Welcome back

The Boulder International Film Festival returns

Still from 'Summertime'

The Boulder International Film Festival is a local cinematic staple. And in 2020, BIFF was one of the last in-person events held before the COVID-19 lockdown. How fitting then that BIFF 2021 should also play host to one of the first to return.

Screening June 24-27, BIFF takes over four venues this year: Chautauqua Auditorium, Century 16 Boulder, Boulder High School and the Boulder High Soccer Field — that one will be outdoors. But if you’re still not ready to venture into the world, BIFF has you covered with BIFF at Home, the virtual cinema component, available June 24-July 3. Seating capacity will be reduced at all indoor venues, parking at Chautauqua is a no-no, and some of the movies featured on BIFF at Home have shorter screening windows, so make sure to check and double-check biff1.com before you commit. Life is starting to look like we remember, but much is still in flux.

And with that out of the way, let’s talk movies, specifically BIFF’s opening night celebration, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), the debut from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

Composed primarily from archival footage of 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is part concert film, part reclaimed history. The summer-long festival brought together some of the best in music (Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, and on and on) for a series of concerts, all caught on film by Hal Tulchin. But Tulchin found no takers for the footage — another festival held 100 miles north in Woodstock gobbled up all the headlines that year — and so Tulchin’s reels were left unused and unseen for 50 years. That’s when two producers, David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent, brought them to the attention of Thompson, who took the ball and ran with it, earning both a Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Documentary at this past Sundance Film Festival.

Summer of Soul is a joyous portrait of a far-less joyous time in American history. And Thompson’s coup comes by inviting the living participants of the festival to watch the footage — footage they’ve never seen or knew existed — and respond. Some share anecdotes, some are overcome with emotion. It’s beautiful. And the story Mavis Staple shares of Mahalia Jackson is the stuff of legend.

BIFF will screen the doc twice at Chautauqua, June 25 at 4 and 7:30 p.m. This one you gotta see on the big screen.

Ditto for Summertime, the latest from Carlos López Estrada — of Blindspotting fame. Set in Los Angeles over one day, Summertime dips in on the lives of two dozen Angelenos, poets all, as they share their struggle through spoken word and fearless verse. Some cut deep; others express empathetic rage with humor. Several of the poets use superficial gripes to explore deeper divisions. All of them are messy and free — in the best way possible. Summertime is vibrant and fun, and it’ll be playing at Century 16 on June 25 at 8 p.m.

Looking for something set closer to home? Homegrown Short Docs (Boulder High School, June 26 at 10 a.m.) feature three from the Centennial State: Welcome Strangers, following Sarah Jackson as she searches the streets of Denver for asylum-seeking immigrants and invites them into her home for shelter; The Silence of Quarantine, about two elderly African-American women living in Boulder reflecting on the historical presence of African-Americans in the area; and The Incredible Lamont, which follows local magician Lamont Ream in his second act as a live-in caregiver for his mentally disabled relative. Filmmakers for all three shorts will be in person at the screening, and Ream, The Incredible Lamont himself, will also perform some of his world-famous magic.

That’s but five. There are another 40 or so shorts and features, narratives and docs to see this weekend. Welcome back.