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Coming Attractions

Final day of Vail Film Festival honors filmmakers and their art

"Mary Goes Round" receives top honor

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Day 3 – April 7

The final day of my Vail Film Festival experience and guess what – it’s raining. Again.

But that’s okay, because today turns out to be the most interactive and exciting day of the festival. So, let’s get to it

11:30 a.m. – Blue Starlite Cinema

For years I’ve kicked around the idea of writing a script, and I’m not the only writer I know who has thought about using the art of film to tell a story. I even have an uncle who has written a fantastic television pilot based on Colorado’s own history.

But the festival’s “Getting From Script to Screen” panel goes beyond offering tips for getting through writer’s block – though there are a few ideas for those struggling with the blank page.

Hosted by the Vail Daily newspaper’s Tricia Swenson, the panel included three women who have films showing this weekend - writer/director Stacy Cochran (“Write When You Get Work”), director/producer Kerry David (“Bill Coors: The Will to Live”), and writer/director Molly McGlynn (“Mary Goes Round”) – and Colorado Deputy Film Commissioner Mariel Rodriguez-McGill.

All four women come from different areas of the industry and provided different insights on everything from finding financing for their projects, getting the right cast, and the challenges of being a woman in an industry that so often ignored their contributions.

“When you’re in charge and people start undermining you, they’re not undermining your confidence, but the confidence of everyone around you, and that’s something women experience in a different way than men” Cochran said. “If you work with people who don’t have confidence in what you’re doing, it can be very harmful to the process.”

I was introduced to McGlynn’s stunning debut film last night, and she deepened my appreciation of it by talking about the challenges of making her first feature film be one as personal as “Mary Goes Round.”

“I asked myself who I am as a person, as a daughter, and as a filmmaker? And I’ve wondered if my first film should’ve been this personal,” she told the audience. “When I finally saw the movie, I was surprised at how optimistic I was, and the forgiveness I had in me.”

MORE: Day two of Vail festival shows diverse range.

Audience members also received practical advice about making their pitches to producers and directors, as well as the importance of giving time to the rewrite process.

“IF you don’t have passion and tenacity for a certain project, you should put it away, and let the resources go to someone who does,” David said.

Some of the most interesting information came from Rodriguez-McGill, who was able to speak directly to filmmaking in Colorado and telling the stories that Colorado residents may not know.

At Rocky Mountain PBS, Rodriguez-McGill helped come up with the web-series “Great Ingredients,” and the “Colorado Experience” series. If you haven’t seen the episode about the Sand Creek Massacre, it is astounding and heartbreaking, and well worth your time.

“It’s exciting to see all the different options that are available to tell stories these days,” she said. “And now that we are having this conversation about women in the industry, and empowering them, hopefully men and women can come together and talk about these stories.”

Film No. 3.5 – Short films – “Bedtime Story,” “Pushing Night Away,” “The Duel” and “The Invaders”

I’ve been a fan of short stories for most of my reading life, and so while I had a few free minutes, I stepped in to see just a few short films.

As we near the summer blockbuster season, which promises all kinds of big budget films stretching longer than two hours, it’s amazing to see the skill independent filmmakers have in telling compelling stories in a short as five minutes.

Many other festival attendees must share the same high opinion of short films as myself, as this screening of eight shorts is one of the most crowded events of the weekend. People are literally standing against the wall and sitting the aisles to see these works.

Over the past two days, I’ve had the great opportunity to speak several times with the team behind 7-minute short, “The Invaders” – producers Claudia Murdoch and Carrie Radigan, production assistant Will Veguilla and lead actor Isra Elsalihie. So I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the world premiere of the of their film, and can happily report Elsalihie gives a tremendously affecting performance of a fully created character.

And then I have to duck out for…

Film No.4 – “Bill Coors: The Will to Live”

Until a few years ago, I didn’t know that Coors Beer was only sold in Colorado. If someone wanted to buy the beer, they had to make the road trip out to our state and buy it there.

After watching Kerry David’s documentary, “Bill Coors: The Will to Live,” I discovered there was mountains of information I didn’t know about the Coors family and legacy.

In the U.S. premiere of Kerry David’s documentary, audiences get a personal and enlightening look at 101-year-old Coors. The film is structured around his famous 1981 speech to the American Academy of Achievement, where he gave some astounding advice to high school students concerning mental health and a focus on self-love instead of material gain.

