Thursday, February 16, 2012

BEHIND THE SCENES: Curtains at the Church

Story and Photos by Donna Crain
Workshops and Panels Coordinator and DigiComm Commando 

(Editor's note: Until now, this amazing story has not been told. Thanks so much, Donna, for documenting it and sharing it with us!)

It was at once exciting and harrowing -- the perfect give-and-take of comedy and tension. There was a mishap when a cable broke, then a hero performing a crazy stunt on a 40-foot ladder, and, at last, a happy ending. And that was all before the first movie even played at 2012 BIFF.

The festival kicks off tonight, but, as you would imagine. much has been going on behind the scenes to make it happen. Including this one thing that you might not even believe if you we didn't tell you about it. 
 One of the venues for BIFF each year is the First United Methodist Church at the corner of 14th and Spruce. The sanctuary features exquisite stained glass windows spanning 45 feet in height. The kaleidoscope of light they cast is perfect for church service, but not ideal for showing a film.  When the problem was first recognized a few years ago, BIFF executive producer, Kevin Smith, drew on his experience as a stage production designer, and enlisted the help of local artist, George Peters, to craft an ingenious solution.
"Kitemaker is one of my jobs," Peters said in a discussion earlier today. "My partner and I travel around the world with our kites and try to fill the sky with color." When asked how he became involved with the project, Peters stated, "Kevin knew a friend of mine and when he called me to talk about it, I said yes without hesitation. That's one of my biggest faults. " he added, laughing.
"I love the wild, crazy and wacky idea. It keeps going on in your head until you gotta do it," Peters said. His idea involved 850 yards of fabric, thousands of feet of rope, pulleys and more than a few brave souls.

"One woman sewed them all together," Peters said, "she was working in a tiny room, maybe 10 x 6, just surrounded by all of this fabric. Then it was really an engineering problem. How could we lift these heavy curtains into place without having multiple people on 40-foot ladders? The trick was starting the ropes in the tip-top position."

BIFF's Kevin Smith added, "We hired a construction company to drill the holes for the pulley systems. We had a guy as high as the ladder could go, as high as he could stand, as high as he could reach with a drill. That’s how we decided where the top hole would be."
The curtains were produced a couple of years ago, now, before each festival,  they have to be transported to the church . . . and installed. And, that is something that is truly awesome to watch in action. Twenty volunteers stand on ladders, tiptoes, and backs of church pews. Like a ship's crew hoisting a mast, they work the pulley system together until each curtain is in place, shrouding the church in darkness so another festival can begin. 

Then, after the final film plays on Saturday, they all come down again before Sunday service the next morning. 

The first film at The United Methodist Church Jiro Dreams of Sushi plays at 10 a.m. Friday. Learn more about George Peter's kitemaking exploits.

PREVIEW: "Nicky's Family"

Nicky’s Family
Sunday, Feb. 19, 10 a.m.
Boulder High School Auditorium

(Editor’s note: Here’sa lovely guest piece on the engrossing documentary “Nicky’s Family,” penned byKathryn Bernheimer. Kathryn isdirector of Menorah: Arts, Culture and Education at the Boulder Jewish Community Center, as well as the JCC Program Director.
From 1980-1996, Kathryn was the film criticand features writer for the BoulderDaily Camera. She was also the Bouldercorrespondent for the Intermountain Jewish News, the host of the Denver Jewish Film Festival, and a guest film programmerat the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. She is theauthor of two books of film criticism, “The 50 Greatest Jewish Movies” and “The50 Funnies Films of All Time.”

During my pre-festival chat with Kathryn,she confirmed for me that the BoulderJCC has an extensive library of Jewish film, many of them not to be foundanywhere else, available for checkout by anyone in the region! You can perusetheir catalog at Denver Jewish Film Festival takes place atthe Mizel Center for Arts and Culture from Thursday,Feb. 23 through Sunday, March 4. For tickets and information, please go to

“Nicky’s Family” tells the story of Nicholas Winton, whorescued more than 600 children from Czechoslovakia in 1939.

The Kinderstransport, which relocated nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany to England, is a well-documented and oft-told chapter of Holocausthistory, and there are already several terrific films that deal with thesubject.

“My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports”(1998) was directedby the daughter of a Kindertransport child and narrated by Joanne Woodward.

“Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of theKindertransport,” narrated by JudiDench, won the Academy Award in 2001 for bestdocumentary feature. There is also a companion book by the same name. Thefilm's producer isalso the daughter of a Kindertransport survivor. Local audiences may rememberthe film’s director, Mark Jonathan Harris (a three-time Oscar winner), whospoke at the Boulder JCC a few years ago.

