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In case you missed it last year, BIFF is back.

BIFF, of course, stands for the Boulder International Film Festival. It runs this weekend from Thursday, February 16, through Sunday, February 19. Most events take place at the Boulder Theater and the Boulder Public Library.

About 5,000 people attended the festival last year. This year, expectations are higher, and festival co-director Kathy Beeck (pronounced “Beck”) thinks they’ll easily beat that number.

So if you’re downtown and see clusters of people walking toward the library, pontificating loudly on the virtues of 35mm film versus digital video, you’ll at least know why they’re here and not in Park City, Utah.

Boulder: The Next Park City?

Speaking of which, do we really want that kind of crowd in Boulder? Park City is a madhouse during Sundance. Its population triples during the festival, straining services and fraying nerves. And since Sundance is a film marketplace, it’s more about the business than the art, which takes away a lot of the fun. Should Boulder really open that Pandora’s box?

As director of the International Film Series in Boulder, Pablo Kjolseth is no stranger to film festivals. He says that different festivals have very different attitudes. “Look at Telluride, which has a very specialized program. It has about 30 carefully selected features, and that’s it. Whereas Sundance is just a monstrous beast with hundreds of features and a ton of other stuff.”

Looking for a metaphor, he says “Telluride is like a Herb’s Meats & Specialty Foods, whereas Sundance is Whole Foods, with aisles and aisles full of crazy stuff.”

So where on the spectrum does BIFF fall? More importantly, where do the festival organizers, the Beeck sisters want it to fall?

Beeck Sisters

Kathy Beeck thinks BIFF 2 can beat last year
Kathy Beeck thinks BIFF 2 can beat last year

“The Beeck sisters” generally refers to Robin and Kathy, although their sister Shelly also works on the festival. Robin and Kathy created the perennial favorite documentary Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed, which introduced them to the world of film festivals. Last year, with the help of friends, family, and a lot of volunteers, they inaugurated the first Boulder International Film Festival.

They didn’t have the clout of a Telluride or a Sundance to bring big stars and big movies. Nevertheless, they opened with the Colorado premiere of Millions, which enjoyed a major release soon after the festival.

But bear in mind that Telluride is 35 years old, and Sundance is 25. In its second year, the BIFF has more prestige than, and the Beeck sisters are better able to dictate what the festival will look like. For example, this year they were able to invite more feature films and attract bigger stars such as Maria Bello (“A History of Violence”), Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld”), Eric Roberts (“Runaway Train”), and director Allan Seidelman (“The Sisters”).

Future of BIFF

If you ask what the ten-year plan for BIFF is, you may not get a specific answer.

“I think we’re going to see what happens,” says Robin. “Of course we’d love to be the next Telluride. That’s a world-class festival.” But Telluride is also a festival that focuses primarily on feature films, and the Beecks agree that they don’t want to exclude shorter films and documentaries.

Kathy says, “We want to keep it accessible. We want to keep ticket prices kind of reasonable. We want to not make it exclusive. I think our festival is really about the locals. That’s who we’re appealing to.”

But, says Kathy, we can expect to keep the glamor factor. “Opening night we have food catered by the Cheesecake factory, and it’s a red-carpet, glamorous kind of thing. There’s no event in Boulder where you can wear a gown. This is it!”

A Filmmaker’s Festival

As filmmakers themselves, the Beeck sisters are also attuned to the needs of filmmakers, and they want to make sure that filmmakers will always be eager to come to BIFF.

“This is a filmmakers festival. We are selecting the best elements of the things that we have experienced in other festivals and bringing them all into one super-festival.”

And those best elements are...?

“Well, parties. Big parties, ” says Robin, although she quickly finds a more practical answer. “The filmmaker liaison. We have only been in one festival where they assign you one person to really take care of you, pick you up at the airport, show you where you’re supposed to be. We picked that up from going to Banff.”

“Another element is certainly [having] everything within walking distance,” adds Kathy. “We’ve gone to festivals where it’s been difficult to get around, it’s a hassle, parking is a problem, or it’s crowded. Here, you park your car once and you can walk to all the venues.”

But the parties really are important, and the sisters come back to the topic. “We’ve gone to a lot of film festival opening night parties, and it’s kind of a tame party.” BIFF’s parties will be wild, promises Robin, with food, drink, and dancing.