These were hard-learned lessons for Coors, as David delves into a past full of tragedy, depression and ultimately healing. Many of Coors’ challenges were completely unknown to me, and his breakthroughs in the area of employee healthcare and recycling were also revelations.

Interspliced throughout the movie are interviews with young adults and teenagers who have had their own bouts of mental illness and suicidal thoughts, and how Coors’ efforts are giving voices to those struggling.

Not surprisingly, one of the most affecting stories come from Scott, Coors’ oldest son. He talks about coming out to his father on the road to Aspen for Thanksgiving, and the empathy and understanding Coors’ shows are a perfect summation of the man.

This is a film that will appeal to Coloradoans because of the familiar locations, but reaches a deeper level thanks to Coors’ wisdom, which comes shining through.

3:30 p.m. – Blue Starlite Cinema

There were more than a few tears in the theater during a question and answer session with David, Scott, and author of Coors’ biography, Margo Hamilton.

Many audience members spoke about their own struggles with mental illness, or their children’s experiences with suicide in their schools. In response, David said the interviews with current young adults show how these issues haven’t changed in the century Coors’ has been alive.

“I want this film to be shown to everyone, and we’re looking at ways to get it shown in schools,” she added.

Both Hamilton and Scott said they still can’t watch the film without crying, and they also highlighted the power of sharing these stories to improve people’s lives.

“We need to be a voice for children all over the county and world who are struggling with these issues,” Hamilton said. “We need to stop being repulsed and repelled by their behavior and help them.”

Just like in the film, it was Scott’s personal stories about life with his father that was the most moving. He said that – unlike what audiences see in the film – his father wasn’t always so open growing up. So, the movie was just as powerful for him.

“I cry every time because I get to see him open up,” he said. “I still go see him every week, and am so thankful to have that time with him.”

7 p.m. – Blue Starlite Cinema

It’s awards night at the Vail Film Festival, and all the filmmakers I’ve met over the weekend, as well as many I’ve seen and haven’t had the chance to meet.

Much like on opening night, the red carpet is set up again, and filmmakers step-up for photos and all of us reporters get a chance to interview them.

MORE: Vail festival kicks off by celebrating women filmmakers.

Here are some thoughts from filmmakers I had the chance to interview at the red carpet:

-Claire Berman and Megan Reznick, director, producer and writers of documentary film “Faces of PHACS."

The 17-minute film from Berman and Reznick follows three young American adults who were born with HIV. As the story unfolds, they share what it’s like growing up HIV positive, what they hope for their own future and the future of treating the disease in America.

“This is the first film we made together, and everyone here has been so caring and supportive, and I’m so inspired by the stories I hear from people. This is one of the first times we’ve shown this film to the public, instead of someone steeped in this situation, and it’s been great to see audiences learn about our subjects,” Berman said.

“We’ve been working together for five and a half years, and this experience has been so different for all the scientific events we’ve been to with the film. We’d love to do more festivals like this and bring some of our subjects along so audiences can meet them,” Reznick said.

-Robin Kampf, director, cinematographer and editor of “Love Wins.”

Making it’s Colorado premiere, “Love Wins” tells the story of two elderly women who fell in love and raised a family at a time when that was simply not done. After being together and living in the closet for 45 years, they finally were able to get married and have become a part of history.

“This is such an important story to tell, and I want as many eyeballs as possible to see this film. Hopefully, I can get wider distribution, so more people can see it. I’ve been blow away by the audiences’ response to the movie – they’ve been laughing at the right places and crying at all the right places.”

-Matthew Moul, co-director of “Surviving Home,” and Bobby Henline, subject of the film.

Moul’s film, which is co-directed with his wife, Jillian, follows four generations of veterans over an eight-year period as they try to get back to civilian life following their times in the service. Each veteran has a different, heartbreaking, and illuminating story to tell.

“It’s been an awesome experience at the festival, and almost the entire audience has been sticking around for the question and answer portions. I hope the people who watch this film learn that it’s alright to go up and talk to veterans, and ask them about their service,” Moul said.

