Festival celebrates women filmmakers

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“Homeland,” one of 25 films, documents the struggle of five groups of Native Americans as they fight to protect their reservations from environmental hazards. Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival.

One documentary showcases a teacher’s unorthodox educational methods; another deals with factory farms’ effect on the environment. In another, the director explores the costs of the war on terror – costs to a democracy and its people.

Directed by women, these films are just a few of the 25 that will be screened at the 18th annual Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival at the Fine Arts Center and Colorado College on Nov. 4-6.

“We’re showcasing film art by women,” Executive Director Linda Broker said. “We’re the longest-running film festival that focuses solely on women directors. Without fail, directors tell us that we have the best festival they’ve ever attended.”

The film festival brings a unique cultural opportunity to Colorado Springs, public relations director Lila Wrubel said. That impact cannot be measured solely in dollars, she believes.

“We do have an economic impact,” she said. “We fill up a bed and breakfast for the weekend with seven film directors; we take them out to dinner, show them the town. But most of the people who attend the film festival are local. Our ticket sales show that. We do have a smattering of people from Denver and a few from out of state. But we are very local. I’d say economically, we’re a very small event.”

But culturally, the film festival is huge, she said. Most of the films shown at the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival are created without commercial backing. Many of the directors are not formally trained in film school. But, Wrubel said, the films all encourage women directors to follow their dreams of becoming filmmakers.

“It’s just fabulous,” she said. “The films we show, they can’t be seen anywhere else, except maybe at another festival. Many of them will receive critical awards; many have a very important message.”

Tickets for the festival go on sale Oct. 17 at the Fine Arts Center. The cost is $95 for the weekend, $40 for Friday’s gala event and $35 for either Saturday or Sunday. The film festival screening starts at 8:15 a.m. Nov. 5. More than 1,600 people are expected to attend.

“We’ve sold out of tickets every year, for the past 10 years,” Broker said. “I don’t anticipate a drop in sales this year. It’s a very popular, very unique event for Colorado Springs.”

The local film festival, which started in 1988 after two friends attended the Telluride Film Festival, focuses on showing films that would not otherwise receive attention. Films that deal with important subject matter, Broker said, but are not commercial, “tinseltown” films.

“We do have some films that will be shown at Kimball’s,” she said. Kimball’s is a downtown theater that specializes in small, independent films.

“But many of our films are so unusual,” Broker said. “For instance, we have a director who is a trained, registered nurse. But she heard about North Koreans escaping from mainland China, and their struggle to reach freedom. She thought the story was so important; it was necessary to make a film. She had help, of course, from people who knew the technical side. But she was determined to have this story shown.”

Many of the films shown at the festival have earned critical and national attention. At last year’s festival, “Born in a Brothel” portrayed the lives of children born to prostitutes in India’s red-light districts. The film won an Academy Award.

“The director started a nonprofit organization to raise money to help these kids,” Wrubel said. “She gave them cameras, training. Many of them now have the means to escape the life they were born into – they no longer have to be prostitutes or pimps. We showed her film, and she came here and spoke at one of the forums.”

The film festival does not just show the films to audiences, leaving them to develop their own interpretation. In the days before the festival, the directors attend workshops at area schools, libraries and Fine Arts Center. During the weekend, the directors who travel to Colorado Springs take part in two forums.

On Saturday, the directors are available to discuss their lives and their motivation in creating the films. On Sunday, after most of the films are finished, they answer questions about the films.

“It’s something new we’re trying this year,” Broker said. “We’re offering people the chance to get to know the filmmakers themselves, instead of just the films. The directors are such interesting, diverse people.”

The money from the $95 weekend ticket is used to bring more films to Colorado Springs, Broker said. The association also pays for directors to attend the festival, as well as purchasing the favorite films for the library at the Fine Arts Center.

“We purchase four or five each year,” Wrubel said. “They are available, for free, at the Fine Arts Center. We probably have close to 100 films now.”

Both Wrubel and Broker started participating in the film festival as volunteers. Now they are an active part of the group that screens more than 250 films each year, to bring the best to Colorado Springs.

“This is a project that is very close to my heart,” Broker said. “It is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It’s just amazing to watch it all come together each year – sometimes, after the fifth really bad film in a row – you wonder if it’s going to come together at all. But it always does, and we always have a list of wonderful films. I think this year’s film festival has the best line-up yet.”