This year, Durango Independent Film Festival turns Sweet 16 and will be celebrating the milestone online thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the annual in-person event that has people flooding the streets of downtown Durango for a week of movie-watching and hanging out with people in the film industry isn’t slowing down just because of the change in venue.
Joanie Leonard, DIFF executive director, said that while this year has been challenging, the show will go on.
“We just had to learn a lot,” she said. “We’re doing live Q&As that are livestreamed through the event’s platform but using Zoom. There are about five of us from the staff that are testing every day practically, to make sure we’re able to do that.” She said there are 29 Q&A sessions scheduled.
Along with the Q&As, Leonard said there is a full slate of other events besides the films.
“The goal is to abide by our mission statement, which is connecting the filmmakers with the community and vice versa. We’re planning some Zoom coffee talks with filmmakers, we’re planning some ‘quarantini’ happy hours, and those are where everybody can come in and be on Zoom and have their video on and everything,” she said. “We’re just trying to do everything we can to do more than just watch a film.”
This year, the festival, which runs March 3 to March 12, is offering three ways to watch films and participate – two pass options and individual tickets, which cost $15 per film.
“We felt like it’s a hard year for everybody, that’s why we made the price so easy,” Leonard said. “And we expanded it to 10 days to give people more time to watch films.”
And just like every other year, there are plenty of movies to watch – 99 films will be available. DIFF offers shorts programs, Native Cinema, features and there’s even a Reel Learning school program for the kiddos.
Two films – both shorts – you shouldn’t miss:
‘Yupköyvi – The Place Beyond the Horizon’Durango director Larry Ruiz is showing his documentary, “Yupköyvi – The Place Beyond the Horizon,” at this year’s festival.
The documentary tackles the issue of fracking, and oil and gas exploration at Chaco Canyon. Part of a larger series of films about research going on at Chaco, Ruiz focuses on Hopis in this documentary.
Ruiz said the larger project started in 2017 when he was invited to video document a symposium at Crow Canyon. As a result of the conference, about 15 documentaries, or 15 films with scholars and Native Americans talking were created, and that’s when the idea to start growing the project began.
“What they wanted to do was, and what they found out after this conference, is the Native people wanted more input, they wanted more input into how they were affected and they wanted to do it in Chaco,” Ruiz said. “So, the Native participants felt that an oral presentation would be more appropriate, the most appropriate.”
As a result, in October 2017, he and his crew went down to Chaco Canyon and did the first set of interviews with Diné and Acoma people. Then in 2019, they returned to Chaco and interviewed the Hopi and the Zuni. And ended up with five documentaries.
“It was really an honor to do this because the Park Services allowed – we got to go down there after they closed the gates at night and film all night long. It was phenomenal. It was an honor and amazing,” he said.
Ruiz said after the crew interviewed the Hopi and the Zuni, he thought the footage with the Hopi participants lent itself to a festival film.
“Just the beautiful way that it was, especially the Hopi elder Terrance (Outah), just the way that they all put this together to have the older elder Terrance and then the younger girl Georgiana (Ponyesva), in there, too. It was really cool to have them all together,” he said. “I asked the Hopi and the scholars that I worked with if I could take one of the Hopi perspective and turn it into a festival film, and everybody was like, ‘Sure, yeah, that’d be a great way to get the information out.’”
Outah and Ponyesva even came up with the title for the film, Ruiz said.
“I hope that it comes across where there’s this beautiful blend of scholars’ scientific research with Native oral history and not just specific to one tribe, but everybody – the Diné, the Hopi, the Zuni, the Pueblo people,” he said. “That’s what this incredible project is doing. And we’re not finished yet.”
‘Chronicles of Gnarnia: The Rex Chadwick Story’At one point during filming of “Chronicles of Gnarnia: The Rex Chadwick Story,” director and actor Brian Colin Foley’s videographer thought Foley had gone over the side of a cliff at Aspen Mountain and was probably a goner.
The cast and crew were in Aspen filming scenes for sports mockumentary about the notorious U.S. Ski Team superstar Rex Chadwick.
“I had this great videographer, Matt Robson, I found ... because we needed the end to be sort of like an epic shot. So he scouted out this place on the backside of Aspen Mountain and he rented a snowmobile from his friend,” Foley said. “We went up there and he was like, ‘Oh, there’s this back road that goes up the mountain,’ but he’s like, ‘Last week, there was no snow, and now there’s like a foot of snow.’ So we had to really will the truck up this stretch to get up there.
“It was on the backside of Aspen Mountain and the first snowmobile scene we did, he actually thought I drove off the side of the cliff because he was filming it from really far away, and the snowmobile had this sled on the back with all the skis and equipment, so from his point of view, he’s filming it, and he just sees me disappear and then the sled do a flip,” he said.”
“Chronicles” is Foley’s directorial debut. He’s an actor who’s been in “Snowpiercer” and “Orange is the New Black” and he said he found moving from in front of the camera to behind it was a fairly easy transition because many of the people in the cast and crew of “Chronicles” were longtime friends and people he’d worked with before.
And it’s this comfort level that made making the film fun – something Foley said translates well onto the screen.
The short was filmed in different locales, and, in fact, Foley and his crew had just returned home from Colorado – he lives in New Jersey – when everything was shut down because of the growing pandemic.
“A few people were actually overseas that I went to film school with. So they would have a setup – it was just three of them. And they would film it – one was in Portugal, another was in Sweden, but the majority was California and New York City,” he said. “All my interview scenes are in Long Island City in New York. And then the rest, Venice Beach and half the cast was LA. “
Foley said the inspiration for the film came from his love of sports and documentaries.
“I just find top athletes very interesting for documentaries, like the Tiger Woods one that just came out, Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn, all this scandal that follows them. So that was sort of the joke to begin with,” he said. “I want this guy to be this complete a****** and nobody likes him, no redeeming qualities, but then you find out through the mockumentary that he actually, he is just the circumstance of his upbringing. So that was kind if the vibe at the beginning. I am into the sports genre and the documentary genre, too.”
And for an actor whose fate really lies in the hands of other people, Foley said directing “Chronicles” was liberating.
“It was so much fun to make,” he said. “What I really learned is that I primarily have just done acting, so on the other side of the camera, it was really fun for me like finally to have somewhat control over something. It was an absolute ball.”