Elizabeth English
Moondance Film Festival

For Elizabeth English, the Moondance International
Film Festival is about more than just film screenings and an opportunity
for up-and-coming moviemakers to network-it’s a chance to right
the historical wrongs of an industry that has long demeaned the
role of women and promoted destructive behavior. She founded the
Boulder, Colorado-based event in 1999 because of her frustration
with the “boy’s club attitude in Hollywood-as well as the perception
that you must live in LA to be considered a serious screenwriter.”
She also bristled at the fact that women writers over the age of
40 have “virtually no chance of getting produced.” Originally open
only to women, the competition has evolved to include work from
either gender, provided the work shows “women in strong, positive
roles, and, if possible, lead roles for women actors over 40.”

Here, as she enters her fourth year of producing the
event, English talks with MM about her festival’s
ambitious mission statement, the quick success she’s found and why
a film festival should celebrate more than just the actors and director.

Jennifer Wood (MM): Though your event is
called the Moondance International
Film Festival, moviemaking
is just one of the arts you celebrate. Can you talk about the other
arts you focus on?

Elizabeth English (EE): The Moondance International
Film Festival invites international screenwriters and filmmakers,
playwrights, short story writers, television writers, librettists,
film music composers, children’s filmmakers and writers, and young
(18 and under) filmmakers and screenwriters.

MM: Why do you think it’s important to celebrate more than just the
directors or actors who help to create a film?

EE: That’s a great question and I’m glad you
asked! First of all, the entertainment industry, worldwide, must
recognize and value the vital role of the writer in the creation
of the concept and script for any film or television show. In legitimate
theater, there is a long tradition of the writer as “king,” and
his or her words on paper are respected and recognized as the ultimate
source of the stage play. Unfortunately, this is not always true
in the film industry, and Moondance aspires to challenge and change
the perception that writers are merely peripheral to the ensuing
film; that their talents and ideas may be dispensed with once the
shooting starts. Additionally, the rest of the above-the-line and
below-the-line film crew should be seen as vital, since film is,
without a doubt, a collaborative medium.

MM:  Your mission is a very ambitious one:
can you talk about what it is that you hope to accomplish with the
Moondance Film Festival?

EE: Moondance offers everyone a unique opportunity,
in a non-elitist environment, to come together with other writers,
directors and producers to create new opportunities, develop tools
for success and forge new alliances within the international film
and entertainment industry. Our goal is to tell good stories, to relate
to people emotionally via our craft, to push the boundaries of the
world film industry and, in the end, to be taken seriously as artists.

Moondance promotes and encourages non-violent conflict
resolution in film, depictions of women and girls in a positive
manner, lead roles for women actors over 40, and appreciation of
ethnic diversity. The Moondance International Film Festival’s mission
is to promote cultural understanding among the peoples of the world.

MM: Can you talk a bit about what your Columbine
Awards are all about?

EE: Our much coveted Columbine Awards are given
to the filmmakers and/or writers who best depict alternatives to
violence as a method of dealing with conflicts, whether personal,
local, national or international, and/or show why violence as a
solution to conflict is ultimately counter-productive and inhumane.
Our mission is to present a vibrant and growing collection of films
and writings, which is an ideal means for communication across perceived
boundaries of race, culture, age and gender.

The Moondance Columbine Award project proposes to
raise global awareness of writers’ and filmmakers’ experiences and
perspectives of peace and conflict. We hope it will help people
better realize their potential as peace-builders, from the village
to the national and international level. Also, it’s our aim to affect
the film, television and music industry, specifically targeting
those entities to motivate them to fund and produce films and shows
which depict alternatives to violent conflict resolution. We also
wish to acknowledge the potentially powerful roles writers and filmmakers
can play in securing peace and gaining a greater commitment by the
film community toward depictions of non-violent conflict resolutions.

MM: Obviously, your platform is one based
as much on political and social equality as it is on quality filmmaking.
What prompted you to develop such an ambitious mission?

EE: Moondance’s resolute and vigorous promotion
of equality for all, in a non-elitist atmosphere, is a vital part
of our mission. And it teaches us to learn more about other people’s
cultures and mores, thus encouraging respect for diversity among all
people. The terrible events of September 11, 2001, as well as the
Columbine massacre in Colorado, the Washington DC sniper killings
and other on-going international conflicts could be solved peacefully
if people around the world respected others and knew of viable alternatives
to violence. Filmmakers and writers can powerfully influence the dissemination
of world knowledge and experience, as well as inspire peaceful resolutions
to conflicts. Film festivals like Moondance can encourage filmmakers
and writers to create the stories that can make a difference.

MM: What are some of your greatest success

EE: A short film, The Unique Oneness of
Christian Savage
, about the ills of apartheid, by a South African
filmmaker, had the distinction of being invited for screening at
the Cannes Film Festival, after winning Moondance. One of
the winning librettists, a young Chinese man from Vancouver, Canada,
had his work noticed by an agent attending Moondance, who subsequently
sent the “book” onto filmmaker Ang Lee, who is now considering it
for a martial arts opera on film.

Another Moondancer who was a finalist in the feature
screenplay category had a script requested by Francis Ford Coppola,
and Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures requested all five finalists’ scripts.
Recently, an online poll was taken among filmmakers asking them
to list the top 10 “most important” film festivals in the world;
important to a filmmaker’s career and to the world film industry.
Moondance came in third in that poll, after Cannes and Sundance.

MM: If you had to sum up, in 10 words or
less, what kinds of projects you’re looking for, what would you

EE: That’s easy! I can do it in four words:
good story, well-told.

MM:  Finally, what do you think makes Moondance
stand out from the number of other festivals that keep popping up?

EE: Our strict emphasis on absolute top quality
films and scripts. To say you’ve won Moondance is to have doors
open for you that may otherwise remain closed. Producers and agents
know that a Moondance film or script is always going to be the best
of the best. Additionally, Moondance is an “open” film festival,
in that we strive to always be available to the participants, and
to encourage and inspire them, throughout the year, anytime. We’re
people-oriented and non-elitist. At the Moondance 2002 awards ceremony,
the entire room full of 200 people gave me a standing ovation for
five minutes, some of them with grateful tears streaming down their
faces. But I reminded them that it is they who make Moondance
what it is; it’s their stories, their films, their scripts, their
music scores, not mine. And it’s the time and talents of the Moondance
staff and many volunteers who make it all possible.