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Vail Film Fest returns with more than 70 films

Rosanna Turner
Daily Correspondent
Roll out the red carpet
Special to the Weekly |

Vail Film Festival parties and special events

THURSdAY

Opening night party at the Lodge at Vail, 9 p.m.

Friday

Concert with Hotel Cafe Musicians at the Marriott in Lionshead, 8:30 p.m.

SaturdaY

Screenplay reading for First Place Short Film and First Place Feature Film at Hospitality Lounge at the Marriott in Lionshead, begins at 11 a.m.

Awards Ceremony at Vail Mountain School, 6:30 p.m.

Closing night party at Marriott’s downstairs ballroom in Lionshead, 8:30 p.m.

For the full lineup of events and screenings, visit http://www.vailfilmfestival.com.

In the opening scene of “Nerdgasm,” actor and performer Tom Lenk isn’t afraid to say what many may be thinking about film festivals:

“Anyone that’s watching this movie either already knows me, is related to me or is at a film festival and they’re just happy that no sea mammals are going to die,” Lenk said.

This lighthearted and hilarious film sets the tone for this year’s Vail Film Festival, which is heavier on laughs and runs Thursday through Sunday. The festival boasts one of its biggest programs this year, screening more than 70 films over a single weekend.

A rom-com that doesn’t follow formula

Opening the festival tonight is “Manhattan Romance,” a movie that pays homage to the early New York City-centric films of Woody Allen.

Tom O’Brien, who wrote, directed and stars in the film, said he was also influenced by the classic “When Harry Met Sally,” only in this case the plot is more like, “When Harry Met Sally, and Sally liked Harry back but also wants an open relationship. Harry’s other best female friend thought she liked girls, but also might like Harry, too.”

In recent decades, big-budget romantic comedies have become synonymous with schlock, but in making “Manhattan Romance,” O’Brien wanted to remind audiences that these movies are crowd-pleasers for a reason.

“Making a romantic comedy that everybody loves, I think it’s hard to do that,” he said. “Everybody wants to make those kinds of films, but it becomes a formula. That’s something we wanted to stay away from, that rom-com studio feel — make it more indie and gritty and in the streets of New York, and more real to the experiences of artists living in New York these days.”

Curated comedies and ‘dorkumentaries’

Another movie that will attempt to make audiences erupt into giggles is the aforementioned “Nerdgasm,” making its world premier at the festival. The film is a “dorkumentary” about Lenk, a comedian and actor from Los Angeles who you may have seen in soda commercials, and his journey to perform at the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Along the way, Lenk indulges in his geek fantasies, like visiting the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling penned the “Harry Potter” books.

This is director Andrew Putschoegl’s third film at the Vail Film Festival, and he is looking forward to coming back this year. Putschoegl said he’s a little nervous to screen “Nerdgasm” for an audience for the first time, but even those who don’t know Lenk can still understand the feeling of never being the coolest kid at school.

“These themes of nerdiness and being an outsider are so universal to so many people,” Putschoegl said. “It’s a movie where everyone can find something to relate to.”

Putschoegl said he appreciates the “laid back, supportive energy” of the Vail Film Festival, whose intimate setting provides more opportunities for filmmakers and audiences to interact with one another. The director also points out that with so many ways for people to watch movies nowadays, film festivals offer a curated cinematic experience, finding the worthwhile needles to screen in “a haystack as large as the Internet,” he said.

“Somebody else has watched (these films) and felt they were good enough or interesting enough or important enough to include,” Putschoegl said. “Audiences appreciate that.”

Docs that dig deeper

Even in the documentary lineup this year, there a few films that fit the funny in while broaching serious subjects, like “Queen Mimi,” which follows a homeless woman who makes her way from living in a laundry mat to walking the red carpet with a movie star. Director Yaniv Rokah first met Mimi when he moved to L.A. to be an actor and started working at a coffee shop. They formed a fast friendship, which turned into Rokah filming her life for five years. Rokah said he never intended to be a director or make a documentary, but Mimi’s personality made the idea impossible to resist.

