Often we are so bombarded with media and messaging that it can become easy to distance ourselves from the harsh realities of the world. At precisely the time our civilization should be taking a hard look into what makes us a communal society, we are retreating en masse to the comfortable confines of our own making — safe from the nastiness of a world where different is often seen as threatening.
The BolderLife Festival aims to penetrate the walls of our self-imposed bubble and force thinking or conversation about topics society has deemed taboo or too difficult to talk about. By illuminating individual stories through the use of the arts, and following up with ways to make a difference on these tough issues, BolderLife seeks to empower people to change paradigms and accelerate social justice and acceptance.
“From the very beginning my passion has been for growth and getting more topics out there that have in the past been uncomfortable or closeted or shied away from in a way where people can just talk about it,” says Artistic Director and Founding Member Erin Kelly. “The very seed of [BolderLife] was, we were going to screen a film, maybe two, on end-of-life care and then have facilitators come in and talk about it. It quickly ballooned to other topics evident in life but rarely or uncomfortably discussed.”
Born three years ago as the Life and Death Matters Festival, the name has changed to reflect the growing list of issues being covered, from bullying and sexual identity themes to mental illness and relationships. This year’s festival, running Dec. 2-8, moves from the Nomad Theater in Boulder to the larger confines of the SIE FilmCenter in Denver. The offerings encompass a range of thought-provoking entertainment options, from a three-minute Photoshop animation piece on the resonating effects of the 9/11 terrorist attack to a full-length feature following a schizophrenic bachelor trying to make sense of his place in the world.
In addition to the 36 films and six original theater pieces, this year’s festival will also feature an original dance show, local musicians and artists, as well as panel discussions, director Q&As, and 10 separate educational offerings. The synergy between entertainment and awareness is presented in a nonthreatening yet edgy environment meant to provoke thought and action rather than indifference or ignorance.
“Anger, shock and other emotions from a screen or stage can definitely evoke feelings to help push you to do something that you might not have, like getting involved in an organization or finding a way to help make a difference. [BolderLife] is a great outlet to push those emotions and get you to do something you may not have done before,” says Filmmaker Liaison Jobi Berger.
BolderLife also partners with Denver Public Schools on a student outreach program to teach young adults alternative ways of thinking and behaving. With workshops and thought exercises, BolderLife sees its mission as enlightening the next generation of leaders.
“Kids, they are trying to figure out where they stand on these particular topics,” says Theater Program and Student Outreach Program Director Dawn Bower. “I think it’s important to offer them a wide variety of perspectives so they can choose on their own, and they don’t have to believe what their parents or peer group believe. The more informed you are, the better choices you can make for your community in the future.”
From battling against public stigma towards disability in the film Sweetheart, following the life of homeless individuals in Seattle in Real Change or riding shotgun with a young autistic man thrust into the cold reality of a dispassionate society in The Story of Luke, festival goers will probably find a theme or topic to which they can relate.
“Often in films you’re seeing something similar to your own life circumstances. That’s what makes audiences engage in a film … When you watch somebody in a film do something you’ve been afraid to do your whole life, it may suddenly give you some room to breathe and maybe take your own bold step into that conversation,” Kelly says.
Audience members can use their newfound activism to make a change on the spot. Local and national representatives will be on hand to inform and challenge audiences during and after the shows. Call2ACTion tables will disseminate information following performances, and provide an avenue to follow up thinking with action. Despite the pleas to get involved, BolderLife attendees are free to bite off as big or as little a piece as they can handle, with the only pressure from organizers being to have an open or willing mind.
“The huge picture doesn’t always have to be your goal,” Berger says. “BolderLife is that outlet where you can focus on small pieces and then hopefully it will keep growing. The small steps make the biggest impact sometimes.”
The BolderLife Festival runs from Dec. 2-8, with film screenings taking place at the SIE FilmCenter at 2510 E. Colfax Ave. and theater offerings held at Denver Crossroads Theater at 2590 Washington St. For more information and ticketing, go to www.bolderlifefestival.com.