“And,” says Kathy, “the parties are where you meet people. That’s where you network. There are festivals where it’s so exclusive that you don’t get an invitation. We don’t do that here. We want them accessible for everybody.”

Boulder, You’re No Park City...

So BIFF is not Sundance, nor will it be exactly like Telluride. It falls somewhere in the middle. Red carpets and paparazzi are included as part of the fun — an excuse to dress up and bask in the lights of a marquee — but not to the point of exclusivity.

Kjolseth acknowledges that festivals can have their drawbacks. “Sundance, at its current level, goes from a population of about 15,000, to 40 or 50 thousand over ten days.” But Boulder, he adds, is much bigger than Park City and better able to absorb crowds. “And,” he adds, “Boulder’s already got so many regularly scheduled special events such as the Creek Fest or the Farmer’s Market... people should already be used to a crowd.”

Kathy agrees. “Boulder is a tourist destination. There’s plenty of activities that go on in this town, like the World Affairs Conference, and the Bolder Boulder. We picked February because there isn’t a whole heck of a lot going on then.” In other words, even if BIFF does get huge, it won’t be competing with any of Boulder’s other big draws.

As for the positive effects, Kathy says “last year we brought 5,000 people down to the Pearl Street mall, and any time you do that, those people are going to eat somewhere, they’re going to shop somewhere, they’re going to go have a drink at a bar. That’s why the mall is such a great place to have a film festival, because you have the opportunity to make it more of an event. Besides, the sisters feel they ought to give something back to Boulder. Robin jokes, “We used to raise hell in this town, so we owe the town.”

Places to Go, People to See

People risked their lives for the closing night movie
People risked their lives for the closing night movie

If you’re finally sold on the idea of BIFF, here are some recommendations to get you started.

  • Boys of Baraka: four 12-year-old “at risk” boys from a crime-ridden Baltimore neighborhood spend a year at an academically strict Kenyan boarding school. (Sunday, 10:00 AM, Boulder Theater)
  • Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock: takes you into the heart of the Burning Man culture to show what it takes to put together the third- largest city in Nevada for six days, year after year, and leave absolutely no trace of it behind. (Friday, 10:00 PM, Boulder Theater; Sunday, 12:00 PM, Boulder Theater)
  • Higher Ground: the latest white-powder high from Warren Miller productions. This event is only open to students, and it’s free! (Friday, 10:00 AM, Boulder Theater)
  • What Remains of Us: Forced into exile by the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama has not been seen or heard by the people of Tibet for 50 years, but thanks to a courageous Tibetan-Canadian woman with a small video player, that silence has now been broken; she travels across the Tibetan countryside secretly showing a videotaped message from the Dalai Lama. According to the BIFF web site, “many people have risked their lives to appear in this film,” so security will be very tight. Catering will be provided by Frasca. As Kathy Beeck says, “you can’t even eat at Frasca for $25” (Sunday, 6:00 PM, Boulder Theater)
  • The Sisters: Arthur Allan Seidelman’s adaptation of Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters. “How can you beat a couple of hours of smart, witty, and deliciously bitchy dialogue between some of the best actors in the world?” The rest of the world can see it when it opens theatrically in April. (Thursday, 6:00 PM, Boulder Theater)
  • Between Heaven and Earth: Angus Yates and four North Face whitewater kayakers journey to Russia’s remote Sayan Mountains to be the first to descend the Onot River by kayak and document a place few outsiders have ever seen. (Saturday, 4:30 PM, Boulder Theater)

Where, When, How Much

Movies show at Boulder Theater and Boulder Public Library. The festival runs from Thursday evening through Sunday evening. For times check, or pick up a printed schedule at just about any downtown merchant, or at the BIFF offices - 1426 Pearl, on the south side of the east end of the mall, downstairs.

VIP passes sell for $295. Passes give you access to all films and parties, plus priority seating; you can walk right to the front of the line. Individual tickets are $10, or $8 for seniors and students. Opening night tickets are $50; closing night tickets are $25.

Students can also see some movies for free. Contact the BIFF Educational Outreach at 303 449-2283 if you’re a student looking for more free options.

Reprinted by permission of the Boulder Weekly