November 29, 2017

The Denver Film Festival: Pushing Colorado Film Forward for Forty Years

by: Adam Loehr

Since the original Denver Film Festival in 1978, the Denver Film Society has continued to increase Colorado’s prominence as a destination for industry leaders and film lovers alike. This year the festival celebrates its 40th anniversary, and its efforts continue to pay off, filling the festival program with star power and cinematic gold year over year. Last year’s opening night was a huge success that featured the Academy Award Winning film La La Land, with the winner for Best Actress, Emma Stone, in attendance.

Bill Pullman fielding questions from the audience after the screening of The Ballad of Lefty Brown; moderated by Andrew Rodgers, Executive Director of the Denver Film Society.

This year, actors Kyra Sedgwick and Bill Pullman were at the top of the ticket. Pullman, who’s touring the festival circuit with his new film The Ballad of Lefty Brown, referred to Denver as a “flagship city of the West,” and a “cornerstone for his career.” During the Q&A after his film, Andrew Rodgers, Executive Director of the Denver Film Society, announced that Pullman and his wife Tamara are now contributing members for the Denver Film Society’s newly formed Creative Advisory Council. The news highlights Colorado as a prime location for the film industry. With a cosmopolitan metro area, diverse location production capabilities, and one of the largest full-service studios between the coasts, it’s an attractive and strategic place to bring projects to fruition.

The “Spotlight On Colorado” portion of the festival further showcased what this great state has to offer. The Day Before, part of the “Colorado Shorts Package,” was written by University of Colorado professor (and recent Colorado transplant) Geoff Marslett, who said he wanted to write “the most Colorado” film he could. For him, that meant a concept about following a couple on an excursion the day before their wedding, full of hunting and Mexican standoffs. The film features locations like Fort Greene, an American Tavern in Denver’s River North District, beautiful remote exteriors in the Boulder foothills, and a cast and crew of Colorado-based professionals.

Next up in the “Colorado Shorts Package” was The Outsider, by WestWorks Studios clients Brock Sherman and Scott Takeda. The story centers on a woman trying to fit in with her husband’s giant Japanese family during their annual Mochi-Tsuki tradition. Takeda is both the film’s director and plays Brett, the husband. Members of his real-life family also play a part in the film -- a fictional representation of his real life. During the panel after the screening, Takeda discussed the difficulties of making a film during his family reunion. “It’s virtually impossible to have a family reunion when you have a film crew around, and it’s impossible to film when you have a family reunion.”

Films like The Outsider and The Day Before are important for Colorado. John Diack, one of the producers of another short, Mrs. Drake, said it best: “The one thing about Colorado is we have really good film schools here, and we need to do whatever we can to keep filmmakers here in Colorado.”

WestWorks Studios is excited to play a role in the development of Colorado’s film industry. We’ve hired 57 local crew members for 381 productions and post-production opportunities this year. Also, according to the Colorado Office of Film, Television, and Media’s 2016 annual report, both of the two TV broadcasts that have leveraged film incentive dollars were shot in WestWorks Studios production stages (The Joey Canyon Show and XFINITY Latino).

For the second consecutive year our parent company, Comcast NBCUniversal, has sponsored the Denver Film Festival. This year Comcast also sponsored Virtual Reality Place, an immersive exhibit that embraces the “rapidly changing media landscape.” The experiences ranged from a 360-degree look inside a maximum-security prison to a terrifying journey filled with clowns—making you call into question the safety of your childhood bed. The most popular VR experience was the "multi-person VR adventure" Life of Us, where you begin interacting as the smallest amoeba, evolve to run around as a dinosaur, and culminate your trip with a “post-singularity intergalactic dance party set to original music by Pharrell Williams.”

The Virtual Reality Place, located in the McNichols Civic Center Building, presented innovative virtual-reality installations throughout the festival.

Virtual Reality Place exemplifies the Denver Film Festival’s ability to innovate and progress. As they describe in the festival welcome letter: In a world of handheld screens and video on demand, continuing to thrive after 40 years is no small feat.

Colorado is working hard to attract more video productions, from television and short-form projects to high-visibility “bluebird” productions like Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which filmed its snowy exteriors in Telluride. The Denver Film Society – a 501(c)(3) dedicated to bringing communities together through film – is a vital part of this effort, developing opportunities for content creators to showcase their art to a diverse, burgeoning audience. The next decade of the Denver Film Festival is sure to add to the rich history of Colorado film.