Independent thinkers |

Independent thinkers

Tom Boyd

At first, it seemed like some kind of anomaly. How could this happen? In one instant, exactly a year ago, it seemed like everyone in Vail stopped, looked in the mirror, and decided to suddenly be cool. People were saying interesting things, watching interesting movies, and wearing interesting clothes.Gone were the ballroom-gown, diamond-studded-broaches normally seen at hoddy-toddy Vail galas. Suddenly we were seeing vintage T-shirts, trucker hats, swirling hair, perfectly-torn jeans, funky sunglasses what the hell was going on!?! The ballroom lobby at the Cascade hotel, usually reserved for pedestrian corporate events, looked like the temporary center of the nation’s independent film and music scene.And that’s because it was.For one weekend each year, Vail is now legitimately on the “cool” map, and it’s all because of the Vail Film Festival, which heads into its second year now through April 3.Long a hideaway for corporate CEOs and famous lawyers (did you hear Eliot Spitzer was in town recently?), Vail is now drawing the eye of a higher-profile, higher-energy crowd. Like the dorky rich girl who finally gets the attention of a rock ‘n roll star, Vail is now being courted by the cooler elements of national society.And locals are loving it, too. The Film Festival provides a great excuse to pull out the Johnny Cash T-Shirt. and the vintage ’70s Ray Bans. It gives us a shot to drink-in a much-needed dose of urban high culture. In a town which almost exclusively plays big-budget films and mainstream movies, the hunger for something new and different is nearly insatiable.For New York and L.A.’s independent filmmakers, the Festival provides an excuse to take a spring vacation in Vail (Aspen is just soooo, “been there, done that”).When the two groups merged last year, a kind of bubbly chaos ensued.The positive vibes were off the charts.It was wildness.Hundreds of people flooded local theaters and screening rooms, creating long lines and a bit of confusion, but the raw energy of the event couldn’t be diverted and in the end it was generally received as a winner even by the coolest of the cool (who, as we all know, generally pooh-pooh everything as a matter of principle.)Somehow the Vail Film Festival charmed even the most vicious snakes in the film industry. Most of the little glitches were brushed aside by critics as, “expected,” for a film festival’s first year. But other elements of the Fest brought surprising accolades.”The panels in particular were some of the best I’ve seen lately just as good as what you’d find at Sundance or another festival of that caliber,” wrote Wendy Mitchel for the website idieWIRE.In a nation that already holds more than 400 film festivals, it’s hard to stand out in a crowd. And it’s true a few crotchety reviewers weren’t impressed by EVERY film, but nearly everyone gushed about the Fest’s location right at the base of Vail’s slopes.And a few films made a nationwide splash with their showings at the Film Festival as in this report from the normally cranky, cooler-than-thou reviewer Jeffrey Wells.”You’re not supposed to let a festival-crowd reaction to a film influence your opinion of any presumed commercial potential it might have, since festival audiences are always super-enthusiastic and supportive,” he wrote. “But there was something ‘extra’ about the reaction to ‘My Date With Drew,’ especially during the final act.”And all Hollywood tipped their hats to the prowess of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset,” starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, which had its North American premier at the 2004 Film Fest and later went on to receive stellar reviews from critics nationwide (including a nod from the Village Voice, which called it the best film of the year) even if it didn’t make a killing at the box office.With major sponsorship (from BestLife magazine), appearances from Hollywood big-wigs (like Luke and Owen Wilson, as well as legendary producer Edward R. Pressman), music from up-and-coming bands (like the Cary Brothers, who appeared on the Grammy-winning “Garden State” soundtrack), and a full-slate of Oscar-winning shorts, intriguing features, piercing documentaries and Q&A panels with actors and filmmakers, this year’s Festival looks all set to outdo last year.It’s a big, big show and it’s everything founders Scott and Sean Cross have dreamed of.Well, almost everything.* * *A quick Google search of Scott and Sean Cross now brings up a few pages of links but none of them reference anything before 2004. The fraternal twin brothers are as new to their budding stardom as the indie filmmakers who provide the large bulk of the material for their Festival.The brothers’ first foray into the world of movie-making didn’t create near the splash of the Vail Film Festival. In fact, when the two brothers decided to move to Los Angeles in the early ’90s, they didn’t stand apart from any of the other thousands of people who move to Hollywood with big dreams. They left college after a year and headed out West. Hot on the tail of imagined success, the brothers sputtered out fast.They were the epitome of the starving artists. The duo lived in a tiny apartment in L.A., making very little money, with no furniture and only mattresses on the floor to sleep on. They had no college degrees, no contacts, and no prospects.”We gave (L.A.) a shot for about a year,” Scott said. ” It was a great experience, to live that life of the aspiring actor trying to make it. But you realize at some point that it’s fruitless, and that there’s a smarter way to do this.”They decided to head back to college, but still study filmmaking. Sean went to the University of Richmond, in Virginia, and Scott headed to the University of California at Berkeley.”And so that’s what we did. Now, looking back, we made some tough choices, but we always had the courage to pursue our dreams. And sometimes part of that pursuit is realizing you’re on the wrong path.”Rather than give up on their dream, they simply decided to take other routes. They still want to be screenwriters, actors, directors and filmmakers, but they know it’s a difficult world to jump into. They continue to write screenplays and work their way onto the scene and the Film Festival is helping them attract the attention of the movie industry.* * *For Scott and Sean, their interest in writing began as youths in Cape Town, South Africa, where they were born. At the age of 10, their mother, Judith Landau, moved them to Rochester, New York. Their grandfather, Johan H. Naude, was a famous South African poet and playwright. Their maternal great-grandfather was a journalist and author.Soon after their mother moved them to New York, Sean and Scott first visited Vail. They had learned to love mountains and water in Cape Town, but here they learned to love the outdoors and skiing.Although their mother, father, siblings, and most of their other relatives are doctors, the fraternal twins both began following in the footsteps of the family’s writers at a very early age.The pair may have ended up being playwrights if not for their stepfather, a movie buff who used to take them out to see films in Rochester. It was a bit difficult to adjust to life with their stepfather, Sean and Scott said, and going to movies helped them bond with their mother’s new husband.During the times they struggled, their mother always supported them.”I’ve always believed in people following their dreams, not only to make them happy, but also because it leads to success for them and their mission,” Landau said. “I don’t believe in following the traditional path it doesn’t generally bring the right rewards. I’m very proud of them. I couldn’t be happier.”Landau, a doctor who runs a global company out of Boulder and Albany-based offices, plans on bringing her operations to Vail in the near future.In the meantime, she and the boys’ grandmother love having the film festival in Vail (“It brings the family together at least once a year,” Landau said). And she, like other ticket holders, is looking forward to being entertained during the valley’s most artistic annual event. VTVail Film FestivalOffice phone: (866) 476-1092Office hours: Monday Friday,9 a.m. 5 p.m.Will call booth hoursFriday, April 1 and Saturday, April 28 a.m. noon, 2 p.m. 6 p.m.Sunday, April 310 a.m. 12 p.m.The will call booth is located at the Vail Marriott in Lionshead.

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