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Small films with big returns

Wren Wertin

For Steve Lindstrom, owner of the Eagle County movie theaters, he prefers not to distinguish between mainstream films and art-house films. They are simply movies good for his audience, or not.

And this fall, he’s bringing in small films with big reviews.

Last week, “Dirty Pretty Thing” opened in Vail. Friday, Sept. 5, “Winged Migration” hits the big screen at the Cascade, and the following Friday, Sept. 12, sees “Spellbound” in Vail.

Boasting French star Audrey Tautou of “Amelie” fame, “Dirty Pretty Thing” isn’t such a shock in Vail. The occasional foreign film gets big-screen time on a regular, if not frequent, basis. But “Winged Migration” and “Spellbound” are in another category entirely – they’re documentaries.

“Some of these are movies that you don’t find in the big 20-plexes in the city,” said Lindstrom. “The fall is when we play more small films because there’s not so many of the bigger pictures competing with the audiences.”

Kids are in school, so there’s less available for the children and teen group. And the valley’s tourist market switches from family-centric to more adult-oriented.

“We try to serve the whole market,” said Lindstrom. “And that means the family market, the broader young adult market, and what we have up here, which is maybe larger than typical, is the adult market, the mature audience. We also have a fairly educated worldly population up here. They will support films that quite often take a larger audience base to support. We will get some response on some of the smaller films that wouldn’t even show up in mid-sized cities.”

“Whale Rider,” a film shot in New Zealand about a Maori tribe, is resting at number 20 in terms of national box office numbers, but in Vail it’s holding its own at number five. Though not a documentary, it’s based on a real tribe and the issues they’re facing.

“Winged Migration” is the story of birds, and their dramatic migration routes. For three years, the filmmakers circumnavigated the globe, following all types of animals, including geese, grouse, eagles, albatross, penguins, flamingoes, owls and more.

“What if we understood that our borders did not exist, that the earth is a one and only space and what if we learned to be free as birds?” asked Jacques Perrin, the film’s director, writer and producer.

“It’s a foreign film,” explained Lindstrom. ” But there’s almost no dialogue, so that doesn’t even matter. It’s just one of those fascinating things to watch.”

“Spellbound” is a different type of film – it follows eight contestants out of the 248 at the 1999 National Spelling Bee, “a two-day bloodbath.” Wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone:

“Whether from a Texas ranch, a Missouri trailer park or a Washington, D.C., housing project, these spellers define something unique about the American character. By the time they’re onstage, your pulse is pounding right along with theirs.”

Both of these movies have been out for a while, though they’re just now coming to Vail. Because they’re smaller, fewer prints are available of them.

“So they have to keep moving around the country,” explained Lindstrom. “With these small films, they might just be here for a week.”

They also rely on word of mouth, as opposed to a big marketing blitz.

Lindstrom and his wife book all their own films for the four local theaters. There’s no formula for them, as they discover films in many different ways – industry screenings in Denver, Hollywood studio contacts, film festivals or just plain old gut instinct.

His favorite film of the season has been “Open Range.”

“I think it’s an old genre re-invented, brought up to date in a way a number of years ago “Unforgiven’ was,” he said. “I also liked its contemporary storytelling mode, telling an old story. It was a nice complete movie.”

As the days slowly get shorter and the weather gets rainier and colder, movie season is just beginning in earnest in the mountains.

“One of our major competitions is the good weather,” said Lindstrom. “That’s why it’s great to be in the movie business in Seattle, and is why they have some of the best performing movie theaters in the country.”

For movie times, call the theaters at 476-5661. Crossroads Cinema and Cascade Village Theatre are in Vail, Riverwalk Theatre is in Edwards and Capitol Theater is in Eagle.

“Watching a lot of movies, you can get jaded,” said Lindstrom, who has been in the business since 1983. But quite often it’s these small little movies that make you realize what a great storytelling medium it is.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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