“We have veterans to come to the screenings, and I want them to know it’s okay to talk to civilians about their service. So often they only talk to other veterans, and not the people at home. And I want veterans to know they can ask for help,” Henline said.

8 p.m. – Blue Starlite Cinema

“Fifteen years is not bad for a little mountain festival,” said Bill LaVasaseur, host of the festival, at the beginning of the awards ceremony. “We’ve created a family here, and that’s due to so many volunteers, and the Vail community, which has shared it’s love of film.”

The festival’s winners were selected by a dozen experts in different areas of the film world.

The winners of this year’s event were:

Best student film – “Night Call”

Best short film – “In Wonderland”

Best documentary film – “Strike a Rock”

GMC Professional Grade Audience Award – “Surviving Home”

Best narrative feature – “Mary Goes Round”

Excellence in acting award – Aya Cash

Cash was introduced by McGlynn, who commended Cash’s “ferocious and generous spirit,” adding that she’s a gift to filmmakers.

Following her win, Cash participated in another question and answer session, giving the audience a look at her process, her past, and how she works with characters.

With a rich history of theatrical and Shakespearean acting, Cash said her favorite role hasn’t been written yet, and that’s part of what makes working with first time filmmakers, like McGlynn, such a treat.

“First time filmmakers haven’t decided that there’s only one way to do things,” she said. “I would tell aspiring actors to redefine success. There’s a way to make a living without selling your soul.”

Throughout her discussion, Cash was both funny and insightful, bringing a sly warmth to her responses that she does so well in so many of her roles. She’s impossible to ignore when she’s onscreen, and luckily for all audiences, she’s got so much more to show us. Personally, I can’t wait to see what she has in store.

Film No. 5 – “The Long Dumb Road”

In a festival that tackled so many difficult and uncomfortable topics, it was probably a wise decision to end the festival with something light.

Which is not to say Hannah Fidell’s “The Long Dumb Road” is only concerned with cheap laughs. Leads  Jason Mantzoukas (“The League,” “The Good Place” and “The Kroll Show”) and Tony Revolori (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) play the two men who spontaneously meet on the road to Los Angeles, for more than jokes. They’re real people, struggling to start a new stage in their lives, and it just happens to be hilarious.

There’s a rich cinematic history of mismatched pairs taking to the road – the best example is “It Happened One Night,” but entries like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Sideways” have also kept the genre alive. “The Long Dumb Road” doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s also much more than funny – it’s a film about two people in search of connection.

10:45 p.m. – Larkspur restaurant

With the festival essentially wrapped up for the year, filmmakers, volunteers and everyone who dedicated countless hours to making the festival a success gather for one last time at the Larkspur to honor the films and celebrate the people who make it all possible.

In a way, it’s fitting that it’s here, at the final event of the festival, that I finally get to spend a few minutes with Sean Cross, who co-created the festival with his twin brother, Scott.

“Our mom moved up here, and we became a part of this community, and thought it would be a great place to organize a festival like this,” he said. “Independent films are labors of love, and getting audiences and filmmakers together is such a rare experience.”

The rarity of the opportunity to meet storytellers and filmmakers of all levels is not lost on me, and as I look back at my time at the Vail Film Festival, I think that is what I most strongly come away with. There are storytellers everywhere, trying to get important, unheard, and dynamic stories told, and when they succeed, we need to watch.

You never know. You might just watch a film that changes your life.

Author’s note: Covering the Vail Film Festival was an absolute thrill for me, and experience I never expected to have. I want to give special thanks to Shanna Fortier for providing the initial information on the event, Glenn Wallace for allowing me to take this task on (something our company has never tackled before), Sean Cross for his generosity and assistance in getting me to the festival, Director of Communications Krista Ammirato for her tireless work during the event, Social Media Director Shanelle Sherlin for spreading the stories of these artists, and all the filmmakers who kindly gave me some of their time – Molly McGlynn, Aya Cash, Luz Zamora, Isra Elsalihie, Claudia Murdoch, Carrie Radigan, Will Veguilla, Carolyn Kras, Marc Messenger, Rebecca Brillhart, Bill LaVasseur, Stacy Cochran, Kerry David, Mariel Rodriguez-McGill, Claire Berman, Megan Reznick, Robin Kampf, Matthew Moul, Bobby Henline, and Rashel Mereness.

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