It's not quite as warm and fuzzy as a surprise bear hug, but Matt Stevens says it's a fine piece of random affirmation: "Now people come up to me," he says, "and they don't ask, 'What is Indie Spirit?' They ask me, 'When is Indie Spirit?'"
To answer their question: The Indie Spirit Film Festival, now in its third year, begins this Friday, April 23, and runs through Sunday, April 25 in downtown Colorado Springs. From more than 500 entries received by Stevens and his festival co-directors, Jim Turner and Chris Loud, the fest's selection committee has chosen 101 independent films: shorts, features, foreign films, student films, documentaries to share with audiences. Among them are numerous award-winners, at least one Oscar-nominated movie, and several that also have been selected by renowned festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca and even Cannes.
Of the festival's modest, but growing, reputation, Turner says, "It's way beyond where we thought we'd be at this point."
There's a new environmental film category, befitting a festival that falls during Earth Week; an expanded program of Native American films; more than a dozen Colorado-connected movies; a recently introduced sport-adventure category; a horror program that also includes thrillers, supernatural films and even one bearing a warning about its graphic nature ("There's just some wrong stuff in it," Loud says, laughing); comedies, dramas, animated films and at least 25 movies from female filmmakers.
"I don't know if we'd look back and say it was a guys' film festival by any means, but last year we did overhear some people saying, 'You can definitely tell guys programmed this,'" remembers Loud. "So that's something we took seriously.
"But when we watched entries, we weren't saying, 'OK, let's throw this in because it will appease people.' We asked: 'Does it hold up? Is this a good movie?'"
Everyone who's someone
Maybe more impressive than this year's ambitious screening schedule is the turnout organizers are anticipating from the faces behind the films. In the final week of preparations, the number of directors, producers, cast and crew members expected to attend — from across the U.S. and as far away as Europe — is nearing 75.
"We have several films with multiple people coming out," says Turner. "Golden Earrings, for example, is bringing their entire six-person cast. It's their world premiere."
The fest just missed landing a second world premiere; when New York's Tribeca also accepted the documentary Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul, the bigger fest won the honor. Now the sport-adventure film will be shown at Indie Spirit on Sunday, a day after the debut, in its "Colorado premiere." It follows two men on foot as they attempt to retrace Admiral Peary's trip to the North Pole, 100 years later, amid unforgiving terrain and melting landscapes.
This year's fest also will highlight not one, but two featured filmmakers: Aloura Charles (see "Keeping It Reel," below) and Tracy Rector. During the festival's expanded opening day festivities, they'll each share three of their films and talk about their work (though at press time Rector's flight couldn't be confirmed). And later in the weekend, they'll give repeat performances.
Though the Indie Spirit trio didn't realize it when they selected her as a featured filmmaker, Rector recently told them she was born in Colorado Springs. If they'd known, her films might have headed the Colorado Spotlight along with their current place in the Native American program.
"She has a very good eye, and she's a very good storyteller," says Loud. "A lot of the Native American films we get are very serious and issue-driven. In Tracy's film March Point, there are issues, but this one seemed to be more — not character-driven exactly, but personal — personal to the subject matter."
Rector co-directed March Point with three teens from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community near Seattle. The young men had caused some trouble and accepted an offer to join Rector's Native Lens filmmaking program in lieu of going to court. The resulting documentary follows the teens, more interested in gangster movies at first, as they uncover a powerful story about oil refineries on March Point and the threats to their community nearby.
Two of Rector's short films featuring unconventional Native American artists, Bunky Echo Hawk: Profile of a Proactive Artist and Unreserved: The Work of Louie Gong (recently accepted by Cannes), will round out her program.
What about parties?
As they prepare for crowds they hope will fill 3,500 seats during the event, the Indie Spirit guys have an important reminder for ticketholders.
"It's not a film viewing, it's a film festival," Turner stresses. "We want people to enjoy more than just watching movies."
With that in mind, they've added a new venue as the festival's headquarters. CityRock Colorado Springs (21 N. Nevada Ave.), the climbing and event center, will be the spot to pick up passes, try on T-shirts, hear live music, enjoy food and drink in the filmmakers' lounge (if you hold a VIP pass), and check the schedule.
Of course, one of the joys of a film fest is the chance to meet the people whose work you're watching. So Turner advises viewers to stay in their seats for a moment after screenings; if the filmmakers are attending, they'll field audience questions. Those wanting to hear more can wander over to East Coast Deli (24 S. Tejon St.) to catch panels of visiting filmmakers discussing their craft on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
CityRock is located midway between the festival's two main venues, Kimball's Peak Three (115 E. Pikes Peak Ave.) and the Lon Chaney Theater (221 E. Kiowa St.).
"We wanted to give them a place where they can talk about the films and get together," says Stevens, "and we've added parties, because people like to do that, too."
Friday night's party will be at the recently re-imagined Red Martini (20 N. Tejon St.) and Saturday's is scheduled for CityRock.
For more on the festival and a variety ticket options, visit indiespiritfilmfestival.org.