It was 1987 and Breckenridge Film Festival (BFF) volunteer David Downer was in charge of getting actor Alan Arkin down to Denver and on a plane. Arkin, who was up for an Emmy Award, was leaving early Sunday morning from the Summit County festival for the awards ceremony that evening in Los Angeles. As they approached the airport, they learned that Arkin’s flight had been delayed.
“His flight was finally back on again, but he barely made it, and as we were rushing down to the gate … of all the people going through they decide they were going to search his bag,” Downer said. “So he’s got another delay. I’m running down to the plane to say, ‘Could you please just hold it for one more minute.’ He made it.”
After spending around 25 years with the Breckenridge Film Festival as mainly a volunteer but also a committee member, Downer has hours worth of stories to tell about meeting celebrities and filmmakers and the movies he’s watched. Like the time when Peter Fonda led a gang of 50 Harley Davidson motorcycle riders up from Denver to Breckenridge Main Street in 1991, or the time that Angie Dickinson read his palm in 1988.
“I wish I could remember what she said but I was distracted by the fact that Angie Dickinson was reading my palm,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that really stands out to me about the festival … the lack of separation between the celebrity guests and the filmgoer. Not only just the Q and A’s after films, but the parties around town, on the street or wherever, these people were just there. … I sat at a party once with three or four other people across from Jon Voight, talking. As a volunteer who’s fairly involved, there’s even more of a chance for that … but I recall people stopping these celebrities on the street, posing for a picture and waving at the camera and being able to get to know them as people.”
EVOLUTION OF THE FEST
Since its inception in 1981, the festival has continued to evolve and change with the film industry. Founded by locals Meg Lass and Mary Rianoshek, in its earlier days BFF was hosted by renowned film critic Jeffrey Lyons, who helped bring in celebrities, and the first few years were guided with the help of Ron Henderson from the Denver Film Festival.
“There were in those days, especially in that first 10- or 15-year period, an incredible list of celebrity guests, kind of a who’s who of Hollywood,” Downer said.
As technology advanced and became more accessible, more independent films were produced and the festival started to shift its focus.
“Not just at a feature film level, but all the way down to individuals who are able to use the current digital technology to produce movies on their computer, which back in the days of film required great expense and specialized labs. … The focus has shifted and I think the festival has really shifted with it,” Downer said.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2016
This year, the festival received 353 submissions, said Dianna Nilsson, programming director with the BFF. Filmmakers submit their pieces into a category — such as drama, comedy, short, animation or spiritual — and a committee chooses which ones will be screened over the event.
“We try to have a spectrum so that people can go see docs (documentaries) or they can go see a drama,” Nilsson said. “The real popular category are the shorts. … The adventure and spiritual are also popular. We try to put a bunch of those films that are similar together, and present it so the audience has a choice.”
Opening night on Thursday, Sept. 15 will feature “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, The Touring Years,” directed by Ron Howard, which is also premiering in London the same day.
“It’s being released nationwide, and then it’s going to be released on Hulu,” Nilsson said. “But if you go to the theater and see it, you get to see an extra 30 minutes of the Shea Stadium.”
Opening night finishes with a party at Quandary Grille.
Friday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 17 are full with films, forums, parties and Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Actor Rex Lee and director Hunter Lee Hughes will be in attendance on Friday for their film “Guys Reading Poems.” The film is partially a response to the problem of the violence epidemic among young men, with creativity — in this case poetry — as a possible outlet for disturbing feelings that might get expressed as violence should they not be handled creatively.
“He was excited to come to Breckenridge,” said Janice Kurbjun, executive director of BFF, of actor Lee. “So we are very excited to have Lloyd from ‘Entourage’ come to the festival.”
One change to the schedule for 2016 is the awards ceremony, which traditionally is on Sunday, will be moved to Saturday this year. The BFF has found that many filmmakers have to leave on Sunday, Nilsson said, so having the awards on Saturday allows more of the filmmakers to attend. Sunday will continue with Best of Fest.
Multiple filmmakers will be in attendance throughout the weekend to present their films and answer questions, including Laura Hoeppner of “Strong Sisters: Elected Women in Colorado,” who recently moved to Summit County.
“They are really excited about being here, and the number of filmmakers we have attending is going to be a huge highlight as well for people to hear those Q and A’s and interact with filmmakers throughout the weekend,” Kurbjun said.