Vail Film Festival shines a light on unseen stories |

Vail Film Festival shines a light on unseen stories

Caramie Schnellcschnell@vaildaily.comVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyThe documentary "When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun," includes rare footage of the coronation of the exiled king of Tibet, Lhagyari Trichen Namgyal Wangchuk.

VAIL, Colorado -There are films like the newly-released “Hot Tub Time Machine,” where you go, turn off your brain, chow half a box of popcorn and laugh for 90 minutes straight and then forget about it nearly immediately.And then there are films that make you think, and in doing so, can leave you inspired and giddy, or with a sinking feeling in your gut. Either way, they swirl around in your head for days or even months afterwards. Each type of movie certainly has its place, and there’s plenty of each at this week’s Vail Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday. The founders of the Vail Film Festival, brothers Scott and Sean Cross, decided to showcase four films that make heady social statements in their “Activism Showcase,” which is new to the festival this year. The directors of “Climate Refugees,” “Split Estate” and “When The Dragon Swallowed the Sun” are all attending the film festival. They’ll be leading Q&A sessions after some of the screenings, as well as participating in an activism panel taking place noon on Saturday at Vail Plaza Hotel. “The panel will focus on the importance of film for not only entertainment, but also social commentary,” said Scott Cross.In the past, the festival has offered panels on things like securing funding for indie films and how to distribute indie films, discussions that oft-times were attended by more film insiders than film lovers. Cross is hopeful Saturday’s panel will appeal to a wider audience.

One of the four activism films being showcased takes place pretty close to home – around 75 miles west, to be specific. Colorado native Debra Anderson directed and produced the documentary, “Split Estate,” much of which was filmed near Rifle. A split estate is when a homeowner owns the land above ground, but not the mineral rights underneath, which is what’s happening more and more on the Western Slope. A magazine article about the natural gas drilling in Garfield County turned her onto the project in 2006.”I couldn’t believe that an energy company could come in on private land and drill without the consent of a landowner, and that the drilling activities in this community were making people sick,” she said. Anderson’s film in particular is helping a rural community publicize its story, something that they might not be able to afford or know how to do. “The (oil and gas industry) has very deep pockets and can easily publicize its point of view,” Anderson said. “Activist films are important because they can shine a light on stories that might otherwise go unseen and in a film one can step into the life of a person in a unique way and see and feel what they are going through in a more visceral way than one always can in other medias.”Festival staff member Michael Liss will moderate the panel. Liss himself was imprisoned in China in 2008 after being arrested for working with Students For a Free Tibet during the Beijing Olympics. Liss and five others – dubbed “the Beijing six” – were in jail for 10 days before the U.S. ambassador facilitated their release, Liss said. Liss considers activist films an extension of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”As the world continues to face bigger issues and become more of a global community, and films continue to have more reach, it’ll become a more and more important part of the conversation,” he said.

Visit to learn more or to see a full film lineup. High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

Support Local Journalism