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Real films, real filmmaking

Caramie Schnell

In order to see a film considered anything north of mainstream, Valleydwellers were once forced to trek over two mountain passes to one of the small independent theatres in Denver: something like the ’30s era Mayan, a far cry from the cookiecutter, officebuildingsize “Landmark” theaters of today springing up in cities and suburbs across the nation.That time has passed.This past spring the Valley’s cultural scene was fortified with the inaugural Vail Film Festival. Organizers of the event thought that, given Vail’s track record with music, dance and theater festivals, a film festival component to the cultural mix could flourish. And they were right they took the financial risk to see if the concept would work (something they suspected would work, due in large part to the connection to the Vail name), and it did. Audience numbers doubled expectations, and producers, directors and actors associated with the films also came to town for the event. And now, five months later, locals have the opportunity to once again see some of the best in independent films.And once again, there are strong local connections.The Beaver Creek Film Festival, for example, will begin its third season on Sept. 16 with a showing of “Seoul Train,” a film by two local filmmakers Jim Butterworth and Lisa Sleeth.With no prior experience, the pair set out to chronicle the plight of the North Koreans by following the desperation of North Korean refugees who attempt to escape into China using an underground railroad of activist volunteers. Their longterm goal with the film is to raise awareness about the human rights abuses that are taking place in North Korea and China. So far they have had unexpected success; South Korean, British, and American parliament and government houses have all shown interest in the film, and the pair has also been groomed by a bigtime documentary film distributor. The success is good news for those working the underground railroad: Sleeth and Butterworth are giving all money made after cost to refugee assistance programs.But Sleeth and Butterworth’s final product is only one taste of the upcoming cinematic banquet. Last year organizers of the Beaver Creek Film Festival catapulted the event to new levels by pairing up with the Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 28th year. The Toronto Festival is widely recognized as the most important film festival after Cannes and the most successful public film festival in the world. All this drew the attention of the Vail Symposium, sponsors of the Beaver Creek Festival, to partner with them.”Toronto is familiar with our audience, and with us, and so they chose films they thought we’d like and some that they thought would push us intellectually,” says Symposium Director Ebby Pinson. “Some of the films are funny, some are love stories, some are documentaries we’ve really tried to find a nice mix.”Toronto’s mission with their festival is to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of film and the moving image, while inspiring audiences to a greater understanding of the world’s cultures.”(This Festival) offers the Valley films we wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to see,” Ebby says. “If you live in a metropolitan area it’s a lot easier to see films such as these, but here in the mountains it’s more difficult.”A fresh voice in cinemaIndependent and documentary films have grown in popularity over the past three years, most notably Michael Moore’s latest tsunami, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which left tidal waves in it’s wake and has long surpassed the 100 million gross mark (a number unrivaled by any other documentary film in history). The slightly lesser known film “Super Size Me,” where director Morgan Spurlock subsists entirely on McDonald’s has grossed over 11 million to date according to boxofficemojo.com, and films like “Fog of War,” “Outfoxed: Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” and the Vail Film Festival’s own “My Date With Drew” have added water to the surge of nonfictional films flooding the country.Seven of the top 10 highestgrossing documentaries of all time have been released in the past year and a half, one sign that documentaries are tapping into the public’s growing hunger for more substance and provocation. That preoccupation with lessfiltered stories is very similar to the reality television phenomenon that has people glued to “Extreme Makeover,” and “The Bachelor” night after night. People are craving reality, and not just when it comes to their television viewing habits. In fact, reality TV seems to have prepped people for the lesspolished, authentic look often found with documentaries.Even independent films, which hit their stride in the ’90s, have some of the same faces as the polished, boxoffice, mainstream Hollywood favorites, and as with anything, people ache for things fresh and new. Documentaries seem to be filling that void and providing a refreshing voice. And it’s all happening right here in Eagle County. VTThe Beaver Creek Film Festival Schedule of eventsThursday, September 167 9 p.m. Seoul Train$5 Donation appreciatedFriday, September 17, 200435 p.m. Jeux D’Enfants5:307 p.m. Reception Beaver Creek Club79 p.m. Republic of Love9 – 9:30 p.m. Dessert and Coffee10 12 a.m. Kwik StopSaturday, September 18, 20048:30 10 a.m. Breakfast and Panel Discussion Saddle Ridge10:30 12:30 p.m. The Clay Bird2:15 5:15 p.m. Falling Angels7:30 9:30 p.m. Seraphin9:30 10 p.m. Dessert and CoffeeSunday, September 19, 20048:30 10 a.m. Wrap Up Breakfast Beaver Creek Inn1011:30 a.m. The Same River TwiceWeekend Package $100Opening Reception,Directors’ Panel Discussion,2 Breakfasts,All FilmsFilm Package $30All FilmsOpening Reception $25Individual Films $8


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