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Denver, Woodstock

Denver, Woodstock

Articles - Directing

Denver International Film Festival

The true test of any film festival is the testimony
of its attendees—the moviemakers and their audiences. From
the astoundingly positive answers a wide cross-section of recent
Denver International Film Festival alumni gave to our inquiries,
it’s clear this organization and its staff have nearly perfected
the art of running a great festival. Now entering its 25th year,
DIFF boasts plenty of notable alumni—from Michael Powell and
Louis Malle to Sean Penn and Robert Altman. This is an event where
moviemakers and the community come together purely for the appreciation
of film, and it’s hard to see how the next quarter of a century
won’t be even kinder to the Denver International Film Festival.

Much of the attending moviemakers’ enthusiasm has
taken root in the Denver community. Ben Hayflick, whose short film
Camille played at Denver in 2002, comments that “based on the Q&A
session that I did, these people are bright, highly
informed and passionate about films.” LA-based moviemaker
AJ Schnack, who directed the feature Gigantic, echoes
the sentiment: “The community is dedicated—they’re similar
to Seattle in their cinematic knowledge and involvement.”

On the downside, some past attendees lament that the
local press can be a tough group to woo. “The LA papers had no trouble
reviewing our film—and gave us good reviews, too. The LA Times
even did a feature story about our film after the showcase. But
the Denver papers wouldn’t look at our film. It’s not the festival’s
fault, it’s just a tough market to get exposure, I guess,” says
Jason Van Vleet, who showed his documentary Terror From Within.
Compensating somewhat is the festival’s internal aggressiveness
in promoting individual works. Moviemakers were almost unanimous
in their approval of this aspect. Danny Meltzer, who showed his
short Fater, was impressed by “how professionally they treated me,
even though I was just one of many short filmmakers. They had a
lot of high-profile movies showing, but I got as much prompt, courteous
attention as anyone.”

Film Festival 2003:
October 9 – 18, 2003
Deadline for Submissions:
July 15, 2003
Information:
www.denverfilm.org

DIFF co-founder Ron Henderson points out that “the
festival has a sophisticated outreach program that includes partnerships
with numerous organizations which sponsor and promote individual
festival films to their members and constituencies.” Such targeted
promotional efforts do not go unnoticed by moviemakers. Many reported
near-capacity or sold-out crowds at multiple showings, while others
were able to gain widespread media attention through these special
interest screenings.

With Columbine High School nearby, gun control is
still a hot-button topic in Denver. In addition to Michael
Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, DIFF’s 2002
event showcased a number of similarly-themed projects, including
Paul Ryan’s Home Room, starring Busy Philipps (Dawson’s Creek) and Erika
Christensen (Traffic), about two teenage girls
who survive a high school shooting. “While not officially part of
the festival, positive reaction at our screening led to an invitation
to speak to students at Columbine High School. Busy Philipps and
I spent an emotional, unforgettable Friday morning at Columbine…
[It was] easily the most important aspect of our time spent in Denver,”
says Ryan. Director Ben Coccio, whose feature Zero Day is also about
a school shooting, was a part of this themed programming as well.

What impressed him most was how the DIFF staff “introduced
me and my movie to the community in a way that put it on equal footing
with higher budgeted flicks that had bigger casts and/or distribution.”

He continues by noting that “I was on an intense panel
discussion with Michael Moore and the father of a Columbine victim,
Tom Mauser. There aren’t many festivals that will put a fledging
auteur like me on the same panel as an old hand like Moore. Denver
is top-notch.”

Though some moviemakers comment that a bit stronger
distributor presence would help put Denver in league with some of
the world’s most important festivals, moviemakers who have screened
and/or attended the event see little room for improvement. Concludes
Joel Sadilek, whose short The Summer House screened last
year, “What separates this festival from Sundance or Toronto, for
example, is simply industry attendance and profile of the films
premiering here. All other elements are in place. It gets closer
every year.”

Woodstock Film Festival

At just three years old, New York’s Woodstock Film
Festival is already making a name for itself among the better regional
fests, attracting such notable moviemakers as Tim Robbins, Haskell
Wexler, Todd Haynes, Marcia Gay Harden and Parker Posey. Ethan Hawke,
Susan Seidelman, Aidan Quinn, John Sloss and Bingham Ray are on
its honorary/advisory board. Haynes’ Far From Heaven and Hawke’s
Chelsea Walls had their U.S. premieres here, while Neil Burger’s
Interview with the Assassin and Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo have made
Woodstock a stop on their paths to critical acclaim.

According to Woodstock’s executive
director, Meira Blaustein, what makes her fest different is that
“the festival successfully integrates other art forms, especially
music, via the Focus on Music program, which features music-related
films, workshops, seminars and concerts.” Even with some key industry
players supporting this yearly September event, Blaustein credits
its success to the local community. “In 2002, more than 25 local
films were screened and promoted. Since so many artists live and
play in Woodstock, their presence is a major force,” she states.

Woodstock Film Festival 2003:
September 17 – 21, 2003
Deadline for Submissions:
June 30, 2003
Information:
www.woodstockfilmfestival.com

For their part, Woodstock alumni also cite the community
as one of the festival’s key benefits. For moviemaker Catherine
Tingley, whose film A Girl’s Guide to the Galaxy won Best
Student Short in 2002, what impressed her most was “the vibe! Everyone
was super-friendly and supportive, even reverent toward filmmakers.
There are great parties and it’s just a cool scene.”

Though Woodstock’s small-town atmosphere accounts
for much of the festival’s charm, the challenges of being so far
removed from a major city can spread to the technical side. Makeshift
screening venues (where an audience’s comfort level can compromise
their desire to sit through an entire film) and a lack of available
sophisticated exhibition technology were the only concerns expressed
by past moviemakers. Still, they raved about packed houses and appreciative
audiences. Nearly everyone we spoke with looks forward to coming
back with their next project. MM

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