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Now Playing: How Did Small-Town Boulder Get One of the Biggest Film Festivals in the Industry?

Article Kory Kilmer | Photography Brooke Trexler

Though every year a groundhog seems to have his own opinion, Boulderites can always tell that spring is right around the corner when Pearl Street begins to look like Hollywood Boulevard. This year will be no exception, as the 9th annual Boulder International Film Festival will again take over Downtown on President’s Day weekend.

“We always said that Boulder would be the perfect place for a festival,” explains Kathy Beeck, who along with her sister Robin founded BIFF in 2004. “Here we have Pearl Street Mall and everything centered right here, and of course all of the natural beauty with the mountains. “We kept saying someone will start a festival in Boulder, because it is just so perfect. But nobody ever did, so we just did it ourselves.”

Documentary-makers themselves, the Beeck sisters would travel the country and beyond to attend festivals, some of which they loved; others not so much. While shaping their own vision, they tried to take the best of the festivals they’d attended and incorporate them all into one that their hometown would be proud of.

That approach seems to have worked.

In less than a decade, BIFF has firmly established itself as one of the premier festivals in the country. In fact, its buzz as one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals” has enticed filmmaking heavy-weights such as Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy, Martin Sheen and Oliver Stone to come to town and partake in the festivities.

More than 20,000 visitors are expected to attend this year’s BIFF, and the organizers have committed to crafting a program of workshops, panel discussions and Q & A sessions diverse enough to appeal to a wide range of audiences. The Opening Night Red Carpet Gala at the Boulder Theater will kick things off, and the

BIFF After Dark Party will return this year as well, both of which will offer attendees the opportunity to mingle with those in the filmmaking industry.

And then there are the films themselves.

For 2013, BIFF received more than 700 submissions to be a part of this year’s festival, but with only enough room for about 60 screenings on the program, narrowing down the films was a daunting task. A 12-person committee comprised of filmmakers, critics and others in the industry came together and watched film seemingly nonstop from late summer until well into December. Those films were then filtered out through a three-tier process, ending with Robin having the final say on which ones made the cut.

“Robin has got a lot of critical acclaim for her programming, and it is well deserved,” says Beeck. “You can have as many parties and workshops and panels that you want, but you have got to have that great foundation of a great program, and we have that.”

At BIFF, programming goes well beyond sheer entertainment value. The organizers strongly believe in the power of film as a vehicle for change. Each year the committee sets aside roughly a dozen films for their Call-2-Action campaign, which bring into focus issues such as the environment, gang violence, gay rights and many others.

Local organizations are invited to staff the Call-2-Action Tent, which is located on the mall, to help initiate post-film discussions about issues brought to the forefront in the theatre. This is where advocate groups can help the public to harness the emotions evoked by these films into mobilization and action.

BIFF also understands that children are the audiences of tomorrow, and they go out of their way to reach out through a variety of initiatives.

First established in 2008, the Youth Advisory Council was formed to give Boulder Valley kids grades 8-12 a voice in the festival by selecting the films for the student program. This year the Council will also be responsible for the programming of the youth pavilion that will be set up at the Boulder Public Library through-out the weekend, including workshops, panels and screenings.

Supporting youth filmmaking extends beyond the festival weekend, as BIFF sponsors local student projects throughout the year, allowing them to obtain first-hand experience in every aspect of production, including editing, directing, writing and acting.

A senior outreach program is also used to help bring older moviegoers to the festival, by offering discounted or complimentary tickets in addition to organizing transportation.

From young and old, there truly is something for everyone at the Boulder International Film Festival.

With so much going on in just a few days, organizers suggest the best approach for any attendee of BIFF is to get a hold of the program and map out their itinerary before hitting downtown. And always try and leave time for some simple stargazing down- town, because at BIFF, there is no telling just who one might come across just by walking down the street.

“We always set the bar a bit higher every year,” says Beeck. “We have big plans for the future and want to continue to grow and build and continue to have fun doing it. This really is the greatest job to ever be.”