Emphasis on ‘film’

Boulder’s International Film Series celebrates 70 years

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Adam Perry

The International Film Series is a
celluloid-focused Boulder institution attached to the film studies
department at the University of Colorado Boulder, and it’s been going
strong since 1941, when IFS began showing eclectic black-and-white 16
mm titles. With CU’s Muenzinger Auditorium as its chief venue, IFS now
fills nearly every night in Boulder — skipping only summers — with
exciting documentaries, unique features from around the globe, and
mint-condition reels of inimitable oldies.

The affordable IFS ($6; $5 for students)
celebrates its 70th anniversary this weekend with a Saturday matinee
showing of a private collector’s print of the legendary ’80s Tom Waits
concert film Big Time (still not on DVD), an evening screening of Straight to Hell Returns
(the new, retooled edition of the punk classic) and a raucous concert
at the Absinthe House featuring Veronica and Nuns of Brixton (yes, a
Clash cover band that dresses up as nuns).

Beginning with a technical lesson packed
with rarified language such as “sprockets” and “platter houses,” IFS
director Pablo Kjolseth, a CU alum who grew up in Boulder and has been
programming IFS for 14 years, schooled me on the rapidly changing world
of film screening. Enjoy a few snippets as we help celebrate IFS’ 70th
birthday.

Boulder Weekly: What’s the difference between IFS and the mainstream movie-going experience?

Pablo Kjolseth: We’re dedicated to the experience of
the cinema, and then conversation afterwards. We’re not trying to make money
off of candy and soda pop. And if you go to Cinemark, for example, they’re
phasing out all their film. I find the evolution from film to digital
stultifying, because people are getting a little too computer happy, which
makes for a lot of sloppy bullshit. We’re very much dedicated to celluloid,
though we show some digital.

BW: Why are you so passionate about film?

PK: I consider film to be one of the most important art forms
of our time. To me, being visually literate is so important, now more than
ever. We’re being bombarded with more visual images today than in any other
point in human history, and we take it for granted. We don’t even acknowledge
how we’re being manipulated. Sometimes it’s so obvious — you watch Fox News and
you see the propaganda and the drumbeats. But other times it’s just branding and
people trying to make an impact, distracting you in different ways. And it
chips away at us, especially if you’re not visually literate. So to me it’s an
incredibly important way of looking at the world, and it’s an ongoing education
because visual arts and mediums are constantly changing, and the way we
interact with them is changing. It’s a constantly evolving process, and the art
form constantly evolves along with it.

BW: How did you originally get interested in movies?

PK: My parents used to regulate how much TV I could watch — a
half-hour a day. I would save up that half hour so that I could watch the “Creature
Feature” double features on the weekend. That got me going, and when I was
about 6 I really wanted to see Jaws
more than anything in the world, and my parents said I could only see it if I
read the book. I was 6! But I read it, and luckily Jaws was in the theater
forever. Actually, [that was] at the United Artists Regency on Walnut [now the
Absinthe House], where we’re having the 70th anniversary concert. You know,
Boulder used to have a really good International art-house film scene. I saw Star Wars at the Flatirons
Theater, which is now a medical marijuana dispensary. And I was watching movies
at the International Film Series as well.

BW: What’s your take on the state of filmmaking in Boulder
today?

PK: I actually think we have a film scene that’s percolating.
It’s bubbling. A lot of people are coming here who already have backgrounds
working with studios and companies—real studio connections and also some money.
But there are always people here doing their own thing, and I think that
combination is making the background noise get louder and louder every year. As
far as whether they have a platform right now…my platform is international
celluloid. I still hold a torch for celluloid, but I have had local filmmakers,
and the amount of submissions I get is crazy. At some point I sense that, because
of that background noise, there will be a reason to do a weekly or monthly
dedication to local filmmakers.

BW: After all these years, what’s your favorite film?

PK: I have so many favorite films that the easiest way I can
answer that question without feeling like I’m slighting all these other films
is…if you could rephrase that to ask what film I’ve watched the most times. The
two that pop up are Brazil — I’ve
watched that over 20 times — and, after that, I would say Evil Dead 2. I just love
that film. If I’m ever really depressed, it’s the movie I go to watch. No
matter how bad your day is going, at least you haven’t had to chainsaw your
girlfriend in half, fight zombies, cut off your hand and get sucked into the
past-vortex. I come out feeling pretty good, going “my life’s not so bad.”

BW: What can you tell us about the people who started the IFS
70 years ago and how you’re not only influenced and inspired by their legacy
but also striving to maintain it?

PK: James Sandoe, who also helped launch the Colorado
Shakespeare Festival, started the IFS as a labor of love, and that baton has
been passed on thanks to people like Forrest Williams, Virgil Grillo, and many
others whose contributions I have tried to keep track of on the timeline that
I’ve put up on our website. One of the interesting things about the IFS is that
it was a series initiated by academic cinephiles who really cared about film as
art, and they were very well read and up to speed on the wealth of both
international and independent cinema that existed beyond Hollywood and overseas — the kind of films that normally only screened in big metropolitan hubs. They
brought those films to Boulder at a time when the population here was still
hovering around 15,000 people or so, and they slowly cultivated an audience for
directors like Jean Cocteau, Godard, Antonioni, Cassavetes, etc. — and slowly,
other theaters took notice of the crowds that were coming out for these films
and also started booking similar fare. During the ’60s and ’70s Boulder even
enjoyed a nice boom in various specialty and art-house cinemas. Back then it was
very profitable! The IFS being a nonprofit associated with the university it
reinvested the funds to buy 16 mm films for the university. These were then used
by many faculty members, including my father, in classes, and pretty soon a
natural progression occurred where there were many classes devoted to certain
types of films, which when coupled with the visionary ideas of key faculty
members, like Virgil Grillo and others, helped give rise to the C.U. film
studies program. What the C.U. film studies program now offers is an amazing
roster of learned faculty, authors, filmmakers, and artists that keeps growing
stronger with each passing year. My own experiences there were nothing less
than revelatory. As a long-time Boulderite who started watching films at the
IFS as a very young child, and on up through my time as a Film Studies major at
C.U., I’m very much indebted to both and I try to honor its roots by staying
abreast of rising new talents that are out there, while simultaneously paying
respects to cinemas rich past.