Sunday, February 20, 2011

History in person: John Lewis and “Freedom Riders”

U.S. Representative John Lewis (left) speaks with BIFF's Ron Bostwick on Sunday afternoon at the Boulder Theater, in conjunction with a screening of Stanley Nelson's "Freedom Riders," which took the first-ever BIFF People's Choice Award. [Photo by Katelyn Hauge-Aldridge]

One of the highlights of BIFF 2011 was “Freedom Riders,” the feature documentary about the battle to end segregation in interstate travel in 1961. It garnered two sold-out screenings, both of which were attended by a very special guest, civil rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis.

The Congressman, who turns 71 tomorrow, was welcomed to the stage of the Boulder Theater after the screening with a standing ovation. BIFF’s Ron Bostwick interviewed him, and the audience joined in for a question-and-answer session as well.

Here’s the gist of his discussion:

He described growing up in the small town of Troy, Alabama and “tasting the bitter fruits of racism – I didn’t like it.” His parents urged him not to rock the boat. However, he noted that when he was 17 he met Rosa Parks, whose famous refusal to give up her bus seat to a white person had taken place two years earlier; the next year, when Lewis was 18, he met Martin Luther King, Jr. “Then,” he said, “I started getting into trouble.”

He talked about learning the philosophy of non-violence in college at Fisk University. “We learned it not as a tactic or as a technique,” he said, “but as a way of life. As Dr. King told us once, ‘You just have to love the hell out of everybody.’”

He described the occasion of his first arrest on Feb. 27, 1960: “I felt liberated. I felt so free. I felt as though I had crossed over . . . I came to that place where I lost all sense of fear. What we believed in was so good, so right, so necessary that we had to do what was necessary to end racial discrimination. In a real sense, we were soldiers, on a mission to redeem the soul of America.”

He talked about the importance of music in the civil rights movement as a source of cohesiveness and forward impulse. “If it hadn’t been for music, the civil rights movement would have been a bird without wings,” he said.

During the Q & A period, he spoke to the topic of the recent protests that brought regime change in Egypt (“It’s not obsolete!” he remarked of the non-violent approach), the phrase “illegal immigrants” (“There’s no such thing as an illegal human being,” he said, to great applause).

He talked about looking forward to the 50th anniversary reunion of the living Freedom Riders, who number about 300 today.

When asked about what one can do in everyday life to advance the cause of human rights, Lewis said, “Say ‘thank you.’ Say ‘excuse me.’ Why are we so mean to each other? Is it old-fashioned, is it out of date, to be human?”

It was remarkable to see and hear this peaceable warrior speak of the stuff of childhood memory and life-long admiration. For those of us old enough to remember those dark times and the bravery of the few who changed society for the better, it was a powerful affirmation. For the very young, I hope it served as an inspiration.

From the field: BIFF talks to the filmmakers

Katelyn Hauge-Aldridge talked to many folks yesterday at BIFF -- here are just a few of her interviews!

Tomas Sem Lokke-Sorensen [Photo by Katelyn Hauge-Aldridge]

At the VIP dinner at Ted’s Montana Grill on Saturday, we caught up with Norwegian filmmaker Tomas Sem Lokke-Sorensen. The Boulder International Film festival is one of Lokke-Sorensen’s many stops on his tour of film festivals around the world that are screening his short film “The Unhappy Woman.” This five-minute comedy/drama focuses on a dialogue between an actress and a director, whose conversation quickly turns from business to personal, and ends very unfortunately for a certain camera operator. The film has already gained recognition within the film community -- it was the winner of the 2010 Aspen Shortsfest: Best Short Short Award in April of 2010.

For Lokke-Sorensen, this film was a challenge to his talents as a filmmaker.

“The film is shot in one scene with no cuts and only two actors,” said Lokke-Sorensen. “It was a challenge to myself. We shot for only one and a half hours total. It’s a very simple film that shows how people must learn commitment and communicate to avoid arguments.”

This film has brought Lokke-Sorenson to the United States for the first time. When asked about his impressions of Boulder and the community of filmmakers who have gathered here, the filmmaker had nothing but good things to say. “The people here are very friendly and love to have fun. It’s a great community.”

Henry Phillips

Phillips in a still from his feature film, "Punching the Clown."

Filmmaker and actor Henry Phillips brought his feature-length film “Punching the Clown” to the Boulder Film Festival this year. In his semi-autobiographical film, Phillips plays a performer/comedian who rises to fame in Los Angeles due to a series of misunderstandings. But his fame doesn’t last long and after becoming the victim of a terrible rumor, he is run out of town.

“The film is sort of a metaphor for myself,” said Phillips. “It was inspired by a series of my own life stories that I told to director Greg Vienz. Its sort of autobiographical, but the stories are over exaggerated for the film.”

Phillips screened his comedy for Boulder Film Festival audiences on Friday and received an incredibly warm reception. As an independent filmmaker, Phillips hopes that the screening of his film at the festival will help bring his film further recognition.

