Vail Film Festival celebrates women behind the lens, March 30-April 2 |

Vail Film Festival celebrates women behind the lens, March 30-April 2

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily
Miranda Bailey
Nick Holmes | Special to the Weekly |

Vail Film Festival schedule

Film screenings take place at the Cascade Theaters at the Hotel Talisa, 1300 Westhaven Drive, Vail; and CineBistro at Solaris, 141 E. Meadow Drive, No. 104, Vail. Visit for film schedules, parking information and other details.

Thursday, March 30

7:30 p.m. — Opening Night film: “Carrie Pilby,” Cascade Theaters

10 p.m. to midnight — Opening Night Party, La Tour Restaurant

Friday, March 31

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film Screenings: Hong Kong showcase, documentaries, student film showcase, narrative features and shorts; Q-and-A sessions follow some films, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro

4 to 6 p.m. — Filmmaker Reception, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Co.

Saturday, April 1

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film Screenings: documentaries, narrative features and shorts. Q-and-A sessions follow some films; Q-and-A sessions follow some films, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro

1 p.m. — Panel: Women in Film, Cascade Theaters

7 to 7:30 p.m. — Awards Ceremony, Cascade Theaters

7:30 p.m. — Closing Night Film: “Sticky Notes,” Cascade Theaters

9:30 p.m. to midnight — Closing Night Party, Larkspur Restaurant

Sunday, April 2

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film Screenings: Hong Kong showcase, documentaries, student film showcase, narrative features and shorts; Q-and-A sessions follow some films, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro

2 to 4 p.m. — Best student film and best documentary, Cascade Theaters

4:30 to 6:30 p.m. — Best short and narrative feature, Cascade Theaters

7 to 8:45 p.m. — Audience Award, Cascade Theaters

Get your theater pants on, folks: It’s time to go to the movies. The Vail Film Festival, with an expansive lineup of 51 films, is back to amaze, educate, entertain and, perhaps, even inspire you.

The Vail Film Festival is known for its wide range of films, from shorts to documentaries to feature-length films. The festival, now in its 14th year, will begin on Thursday, and continue to Sunday, screening short and student films, as well as narrative and documentary feature films. But this year, the focus is on more than the films that will premiere. It’s also on the people behind the movies: women, specifically.

In the film industry, there are many, many more men than women with roles behind the camera. San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film released a study on the employment of women in the top 100, 250 and 500 films of 2016; the numbers show the disparity in the industry.

In 2016, women comprised 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of two percentage points from last year; it’s equal to the percentage achieved in 1998.

“We’d been reading a lot and getting the feedback in the film industry that women are underrepresented as writers and directors and producers,” said Vail Film Festival co-director Sean Cross. “We thought it would be a great idea to get involved and make a difference by focusing this year’s event on female filmmakers.”

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This year, all of the feature films being shown at the Vail Film Festival have been written, directed or produced by women. The final tally is impressive: 24 female directors, 22 female writers and 44 female producers are showcasing their work.

For festival co-director Megen Musegades, the films being screened are interesting not for the themes that are explored — death, family, relationships, etc. — but how women specifically address these themes.

“They’re the same themes, but looked at in a different angle,” Musegades said. “It was super enjoyable … for programmers, it was refreshing.”

In addition to the lineup of 11 world and U.S. premieres and 31 Colorado premieres, the festival is hosting a Women in Film panel discussion on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. at the Cascade Theaters. Featuring producer, director and actor Miranda Bailey; writer, director and producer Courtney Balaker; writer and director Leila Djansi and producer Katie Mustard, the conversation will focus on each woman’s personal experiences within the film industry, as well as discussing the industry as a whole and women’s opportunities in film. Denver Film Festival director and producer Britta Erickson will moderate.

“We’ve had such a great, positive response from filmmakers — both male and female — when we announced our call for entries,” Musegades said. “It feels like a positive initiative. There’s a feeling in the film community that there needs to be a focus on supporting female filmmakers and diversity in general, in terms of having more female filmmakers in key power positions.”

Producers, directors, writers and more

There are many amazing women involved in this year’s Film Festival, from writers to directors to producers. We spoke to a few to get their thoughts on women in the industry.

Susan Johnson

“We didn’t set out to make this an all-female film,” said Susan Johnson, an Independent Spirit Award-winning filmmaker and director of the festival’s opening film, “Carrie Pilby.”

However, it was a largely female team that created the film. In addition to Johnson, there were two female producers (Susan Cartsonis and Suzanne Farwell) and a female writer, Kara Holden. And while most of the crew was men, which is the case in most films, Johnson said that wasn’t the point.

“I’m not obsessed with having an all-female team,” Johnson said. “I am obsessed with women’s voices being heard and women having the opportunity to direct.”

The film, which is an adaption of the novel of the same name, tells the story of Carrie Pilby, an extremely intelligent girl who is struggling to make sense of the world around her. Working her way through a list of simple goals ultimately helps her relate to those around her.

Johnson said it took a while to find the story she wanted to tell in her directorial debut. She started her career as a music video producer before moving to film. Her producer credits include “Mean Creek,” “Weiners,” “Nearing Grace” and “Eye of the Hurricane.”

Courtney Balaker

Balaker, a Colorado native, is a producer, writer, director and actress. She produced the horror films “The Collector,” “Pulse” and “Feast,” as well as the documentary “Can We Take a Joke?” Her film, “Little Pink House” is a Vail Film Festival official selection.

“It’s not common for women to be at the helm, directing a film,” Balaker said. “It’s like being the captain of a chaotic ship; you’re the umbrella under which everything falls. Ultimately, it’s your vision and you have to delegate and you have to answer a million questions a week and solve a million problems every day, and it’s hard work.”

Balaker put in the work on “Little Pink House.” She wrote, produced and directed the film, which stars two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn. The film, which tells the story of a small-town nurse who fights a giant pharmacy company over imminent domain, is a David and Goliath tale that remains timely.

“It’s all storytelling,” Balaker said. “We’re all storytellers, and we’re best at telling the stories that we know personally or we relate to deeply or touch us in ways that are profound. I’m hopeful, especially given the fact that the business is changing so dramatically, that there will be more opportunities for women to tell the stories that they want to tell.”

Rachel Wortell and Dan Erickson

Wortell and Erickson, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in “A Sibling Mystery,” know about the importance of women in film: In addition to their co-producers (both women), most of the crew were female, too.

“That’s not the norm,” Wortell said. “The crew especially is usually more masculine. It kind of was a combo that it just worked out that way and we were looking for women.”

Erickson explained that some of the crew came from New York University’s film school, a place he thought seemed to be working to make sure more women are involved in their film program.

“It wasn’t hard for us to find women crew,” Wortell said.

“The bigger issue is to break into the upper echelons,” Erickson said. “Our peers, those people in our group, it seems more balanced.”

“A Sibling Mystery” is making its world premier at the Vail Film Festival. A comedy, the film is a complete collaboration, according to the pair, who have known each other since they were 14 years old.

“We do have a brother-sister dynamic, and I love sibling relationships,” Wortell said.

“We might had made a movie about ourselves,” Erickson added with a laugh.

From star-studded feature films to thought-provoking documentaries to clever shorts, the Vail Film Festival is sure to have something for just about everyone. So take a look at the full list online and make your schedule accordingly. You never know what you might experience.

Passes are currently on sale on the Festival website. In addition to screenings, festival passes provide access to the Women in Film panel discussion and a series of networking receptions. To purchase passes, visit

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