18 February 2008

Another year, another BIFF

I finally got to say it to Robin Beeck about this year's Boulder International Film Fest program: that the stories were so well ordered in the program in the way they made me think about what is possible and meaningful. And I let her know that everyone I have talked with was saying it, too: that she put the films together in an artful way. Last night, in that inimitably brash yet defensive way she has, she answered, "Yeah, it's just possible I might know what I'm doing," while asking for another glass of wine to replenish the one that was about to run out so she could finally drink, as she always says she'll do, on the last day of the festival.

Robin and Kathy were pleased with this year's festival, I could tell, despite how bad everyone felt for everyone at the Charlie Bartlett screening, a cascade of projection and sound snafus. But the audience appreciated the film and its director, Jon Poll, a card-carrying member of Hollywood's "comedy ghetto" who despite the troubles nevertheless did a gracious question-answering session following his film); and everyone felt bad for the venue management staff, whom everyone knew were doing their best to fix the problems. Everyone was empathetic -- everyone knows that gremlins can pop up out of nowhere.

For me it was simply an honor and a pleasure to help sort through the submissions, and then to see what came of the few gems I was able to find and how all those adventure films and the stories about the power of music to heal and the power of people to overcome were orchestrated.

I saw little in the way of fiction this year. This festival's international focus is helped by the Michael Moore-era boom in documentary productions, many of which concern charitable works; this has clearly opened a surprisingly rich vein of cinematic ore to Robin, BIFF's programmatic auteur. One of these turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the festival for me, the film 3 Peaks 3 Weeks, directed by Michael Brown. I loved the story, the drive of this team of women who decided to climb three peaks in three weeks, culminating in a group ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to raise funds for a purpose-built school in Africa. They personally raised $30,000 and then challenged people to match their contributions if they succeeded. Their ascent required the support of 70 sherpas, who helped keep spirits high by serenading this group of American and Australian women along the way. Peril and suspense and luscious cinematography and a wonderful score and soundtrack kept me riveted (although I couldn't help thinking "that's going to look better on my TV than it does on that screen."). And it all culminated with a visit back in time to 1972 with the closing night film, Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains, about the plane full of South American rugby players, most but not all of them about 19 years old, who survived at the base of an 18,000-foot peak for 72 days before they were rescued (the subject of Piers Paul Read's book Alive, which I devoured as a preteen, and 1992's movie of the same name). How they survived made them internationally notorious for their willingness to do the unthinkable. And one of the survivors, Antonio "Tintin" Viztin, flew all the way here from Uruguay for BIFF and spoke about what he carries from his experience. It was moving and quite reassuring, even cathartic, after having seen so many atrocities and small redemptions in Uganda (War Dance), Liberia (Iron Ladies of Liberia), and Gitmo (Taxi to the Dark Side -- oops, not much redemption there I'll warn you). Tintin spoke eloquently to the necessity of remembering that every one of us has inside us the capacity not only to survive but also to treasure life, and serve in some way by doing so.

Robin and Kathy Beeck's dad Arlen (who writes the synopses for the films) likes to tell stories about them still: as kids, Kathy was always the one who made the posters and took the money and gave you tickets; Robin was putting on the show; and Shelly was elsewhere. Which is about how they seem to me every time I intersect briefly with the Beeck family's scene, a totally different vein of what I think of as Old Boulderites like me (they were at Fairview; I graduated from Boulder High the same year Robin did). They have learned to put on a great show as adults, including the intersection of people and ideas that took place this past weekend. Not only were my horizons expanded but I also met wonderful people and felt like I am finding my tribe at last, as I'm sure others felt and my best friend said recently about her work, the very friend who did such a fabulous job keeping a cool head throughout the festival as the venue manager of the Boulder Theater.

Thanks, everyone, for another fabulous festival; again I can hardly believe my luck that this comes to me once a year, and that my family totally supports my depth of commitment and immersion in this thing every time. It's like the holiday season for me: now I get to look forward to this year's Conference on World Affairs!

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