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Vail festival films have Colorado connections

Special to the Vail DailyIn the Tour Divide, mountain bike racers compete for bragging rights in this off road event captured in the film "Ride the Divide" showing at the Vail Film Festival this year.

VAIL, Colorado –Every year at least a handful of films selected for the Vail Film Festival are connected to Colorado. Whether it’s a director from Denver, an actor from Boulder or a scene shot in Golden, the state of Colorado is always somehow appropriately represented in the films shown in our little ski town.

This year many of the films being shown have some connection to Colorado and the topics they cover are as wide-ranging the state’s terrain.

It doesn’t get closer to Colorado than the student film entry into this year’s festival, “Victor Fibbs,” a musical-noir by long-time Vail resident Tony Castle. Castle recently moved to New York but grew up in Vail, went to school at Battle Mountain High School and then college at The University of Colorado at Boulder, where he made “Victor Fibbs.”

The film features private detective Victor Fibbs who takes a strange case, double crosses his client, then gets double-crossed himself. Castle said that he was interested in the classic film noir style – the sharp contrasts between dark and light lighting and gritty character. He also says the idea for the movie came to him in a dream. When he woke from the dream, he thought that many of its elements – a liar being exposed for his lie and some of the visual elements – would work well in a nourish film and he started writing his script.

Wanting to break away from the standard conventions of film noir he incorporated his love of Broadway musicals by having characters occasionally break out into song and dance.

“Before I wanted to be a filmmaker I wanted to be an actor on Broadway and in movies and I was in musicals but I was completely incapable of singing or dancing,” Castle said. “But I still loved the idea that in a storyline someone could break out into song and dance and that it’s widely accepted. The whole concept of that is just so absurd.”

Though there’s nothing as over-the-top musically in “Victor Fibbs” as in a Broadway show, Castle said that having just that little bit of something different and extra as a dance number or song in his film just felt appropriate.

Making an even stronger link to Colorado, Castle shot the entire film in Boulder using residents of Boulder as his cast. After shooting the film, Castle moved to New York but still can’t seem to escape the pull of Vail.

“This is where I grew up and it’s a really awesome experience to come to Vail … and show my film to my family and friends. It’s kind of like a homecoming,” Castle said.

All of us will hopefully turn 30 one day, but not all of us will be sure of ourselves and what we are doing with our lives when we reach that point. That is the driving force behind “Inventing Adam,” a feature film comedy at this year’s festival.

In the movie, Adam, who dreams of being an inventor, realizes as he inches towards middle age he has sold out and taken a job as a patent lawyer from his fiancee’s father and the life he is living may not be what he wants. When he heads back to his childhood home in Baton Rouge to celebrate his 30th birthday with old friends, his eyes are opened to the possibilities he is passing up for happiness.

Richie Adams, who wrote and directed the film, also runs River Road Creative, a film design studio in Louisiana. Some of his past work on films include titles design for big-budget Hollywood films like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Jumper” but Adams said he really wanted to try his hand at film-making.

“What I was tapping into as a writer with Adam was what if you didn’t? What if you had this wonderful thing that you wanted to do but you never really followed that dream?” Adams said.

Adams has been a fan of film since he was a kid, he said, and felt he had what it takes to bring a screenplay to life. Though the project took six years to complete, it’s now making its festival debut at the Vail Film Festival, ironically enough, the town that Adams lived in for the summer of ’93 and visited for ski trips during his tenure at The University of Colorado at Boulder from 1994 to 1998.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that Colorado, which has been such a special part of my life, is where my first feature film will debut,” Adams said. “I’m super, super fired up about it.”

The Tour de France is easily the most well known bike race in the world, but that doesn’t make it the most grueling. That’s where the Tour Divide comes in. This unofficial, annual mountain bike race is 2,745 miles of off-road terrain with 200,000 feet of climbing and widely-varying weather that can often be more brutal than the race itself. The Adventure Cycling Association mapped out the course for the race about 10 years ago and it extends from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border following the Continental divide through the Rocky Mountains, including parts of Colorado.

After following the race for four years, Denver resident Mike Dion decided to compete in the race himself in 2008. He also knew he wanted to make a film about his adventures. He met with film director Hunter Weeks to work out the logistics of filming the project, got a camera crew together and turned what he said was going to be just a home video for his collection into “a pretty kick-ass feature film.” The result was “Ride the Divide,” a film making it’ national debut at the festival as part of the Adventure Film Showcase this year.

