It seems nerve-wracking. Showing more than 50 films over four days at numerous venues in one small city. Hosting world-class celebrities including Oliver Stone and James Franco. Organizing a mostly volunteer staff of almost 300 people. Seated on a couch in the Boulder International Film Festival offices in downtown Boulder a week before the seventh edition of their pride and joy, one would expect the sisters who created BIFF to be biting their nails. But Robin and Kathy Beeck reveal a surprisingly low level of stress.
“It gets so tiring when you’re sitting inside watching films all day, but it’s the perfect time of year for it,” says Robin, who watches around 300 films during each year’s BIFF selection process. “But we’re happy to have this festival in February. There’s nothing better on a winter day than sitting inside a movie theater and getting away from the cold.”
Together, Robin and the BIFF selection committee watched almost 1,000 films in 2010 before whittling it down to the 50-or-so films that made the 2011 cut. Most astonishing in all the myriad facets of preparation, however, might be that Robin and her sister Kathy still get along so well. They arrived in Boulder back in 1976 and have been a two-woman film-loving powerhouse ever since.
“We’re a very, very close family,” Robin says. “Kathy has her area, which is sponsorships and business and different things. I’m programming. So we bring totally different strengths to the festival, which works out really well because there aren’t a lot of things that we can argue about. And we live together — did you know that? We work together during the day, and we live together at the same time. My parents brought us up very well.”
Speaking of the quest to get along, perhaps the most anticipated screenings at this year’s BIFF are the three showings of Freedom Riders, the magnificent documentary about the efforts of black and white activists who, in 1961, attempted to sit next to each other on a Greyhound bus trip through the deep South and suffered unimaginably violent consequences. Legendary U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who took part in the Freedom Ride as a young man and was beaten by an angry Alabama mob for his efforts, will be in attendance for a Q-and-A this weekend.
Lewis spoke at length with Boulder Weekly by phone recently about his harrowing experience (the transcript of which is available at BoulderWeekly.com). It’s a testament to the wellknown strength of the longtime congressman that, if he could go back to 1961, he’d do it all over again.
“I think some of us grew up and came of age on those buses, the same way that we grew up sitting down on lunch counter stools,” Lewis says. “We had to grow up. We became committed. I remember the original group, 13 of us: seven whites and six African Americans. We didn’t know whether we would return, but we had to do it. People wanted to see change.”
Rep. Jared Polis, the openly gay congressman who represents Boulder, along with Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, will also be in attendance for the Freedom Riders Q-and-A. Polis told Boulder Weekly that Rep. Lewis has been an inspiration.
“For Americans of my generation and younger, John Lewis is a living link to our all-too-recent history of racial discrimination,” says Polis, who adds that he imagines “even today, taking a rainbow-painted bus through the deep South” to “fight for LGBT equality.”
Robin Beeck says she was “surprised we hadn’t learned more in school about [the Freedom Riders]” and was moved by the film.
“It’s just horrifying the way things happened back then,” she says. “And having the congressman here is going to be such an honor. We’re having a screening just for students, too, at the library, and Rep. Lewis is going to be there to speak to them afterwards. Can you imagine? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
For full transcripts of our conversations with John Lewis and Jared Polis, head to www.boulderweekly.com.
David Accomazzo contributed to this story.
On the Bill John Lewis, Jared Polis and Mark Udall present a screening of Freedom Riders at the Boulder Theater on Sunday, Feb. 20 at 2:30 p.m. 2032 14th St. For tickets and more information, visit www.biff1.com.