“We have basically no ad budget, so we have been showing the film at festivals to spread the word about the film. We have a lot of great support from musicians and comedians, and we are hoping to broaden our adudience,” he said.

Phillips’ film is now available on Netflix and Amazon, and clips of the film are also available online.

Suzan Beraza [Photo by Katelyn Hauge-Aldridge]

Saturday’s filmmaker panel brought a wide variety of voices and views to the Boulder Film Festival -- from independent filmmakers to Disney producers. Among these was documentary filmmaker Suzan Beraza, whose film “Bag It” was screened earlier that day.

Beraza’s film is a “quirky and approachable documentary” that focuses on the impact of the use of plastic products in today’s society. Originally, Beraza intended only to make a short film about a competition between the towns of Telluride and Aspen, CO to reduce use of plastic bags in 2008. However, as Beraza learned more and more about the subject, she quickly became passionate about plastic and the repercussions of its use on the environment and chose to expand her documentary’s focus to create her first feature-length film. Beraza’s film has been screened at several film festivals across the country, and was the winner of the Best of Festival Award at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in Monterey California in 2010.

As one of six filmmakers on Saturday's panel, Beraza was happy to be part of the variety of talent who spoke about what they are most passionate about -- film.

“I really liked the variety of people that were on the panel. It was a great way for the audience to connect with us about all the dimensions of making a film,” Beraza said. “There is no one right answer to how to make a film. The process is different for everyone.”

Clips of Beraza’s film are available online, and it will be aired on PBS in April of this year.

BIFF reporters, Gallery Two -- Katelyn Hauge-Aldridge

James Franco flashes a smile on the way into the Boulder Theater for his tribute Saturday night.
Here are some more wonderful shots of BIFF in progress, taken Saturday in and around or venues, these taken by the promising young talent Katelyn Hague-Aldridge.
At the BIFF Filmmakers Panel (left to right) Directors Vadim Jendreyko ("The Woman with 5 Elephants"), Suzan Beraza ("Bag It!"), Don Hahn ("Hand Held"); panel moderator Brad Weismann; directors Jen McGowan ("Touch"), Christophe Fauchere ("Mother"), and Kurt Norton ("These Amazing Shadows").
Director Don Hahn, who produced "Beauty and the Beast" for Disney, talks abut the very different experience of obtaining distribution for his independent documentary film, "Hand Held," during the Filmmakers PAnel on Saturday.
BIFF Social Media Director and Filmmakers Panel moderator Brad Weismann calls for questions from the audience during the session.
Good times! Fun at the VIP Filmmakers Reception at Ted's Montana Grill on Saturday night.
Henry Phillips ("Punching the Clown"), second from left, talks to BIFF attendees at the VIP Filmmaker Reception.
James Franco in conversation with BIFF's Ron Bostwick on Saturday night.
Franco and Bostwick.
James Franco has a laugh during his interview on Saturday.

BIFF field reporters on the job! Gallery One -- Zak Wood

James Franco gestures during his interview with BIFF's Ron Bostwick Saturday night at the Boulder Theater.
Wow! For the first time ever, our own Boulder International Film Festival field reporters took to the field and captured a vast array of images and information. This will give you a strong and true sense of what the BIFF experience is about.

Look for images and more as the day progresses. Here's a gallery from acclaimed, long-time regional photojournalist Zak Wood -- great stuff!:
Bag It! Director Suzan Beraza at the Call2Action tent.
BIFF volunteers Aleiya Evison, left, and Emily Robertson, right, hand out popcorn on the Pearl St. Mall.
BIFF volunteers, from left, Alex Toll, Jessica Hausauer, and Delanie Deniro, work the merchandise table at the Call2Action tent on the Pearl St. Mall.

Director  Jarreth Merz answers questions after his screening of An African Election at the Boulder Theater.

Chandra Brin, left, and Claire Barker, right, after the screening of An African Election at the Boulder Theater.

From left, John Armstrong, Athena Chellos, and Ilene Blum, after the screening of An African Election at the Boulder Theater.

Calista Morril, left, and Martha Sullivan, right, check out the BIFF schedule outside of the Boulder Theater box office.

BIFF attendees Kate Belitz and Josh Kunau outside of the Boulder Theater.

Mark Shephard, left, Devorah Pearson, middle, and Jessica Hall, right, wait outside of the Boulder Theater prior to the screening of Sarah’s Key.

Shannon Lavelle and Maddie Ayde are the first in line to see James Franco at the Boulder Theater.

The marquee burns bright Saturday night at the Boulder Theater.

An eager red-carpet crowd waits for the arrival of James Franco at the Boulder Theater on Saturday night.

An intrepid Franco fan looks for a single ticket in front of the Boulder Theater on Saturday night.

Boulder outdoorsman Aron Ralston presents James Franco with the Vanguard Award on Saturday night.

James Franco and BIFF's Ron Bostwick chat at the Boulder Theater on Saturday night.