Christina Ricci, Julie Delpy and other Vail Film Festival highlights |

Christina Ricci, Julie Delpy and other Vail Film Festival highlights

Jessica Smith

I planned my questions for more than a week. I wrote them down on my computer, in my notebook, on my phone. As interview time approached, I read them out loud, committing them to memory, practicing the cadence, the pacing, the exact wording. I stood in public places, mumbling to myself, preparing for the moment when I’d be in the spotlight — or, more accurately, when I’d be pointing my recorder toward the spotlight.

This year, the Vail Film Festival presented “women in film” as its focus, an admirable choice at a time when the industry is starting to make more public its self-reflection on a lack of gender representation among its ranks. As part of that, the festival presented two awards — the Renegade award to Christina Ricci and the Vanguard award to Julie Delpy.

And I was preparing to interview them both.

I love the weeks leading up to a film festival almost as much as the festival itself, because those are usually when I’m learning the most — researching films, watching advance copies and interviewing filmmakers — to write articles to get readers as excited as I am.

I was lucky enough to talk to several such people before this year’s festival, with each interview as enjoyable as the one before. And when the festival finally started, and I sat down in the darkened theater, what I saw blew me away. I did not see a single film that didn’t resonate with me the entire weekend. Usually there are at least one or two films that you kind of shrug and say, “Well, I guess I see what they were trying to do there,” but not this weekend.

With the parade of amazing films — “Little Stones,” “Burqua Boxers,” “Sticky Notes,” “Custody” and “A Sibling Mystery” among them — not to mention the Women in Film Panel discussion on Saturday, I was fully satiated with awesome independent film material.

But of course, all throughout Friday and Saturday, my nervousness grew. I arrived an hour early to the Cascade Theater where the red carpet photos and interviews would be taking place right before the awards ceremony. I chatted up the volunteers, my fellow interviewers from the TV station, anyone who passed near me. I sent texts to friends for moral support. I practiced my questions several hundred more times.

Finally, it was time. The interviews began, with producers, actors and directors walking by and sharing comments on their films, the festival and their accomplishments. I wanted to talk to each one in depth, to learn the story of the struggle and passion behind each project, but the time whirled away.

Contagious enthusiasm

Then Christina Ricci walked into the room.

She was short, impeccably dressed and entirely professional. She posed for pictures, then acquiesced to our interviews. I asked the questions I’d been practicing to myself for days.

How did it feel to be honored with this award? (A warm-up question, something to get us talking.)

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s great, I think it’s really cool. I really like the sort of special interest of the festival, obviously.”

Perfect, she led me right into my second question: What does it mean to have a festival put such an importance and focus on women in film?

“I think it’s great, I mean it’s wonderful,” she replied.

Encouraged, I asked a few more questions. She laughed, she talked and said one of my favorite quotes of the entire festival.

“I love it. It sort of re-energizes you as an artist and a filmmaker,” she said of what she enjoys about attending film festivals. “And that kind of enthusiasm is contagious.”

I hardly had a chance to process that I’d just spoken with Christina Ricci — a woman who I’d watched in various films throughout the years as I grew up, whose face I knew so well but whose voice I had just heard with my own ears, answering questions from my own mouth — when Julie Delpy arrived.

‘It takes years’

She projected an entirely different yet equally positive energy. She was fluid, moving with grace, and immediately once we started talking, it felt such as all of the noise of other interviews and flash of cameras faded away.

“Oh, this is great, I mean, I don’t receive many awards,” she said with a laugh after my first question. “I was nominated for a few awards but you know it’s always nice when people recognize your work because it takes a lot of effort. I mean, people often see results of the film but they don’t know the amount of time and work that comes into films in general. … It takes years and years of hard work.”

She went on to talk about her experience as a director and how she finds it much easier to get her films financed in France and the rest of Europe than the United States. When I asked if she thought festivals like Vail emphasizing women’s roles were important, she looked me right in the eye and said, “Listen, everything to help women filmmakers, independent filmmakers — any festival, (like) this festival, putting a bit of a spotlight on independent filmmakers, women filmmakers, is essential. So every single step is essential.”

And then she was gone, whisked away to other interviews. Still a bit shell-shocked from the rush of meeting celebrities, mixed with the relief that the interviews went well, I made my way into the theater, where I found a single seat open and settled in.

Turning and talking to the man on my right, he asked how my night was going.

“Great!” I replied, unable to contain myself. “I just interviewed Christina Ricci and Julie Delpy!”

Memorable moments

This was how I met the amazing cast and filmmakers of “A Sibling Mystery,” starting with actor Keith Bethea. We chatted as we waited for the ceremony to begin and I promised to connect with them for the final screening of their film on Sunday.

After the awards ceremony and the closing night film — the emotional yet lovable “Sticky Notes,” produced by Katie Mustard, starring Rose Leslie and Ray Liotta — I struck up a conversation with the woman on my left. She was not a filmmaker but a film enthusiast, a resident of Minturn basking in the joy of the festival as much as I was. We went together to the closing night party, where many more impassioned conversations ensued with a number of filmmakers and film enthusiasts.

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to catch the final showing of “Custody” starring Viola Davis, as well as the quirky and delightful “A Sibling Mystery,” the perfect way to end a festival composed nearly entirely of personal highlights.

Looking back on the weekend, though it would be easy to say meeting quite famous people was the height of the event, there are numerous moments that stand out almost as much.

Conversations, connections, comments. The fact that sitting at any seat in the Cascade Theater audience could lead me to new discussions and friendly interactions. And at the end of it all, I went home full of inspired creativity, excited to follow my own passions, as those at the festival had done. That enthusiasm was, as Christina Ricci had said, contagious.

And that was the best part.

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