted to lead Denver Film since 2009, when the entire staff famously resigned in what Indiewire dubbed the "Mile High Mutiny." Executive churn, and the stagnating instability it fosters, are largely the domain of the board, which, to date, has shirked its obligation to guide Denver Film responsibly.

In place of achievable goals and adherence to Denver Film's mission, its board has generally been more focused on getting VIP treatment and hobnobbing with celebrities. Consequently, they've stifled creativity, stagnated growth, and made uninformed hiring decisions that scare away audience members, popcorn slingers, and CEOs alike.

Here's some advice to the board: 1) start holding yourselves and your staff accountable by creating achievable, measurable goals in line with the mission, 2) get in touch with your audience and staff to learn their concerns and engage them in a meaningful way (no, not vapid surveys and panels), 3) get over yourselves - you’re not special, you’re servants to the mission, and 4) lose the management drama - it's a film non-profit, lives aren't at stake here.

Do this, and Denver Film might just survive another 45 years.

Charles Powell is an educator and filmmaker from Denver. He worked on numerous Denver Film programs from 2011-2019. frequently publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the community on weekends; the opinions are those of the authors, not Westword. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected], where you can also comment on this piece.