Festival for the rest of us

Moondance Film Festival isn’t trying to condescend

Steve Weishampel | Boulder Weekly

Don´t be scared. It’s just a film festival.

Yes, more than a third of the movies at this year’s Moondance Film Festival are foreign. Yes, many of the films at the Boulder event, happening Sept. 16 to Sept. 18 on the CU campus, sound deadly serious: The Way of Justice, Oil Factor, The Road Home, Tales of Woe. No, you can’t crack open a box of Junior Mints and start texting your friends. But it’s not meant to be scary.

“Most of the public thinks that film fests are just for filmmakers,” says Elizabeth English, the festival’s founder and executive director. “And that’s as far from the truth as can be. We want all of the public to be aware of the work and enjoy it.”

English says one of her goals as director is to draw in the public and engage in conversations. One way she tries to accomplish this is by picking films that are, you know, good.

“Entertainment is first and foremost. If a film’s entertaining, I don’t care what it’s about,” she says. “I don’t care if my mother sends in a film, it’s not going to win unless it’s top quality.”

English has previously defined the festival’s basic standard as “a good story, well-told.” She says aside from screening films she actually likes watching, she hopes Moondance’s atmosphere will draw in visitors.

“It’s very casual and very equal. Everybody’s treated equally,” English says. “It’s a friendly, we’re-glad-you’re-here kind of thing. We pay attention.”

She says this stands in contrast to her experience as a member of the public at other screenings, where she has “felt kind of ignored.” Moondance is much more respectful, she says.

“The audiences who come to see the films, they don’t walk out,” she says. “I’ve been to many film fests where the audience will get up and walk out. Moondance people don’t walk out.”

Since English started the festival in 2000, one of the core values she has instilled has been respect. She says she felt — and still feels — that, like Aretha Franklin, women filmmakers deserve more of it.

“I started Moondance out of a sense of frustration that women were not being represented in the film industry, women writers and filmmakers,” English says.

She points to Sundance, the Utah festival that Moondance draws its name from, which hadn’t given many awards to females when English started Moondance. She says Sundance is indicative of a broader trend in the industry.

“The films or scripts produced in Hollywood, if there was one woman it’d be a shock,” English says. “But we have something to say that shows a different perspective on events or on the world or about a story.

And those perspectives aren’t always in evidence.”

After only inviting female filmmakers in the festival’s first two years, English decided to accept entries from men as well.

“I make sure that men and women are as close to equal as I can, but I won’t juggle them to say, ‘Oh, gee, a woman’s missing here,’” she says.

“And I don’t have a winner in every category,” she adds. “If it’s just not good enough, it’s not going to win.”

That’s good news for Damon Mohl. An art instructor at three local colleges, Mohl will take the impossibly named Colorado Ocean Award this year for his short film The Dust Machine. He says he started the film as a master’s thesis project at CU, and after quite a bit of work — two years of constructing sets and another year finishing post-production — it took off, eventually.

“It was nominated for a 2011 student academy award, which is how Elizabeth found out about it,” Mohl says. “She saw an article and gave me a call. She just had me drop off a copy on her porch.”

Mohl says he agrees that the public should feel welcome at Moondance. He says people can benefit from film festivals, particularly short films like his, because of the variety they offer.

“The interesting thing about short films is that they can be absolutely anything,” Mohl says. “It doesn’t have to fall into a three-act morality play. It can be a joke. It can be just dealing with optics. Or poetic works, no characters, just the visual image.

“A short film can be anything, and that should be the excitement,” he says. “Because you never know what you’re going to get.”

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On the Bill:

The Moondance Film Festival occurs from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18 at various locations around Boulder. The Dust Machine will be shown at the Old Main Theater on the CU campus at 10:57 p.m. Sept. 17. For a full list of films and ticket information, visit www.moondancefilmfestival.com.