Matters of life and death

New film festival explores life’s two inevitabilities

From the film "Little Town of Bethlehem"
Chris Callaway | Boulder Weekly


The first annual Life and Death Matters International Multimedia Festival — better known as LADmatters — promises to be a thought-provoking, engaging event with plenty to prick the senses. Running Sept. 1 to Sept. 4 at various venues in Boulder, the event encompasses speakers (including famed autistic writer and teacher Temple Grandin), panels, seminars, workshops, films and short plays. The fest is themed around the vivid landscapes of life and death, with topics ranging from aging, disease and vaccination to living within/promoting peace and LGBTQ concerns.

Karen van Vuuren and Erin Kelly developed the idea for the festival in 2010. Kelly took seventh grade math from van Vuuren’s husband, and over coffee last October, the two women chatted about film and end-of-life care and decided to create the festival. Van Vuuren’s background in broadcast journalism and nonprofit leadership worked in tandem with Kelly’s experience as an actor on stage and on screen — and behind the camera as a producer. The film festival would hopefully cause people to think about the process of living and dying and in the end exude hope. The nonprofit event would not be just about film, however. Seminars, plays and the like would further allow attendees to ponder and learn.

Festival director Kelly wants to focus on the positive aspects of the topics while remaining cutting-edge. She also hopes that attendees’ thought processes will have been engaged once they leave the event.

“I feel that our realization in creating this is not necessarily that we’re telling people what to think or how to think, but more that they come away thinking something,” says Kelly, referring to herself and festival partner van Vuuren. “We are really keen on just stimulating conversations, stimulating thoughts

around many of the sort-of taboo topics and themes that we have in the festival.”

Film is an integral part of the four-day event, and a selection of 30 motion pictures will be shown. The works bring to light poignant topics presented in creative, thought-provoking ways. Little Town of Bethlehem deals with a trio of men from different religious backgrounds in Israel and Palestine who work at ending the violence so prevalent in their part of the world. A panel on peacemaking and non-violence will be held after the movie.

Over 90 and Loving It is an enlightening documentary directed by poet Susan Polis Schultz, whose son, Congressman Jared Polis, is the festival’s closing night speaker. The motion picture explores the lives of lively members of the 90-and-over population who have refused to recognize age as a restriction. Rather, these individuals are doing the things they would do if they were in their 20s and 30s. It’s a pleasant surprise to see a film that highlights the accomplishments of seniors, as the elderly seem to make up perhaps the most marginalized group within the con fines of our modern society.

“We actually have two films that sort of fall into that category,’ Kelly says. “How to Live Forever is the other one, and both films portray this life-inspiring alternative to [the view of ] aging … that so many people in our culture have.”

The Power of Two tackles another not-often-discussed topic: The documentary details the struggles and triumphs of half-Japanese twin sisters who suffer from cystic fibrosis, their ultimate survival thanks to organ donation, and the obstacles they overcame to become victorious in their personal and professional lives.

“The film is touching and inspiring, uplifting, educational,” Kelly says. “It’s across the board what we are wanting to represent as  LADmatters. Both of the girls in the film and the director will be here doing a talk-back afterwards.”

LADmatters also includes nine short plays that will be presented together in what LADmatters Theatre Programing Director Vonalda Utterback terms a “festival within a festival.” While some of the theatrical creations have a humorous edge — such as “Waiting for the Carp,” in which a pair of mayflies discuss life when their lifespan is no longer than a day — others are more sobering.

“We have some that will tug at the heartstrings and that are really poignant,” Utterback says. “We have one based on 9/11 which is just an absolutely beautiful play called ‘The Miraculous Day Quartet, Redux.’ It’s about four individuals that were late and they were late for various reasons, but actually [the delay] saved their lives. So they tell their stories about why they were late and deal with survivor guilt and all the different feelings you might have considering the situation where your life was saved by being late. It’s very powerful.”

On the Bill

Life and Death Matters International Multi-media Festival takes place at the Nomad Theater and other locations from Thursday, Sept. 1, to Sunday, Sept. 4. For a complete schedule, visit Films and plays are $12, $10 for students, and workshops and seminars are $10, $8 for students. 1410 Quince Ave., Boulder, 303-443-7510.