“The task of filming the whole thing was pretty daunting,” said producer Dion. “There was no scouting pre-locations. (The crew) had a set of maps themselves and they just pretty much immersed themselves pure-documentary-style into the race, into the story, and sort of captured on a daily basis what went down.”

Dion said he and the crew paid special attention to focusing on the unique character of some of the riders, capturing the locals in the small towns they passed through and the beauty of the terrain they struggled to conquer.

“It’s not a sanctioned race, there’s no sponsors, no prize money, no awards, it’s pretty much through blogs and word of mouth,” Dion said.

And the only prize is bragging rights, Dion said. It’s the antitheses of the Tour de France, Dion said, because there’s no teams, there’s no support, the riders do all their own mechanical work, there’s no cars pulling alongside riders to give them water and food and there certainly aren’t any personal masseuses. Dion said that the only chance to reload supplies and fuel up the body is when the race passes through a small town, which happens only once a day usually.

“I would say that the mountain bike race is far tougher than the Tour de France … there’s a 180-degree difference in the magnitude and how they’re pulled off,” Dion said.

Take an underappreciated sport, a hilarious script full of ridiculous dialogue, add a dash of improv humor and shoot the whole thing documentary-style and you’ve got what is probably the funniest mockumentary about the sport of race walking to ever be filmed.

That was director Dan Liechty’s recipe for the film “Race Walkers,” one of the feature films at this year’s festival that is sure to draw lots of laughs from audiences who get to enjoy this light-hearted story of Jeb and Joel Callahan trying to qualify for the Olympics in the sport of race walking – while not realizing they are the butt of the joke in their hometown.

Which hometown? That would be Golden, Colorado, where the film was almost entirely shot.

“I thought that would be a great idea for a mockumentary, just following two guys who are aspiring athletes wanting to be taken seriously in a world that doesn’t care and following them along the road to qualifying for the Olympics,” said Liechty.

Liechty, who moved to Golden from Iowa six years ago, said the smaller community felt like a good fit for the film’s location. Much of the cast is even from the Boulder and Golden area, Liechty said.

This will be “Race Walkers” second festival, the first being the Festivus Film Festival in Denver.

“It’s amazing and I think a lot of filmmakers would say the same thing,” Liechty said. “Just to see it in a theater with an audience and seeing them react to it, I think that’s pretty much the ultimate high for me.”

Many people are aware of the turmoil in Tibet caused by the Chinese takeover of the country in the 1950s, but filmmaker Dirk Simon doesn’t believe enough people are aware of the whole story and where they fit into the big picture. That’s one of the reasons he created “When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun,” a documentary about the history of Tibet since the loss of its autonomy to China. “Dragon” is being featured at this year’s film festival as part of the new Activism Showcase.

Simon, who directed the movie, has been living near Denver for 7 1/2 years and said it boasts a “100 percent Colorado production,” meaning the crew was all from Colorado with only a few minor exceptions, and the post production was done completely in Denver.

Growing up in East Germany under communist rule, Simon, 41, said that the subject of Tibetan oppression was very close to his heart. He said he is fascinated by Buddhist philosophy and practices though he is not a Buddhist himself. The project took him seven years to complete and the post-production was finished in January. The goal of his film is to “trigger a broader discussion” of the subject, Simon said.

“I think that we know about the Tibetan freedom movement and we know about the cause, that’s all established already, but I think … we don’t know really what’s going on and by not knowing exactly what is going on, that prevents us from really helping them and we don’t understand the desperation the Tibetans are in,” Simon said.

“When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun” covers a lot of ground. Simon took his camera crew into Tibet under the watchful eye of the Chinese government and miraculously escaped with footage of not only its beautiful, vast landscapes and city life, but also interviews with many Tibetan and Chinese people in the country.

He also filmed clashes between the two nationalities in San Francisco Also featured in the film are interviews with the Dally Lama himself and coverage of pro-Tibetan rallies in America.

Though Simon’s sympathies clearly lie with the people of Tibet, he said he wanted to make it clear that his film is not meant to be a propaganda piece.

“The idea is to touch people, to make people feel emotions. What people then do with that experience is up to them,” Simon said. “Even if someone just said ‘OK, wow, wait a minute, I just learned what I don’t know and I have so many more questions – I want to find out more.’

“even if that just happened that would be amazing.”