The first Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) has come and gone. The winners have been announced (a list is at the end of this article). And although I didn’t see all of the winners — nor even most of them — I have my own favorites of the fest.
Of the 55 films that played, I probably saw only a dozen. And while there were some disappointments (including the BIFF’s one Honorable Mention), they were usually sprinkled into a program that had better films. No whole program that I attended was a dud.
Three movies in particular took me by surprise with their honesty and artistry.
A Life to Live
A Life to Live, directed by Maciej Adamek, was programmed with the showier, more crowd-pleasin’ As Far as the Eye Can See, the documentary about the first blind climber to summit Everest. Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, A Life to Live was created for Polish television. It opens on a child’s hand touching a globe. “The world is smooth and rough and dark.” Soon enough, the movie reveals that the hand belongs to a blind child. Without a narrator, the movie shows us what it’s like for these children to grow up without sight. Their teachers encourage them to feel the fruit, smell the vegetables, and listen for the echoes while walking. Occasionally an adult makes it into the frame, but the camera stays glued to the children, staring at them while they look at the world through their four senses. In a way, this film is the opposite of the documentary on the blind mountain climber. It doesn’t aim for extremes or use phrases like “shattering perceptions.” Instead it is a humble, unassuming look at the day-to-day lives of blind kids learning to get along in the world.
In Telluride, one of the short film programs was called “calling cards.” I can’t think of a better name for some of these short films. They are demonstrations of what a new director is capable of. They cry “look at me! Hire me!” Although some of them feel complete as short films, many of them are clearly meant to be calling cards for producers. Wasp doesn’t quite have an ending, but it’s a very good demonstration of writing and directing.
Wasp actually showed at Telluride, although I didn’t see it there. It’s a gripping story of a poor young mother (her cupboards bare, she feeds her daughters sugar once again for breakfast) trying to get a date, even though she doesn’t have a babysitter. “I wanted to call social services!” was one response to the film, and although I agreed, I also could sympathize with the mother who seemed to have run out of options. The movie looks gritty, grainy, and almost entirely hand-held, which is an appropriate style for the story. Most importantly, though is Andrea Arnold’s ability to tell the story honestly, without flinching, judging or moralizing. I’d see anything Arnold writes and directs, although if she only does one or the other, I wouldn’t necessarily trust it — the style and the story go so well together.
Seventeen, by Hisko Hulsing, is a 12-minute Dutch animation (this year’s Dutch entry for the Academy Award). I’ve seen the visual style of figures and architecture before, but what makes the movie stand out is its dark look and tone. Our hero is a roofer, but he’s the least macho on his crew, the butt of most of the jokes. He falls for the girl across the street, who isn’t nearly as wholesome as the cliche would lead you to expect. His obsession goes horribly wrong, right from the start, and in trying to be the dashing hero, he ruins everything. The film ends with the young man (was he 17 years old to begin with?) aging his life away at the construction site, baffled by love. Many 12-minute shorts go for laughs, but Hulsing’s film seems to have found a delicious, dark, bitter flavor in a genre that’s usually more sweet.
Award of Excellence (top award):
The Liberace of Baghdad by Sean McAllister
Best Student Film
Pee Shy by Deb Hagen and Leslie Evers
Best New Filmmaker
Neil Widener, creator of Subdivision, Colorado
Best Animated Film
Mighty Squirrel and Road Raged Rodent by Patrick and Kim Mallek
Best Short Film
Down Dog by Richard Roll and Julie Piatt
Honorable Mention for Best Short Film
Gay by Dawn by Jonathon London
Best Short Documentary
Caught in Paint by Rita and Chela Blitt
Best Adventure Film
Farther Than the Eye Can See by Michael Brown
Best Feature Film
The Real Old Testament by Curtis and Paul Hannum
Seoul Train by Jim Butterworth, Aaron Lubarsky, and Lisa Sleeth