There also a British documentary film, “The ChildrenWho Cheated the Nazis,” narrated by Richard Attenborough, whose parents were amongthose who responded to the appeal for British families to foster the refugeechildren.

Although the story of Nicholas Winton’s role went untoldfor 50 years, during which time he never even mentioned it to his wife,“Nicky’s Friends” is the third film about the unsung hero – all directed by thesame person.

Slovak filmmaker Matej Mináč first told the story in 1999 as a feature film, “All My Loved Ones,” starring Rupert Graves as Winton in this well-made biographical drama. Next camehis 2002 Emmy Award-winning documentaryThe Power of Good:Nicholas Winton,” which we showed at the Boulder JCC.

“Nicky’s Family” covers the same territory, and while it does not addmuch to the story, it is a very moving tribute to a modest man of great courageand tenacity.

Born in a family of German Jewish ancestry that convertedto Christianity, Winton was a 29 year old stock broker who abandoned plans fora ski trip to join a friend involved in Jewish relief work in Prague. Determined to help move children tosafety in England,he embarked on a heroic effort that has earned him a reputation as “The BritishSchindler.” Thousands of people are alive today thanks to his dramatic daring.Winton’s late-life recognition is much deserved, and this film allows us toshare that touching moment.

PREVIEW: "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator"

By Kristen Daly
BIFF DigiComm Commando 

Granito: How to Nail A Dictator
Friday, Feb. 17, 10 a.m.
Boulder Theater

Granito plays a bit like a procedural in, as their slogan says, how to nail a dictator.  The movie starts with present-day Pamela Yates combing through film footage from her 25-year-old documentary When the Mountains Tremble, her time-worn hands on the old medium remind us of the time that has passed since the events in the film and the young filmmaker synching the sound recording therein.  Yates has been contacted by a Spanish lawyer, Almudena Bernabeu, who thinks her footage can help them build a case in the Spanish courts against the military dictators of Guatemala who committed genocide against the indigenous population in the early 80's when Yates made her film. (Here's a Feb. 3 news update from the Latinamerica Press.)

Slowly, piece by piece, person by person, like grains of sand (granitos de arena) we see how an international criminal case is built.  The struggle begun in those days and so violently crushed has continued with each person doing a little part from then until now.  As one of the characters says, opening little cracks and pushing and pushing until they open up.  Everyone has a role to play and it does seem almost like divine intervention (the film website credits a Mayan god) that they all can come together and that evidence emerges from unexpected sources.

From the old days, there is Yates and her footage, a journalist who helped her get contact with the guerrillas who was working in Guatemala at the time who is now an international lawyer, one of the commanders of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor who lived underground in Guatemala City for 17 years, and a witness whose highland village was massacred when he was 11 years old.  Coming into the story now are the Spanish lawyers, a forensic archivist, a forensic archaeologist whose family left Guatemala under death threats in 1980, and a daughter of the one of the disappeared who has become a lawyer. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the movie especially for film lovers is Yates' coming to terms with the fact that witnessing and telling the story was not enough.  In 1982, she and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel risked their lives getting footage that revealed the true story of what was happening in Guatemala at the time. We are reminded in the days before digital how difficult it was to get film footage under repressive regimes.  There is no way she should have gotten the footage that she got from the guerrillas and the military, and yet she did, and she brought it together into a film that had as much success as one could hope for.    

When the Mountains Tremble showed at the first Sundance Film Festival, the narrator Rigoberta Menchú received the Nobel Peace Prize, the film showed broadly internationally and in 40 cities in the United States and won many awards.  And yet the massacres continued with 200,000 thought dead, the U.S. continued to support the Guatemalan dictators and other repressive dictatorships in Central America, the perpetrators have continued to go unpunished.     

Journalist turned lawyer Naomi Roht-Arriaza expresses similar disillusionment at the time, when she felt she was getting a story out and yet it was doing absolutely no good against the violence of the state apparatus.  Only now are the pieces starting to come together, bringing together different fields from law, to forensic science, to digitizing archives, to begin to bring justice in the region.  On January 26th of this year, after thirty years of impunity, General Ríos Montt, who reveals himself in an interview with Yates done in 1982 as the head of the Guatemalan military, was placed under house arrest for 11 massacres against the Mayan Ixil population.

This self-reflection makes Granito a perfect film for BIFF's Call2Action where it has been paired with Philanthropiece and Reading Village,  both of whom work in development in highland Guatemala, to direct viewers to action-oriented responses.  Granito will be showing Friday, February 17th at 10am at the Boulder Theater followed by a Q&A in the theater and a public discussion in the Call2Action tent on the Pearl Street Mall in front of the courthouse.