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Coming Attractions

The power of story at 15th Vail Film Festival

A look behind a weekend of movies

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It sounds like a cliché, but everyone has a story to tell. For most of us, that story is something we keep to ourselves, maybe because it’s too personal, too difficult to share, or something you think no one would be interested in.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping these stories to ourselves, but when someone decides to step forward and share their story, we should pay attention

In my three days at the 15th annual Vail Film Festival, April 5-8, I met so many people who shared stories that were of vital importance and learned so much about subjects I would’ve never considered before.

In Kerry David’s documentary, “Bill Coors: The Will to Live” I was shown a portrait of a man with a name every Colorado resident knows and discovered I didn’t know anything at all about him. And I was moved but what I found.

In “Tribal Justice,” director Anne Makepeace introduced me to the powerful community of two Native American tribes in California, and the efforts of their judges to restore health and dignity to their people. And I was motivated by what I found.

In Molly McGlynn’s feature debut, “Mary Goes Round,” the writer/director and lead actress Aya Cash painted a vivid portrait of addiction, forgiveness, and the many surprising roads to empathy. And I was inspired by what I found.

That’s the power of sharing your story.

The festival has grown by leaps and bounds since it was first started by brothers Sean and Scott Cross, but its dedication to sharing stories that people otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to has never faltered.

“Independent films are labors of love, and getting audiences and filmmakers together is such a rare experience — one we wanted to provide,” Sean explained. “It takes such a long time to make a film, and we wanted to do everything we could to support independent filmmakers.”

That commitment to the independent voices is evident throughout the weekend. Some of the most packed events are the ones where short films were being screened. At a screening on April 7, viewers were standing against the wall and sitting the aisles to see films like “The Invaders,” where theater actor Isra Elsalihie plays a young woman who is followed on her way home.

“I try to bring my personal experiences into my characters, and for her, I wanted to focus on a positive thing to go after, instead of simply reacting to fear,” Elsalihie explained. “It’s really exciting being here for the world premiere, and to see the audiences’ reaction to the film for the first time.”

As Cross said, there’s an opportunity connect with filmmakers at the Vail Film Festival, an opportunity that most people don’t get to have, and the filmmakers are just as interesting, moving and funny as their creations.

Following the U.S. premiere of “Bill Coors: The Will to Live,” director and producer David, Coors biographer Margo Hamilton, and Coors’ oldest son Scott, shared stories about the making of the documentary, and the importance of giving a voice to those struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

“We need to be a voice for children all over the county and world who are struggling with these issues,” Hamilton said. “We need to stop being repulsed and repelled by their behavior and help them.”

The film is structured around his famous 1981 speech to the American Academy of Achievement, where he gave some astounding advice to high school students concerning mental health and a focus on self-love instead of material gain.

These were hard-learned lessons for Coors, as David delves into a past full of tragedy, depression and ultimately healing. Many of Coors’ challenges were completely unknown to me, and his breakthroughs in the area of employee healthcare and recycling were also revelations.

In the film, and in the question and answer session, it was Scott’s personal stories about life with his father that was the most moving. He spoke about coming out to his father on a drive to Aspen for Thanksgiving, and the empathy and understanding his father gave him.

“I cry every time because I get to see him open up,” he said. “I still go see him every week and am so thankful to have that time with him.”

The filmmaking team is working on getting their work shown in schools, and local districts like Jefferson County will hopefully be among the first to see this story about a local family working to improve the world.

The festival was capped with an award ceremony on April 7, and among the winners were “Surviving Home,” a documentary from Matthew and Jillian Moul, that followed four generations of veterans over an eight-year period as they try to get back to civilian life following their times in the service, and “Mary Goes Round.”

“Mary” was my favorite film of the festival, with knock-out performances from Sara Waisglass, Melanie Nicholls-King, and especially Cash, who gives Mary’s flaws, sense of humor and underlying understanding vital life. She can break your heart with a look, and this is expert, lived-in acting, and paired with McGlynn’s assured filmmaking, it’s a film that you seek out.

Cash received the festival’s Excellence in acting award, and at several question and answer sessions throughout the weekend displayed the insight and warm sense off humor that make her so impossible to ignore when she’s on screen.

“Just like everyone, I wanted to make a living as an actor, and that’s very hard. I wanted to buy toothpaste and coffee, and not have to pick one or the other,” she said with a laugh. “But I would tell aspiring actors to redefine success. There’s a way to make a living as an artist without selling your soul.”

It was impossible for myself and audiences to meet and interact with these artists and filmmakers and not come away motivated to step up and look out how to share our own stories. And because of that, there’s no way the festival was anything other than a success for everyone.

“After our screening, I had a woman come up to me who said she’d been sober for 30 years, and that we got that story right,” McGlynn said. “If you can connect with someone you don’t know, in a different country and state, that’s everything.”

Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. A community editor with Colorado Community Media, he can be reached creader@coloradocommunitymedia.com.

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