Women’s film festival returns in November

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“Forty percent of film festivals last for only one year,” said Linda Broker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Institute.

But that’s not the case with the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, slated for its annual run Nov. 13-15.

Founded in 1987, the festival is the longest continuously running women’s film festival in North America. During its three-day run, 1,500 people are expected to attend, with daily attendees at four film venues.

For sponsors, the attendee demographics are compelling.

Two-thirds are women 51 and older, one-fourth are 31 to 50 and half have graduate degrees. Family incomes are predominantly in the $60,000 to $100,000 range.

Given the low survival rate of film festivals, how has the RMWFF stayed afloat for 27 years?

“From year one, the festival was well received by the community,” recalled Broker, who has been involved with the organization since 1994. “It always felt like our festival, not something that came from outside. We get organic buy-in, and as the years have gone by, we’ve delivered a very consistent product.”

The Institute brings in about $200,000 in annual revenue.

“We have a pretty good balance between revenue from tickets, sponsorships and grants,” Broker said. “We also put on a couple of other significant events — our shorts night in April and Wheel to Reel in August — a bike ride to an outdoors screening. In July we have our invitation-only filmmakers retreat.”

The festival’s local economic impact is approximately $100,000.

The festival shows about 40 films, ranging from 8-minute shorts to 80-minute features. And while a substantial majority of films are directed and/or produced by women, male filmmakers are not automatically excluded from consideration.

“We show films by men as well,” said Broker, “but the content of the film has to reflect our mission statement (‘Celebrating the drive, spirit and diversity of women’).”

Each year the seven-person film selection committee screens more than 300 films for consideration.  About half are passed on to the full RMWFF organization for review. Of those, fewer than one-third make the final cut.

Most films that are still in the running at the time of final programming will have been viewed by at least 12 people.

The process ensures a diverse and interesting mix of films.

“We’ve been around for so long that we’re very familiar with many of the filmmakers,” said Broker, “so we often show films by people that have shown here before. It’s a little scary when you get the submission because you don’t want to say to someone, ‘We loved your last film — but this one, not so much!’”

One of the more interesting submissions this year came from a Colorado Springs native, Amy Scott. “Oyler — One School, One Year” tells the story of the dramatic turnaround of a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Scott produced the film in association with American Public Media’s Marketplace, where she is a senior reporter.

“When I read Amy’s submission letter she said that she had gone to the festival while she was growing up in Colorado Springs, and it was one of her dreams to someday have her work shown here,” Broker said. “So I prayed that it would be good, and 15 minutes into the screener I knew — we were super happy!”

“Oyler” will also be screened at festivals in Chicago, Austin and Cincinnati.

“Oyler” is a film by American Public Media Senior Reporter Amy Scott. It features the turnaround of a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods.

Another interesting film in the festival is “Iris,” the last film produced by renowned filmmaker Albert Maysles, who died last March at 88.

With his late brother David, Maysles produced what may be the two best-known documentary films of the 20th century, “Gimme Shelter” and “Grey Gardens.”

“Iris” is the story of Iris Apfel, “the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven who has had an out-sized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. More than a fashion film, the documentary is a story about creativity and how, even in Iris’ dotage, a soaring free spirit continues to inspire,” according to information from the film festival.

A third film, Lisa Jackson’s “It Happened Here,” has been widely acclaimed for its unsparing accounts of sexual assault at American colleges.

The film, according to a RMWFF summary, “explores sexual assault on campuses through the personal testimonials of five survivors who transform their experiences into a springboard for change. In raw and intimate interviews, the students describe surviving sexual assault only to be met with apathy, disbelief, blame and retaliation from the authorities when they tried to report the crime. When they tried to get justice, they were ignored, belittled and shamed, while their attackers remained on campus with impunity. But instead of hiding away in shame, they chose to speak out, and found a way to force institutional change.”

Of the thousands of films that she’s seen in her 21 years at the festival, which one is Broker’s favorite?

“ ‘Bag It,’ ” she said. “It’s about single-use plastic bags. It’s a really good example of delivering a message that’s entertaining and consumable. You walk out with something tangible, something you can do immediately. So many of our films are about terrible things that you can’t really do anything about — they’re important, but you can only bear witness.”

To find out show times and locations for the festival, go to rmwfilminstitute.org/festival. n CSBJ