“(When we met) I thought, ‘Who is this woman?” Rokah said. “She’s in her 80s and loves to be funny and dress up very flamboyantly. She loves to wear pink. She never wears shoes. She loves dancing and singing, and she’s very sharp. I was really curious about what her story was, because I realized she doesn’t have a home. I wanted to capture her personality on camera.”

Like all good documentaries, Mimi’s story extends beyond the surface and makes us ask deeper questions.

“People keep telling me they can’t stop thinking about her story,” Rokah said. “(The film) triggers so many questions in people. What is family? What is home? … It’s a love letter to Mimi. It’s praise for her and her survival and her character and the contribution that she gave to the community.”

Kid-friendly indies

New to the festival this year are family-friendly films and programs. The festival will offer a Kids Shorts Showcase, screening animated and short films that will entertain the tykes but not bore the older folk.

Another kid indie that’s sure to get two tiny thumbs up is the feature “The Okee Dokee Brothers’ Through the Woods: An Appalachian Adventure.” The Okee Dokee Brothers, who are originally from Colorado, are a popular folk duo who write songs for children, encouraging future generations to explore the outdoors and appreciate nature. For their last album, “Through The Woods,” the Brothers decided to film their hike across the Appalachian Trail, resulting in a hybrid documentary and music video.

Mailander said some of the kids who’ve seen the film partake in a little “art imitates life” afterwards.

“They dress up like us,” Mailander said. “They grab poles and hike around their living rooms. They grab a banjo or make one out of cardboard. (Instead of) taking the characters in a superhero movie and pretending to be (them), (we’re) just real people. I think it’s important to have real role models to look up to, not just ones that have superpowers.”

Must-see screenings

Film festivals are always a chance to see something that may never pop up in your Netflix queue, but this year at Vail you’ll have the opportunity to see films that even the most die-hard cinefiles haven’t gotten their hands on yet. “Slow West,” starring Michael Fassbender, just won the World Cinema Jury Prize in the dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival. Set in Colorado in the 1800s, the Vail Film Festival will be one of the first places you’ll get to view this movie before it gets a theatrical release.

Another film not yet available to the general public is “Cut Bank,” staring Liam Hemsworth and Billy Bob Thornton, which centers around a murder in a small town with some unexpected twists. Sean Cross, co-director of the festival with his brother Scott, said even if a film already has distribution, filmmakers like showing them at festivals as a way to generate more word-of-mouth.

“They like to create buzz and build some awareness around the film,” Sean Cross said. “We’re fortunate that they think highly of Vail and the Vail Film Festival.”

Another see-it-or-you’ll-miss-it at the festival this year is a special showcase highlighting Hong Kong cinema, which includes “The Demon Within,” “My Voice, My Life,” “Overheard 3” and “Rigor Mortis.”

“For years, Hong Kong filmmakers have been making really groundbreaking films,” Scott Cross said. “With the rise in the Chinese box office, you’re going to see more and more filmmakers coming out of Hong Kong, and those films will cross over.”

The difficult thing about a three-day film festival, with movies screening almost around the clock, is how to squeeze everything you want to see into your schedule. You might find yourself experiencing FOMO, which if you’re not a teenager, is slang for “fear of missing out.” Instead, a better mindset is to look at all of the captivating dramas, quirky documentaries, genre-bending musicals, family-friendly viewings, short film showcases and international offerings, not to mention the adventure-based and skiing films that are always popular with the local and Colorado crowd as a reason not to miss seeing at least one movie at the Vail Film Festival this year.

Unlike Lenk, if you truly do enjoy seeing movies about sea mammals, there’s a film for you, too: the illuminating documentary “Mexico Pelagico.” No spoilers on whether or not it will make you cry.


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