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Moondance Film Festival returns to Boulder after a two-year stint in Hollywood

The Moondance International Film Festival -- which runs Friday through Monday at the Chautauqua Community House and Boulder Shambhala Meditation Center -- is not your typical Hollywood film festival. Dedicated to movies showcasing nonviolent conflict resolution, the fest, which is expected to draw a crowd of more than 2,000 film fanatics, features nearly 100 films, including dramas and documentaries concerning immigration, Iraqi cab drivers, eating disorders, the Lost Boys of Sudan and the assassination of RFK. There's even a comedy short about Gandhi ... pinch-hitting for the Yankees, as well as animation and music videos. More than a dozen workshops and panels offer instruction on screenwriting, pitching a script and more. And like Gandhi taking the plate at Yankee Stadium, for the first time since 2005 the Moondance Festival is playing before the home crowd.
Back to Boulder
Boulderite Elizabeth English started Moondance here in 2000, and in 2006 she moved the festival to Hollywood to accommodate a larger audience. She garnered a big crowd, all right -- including redcarpet regulars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Quentin Tarantino -- but felt that the festival had lost a little bit of its soul. "It just didn't have the ambience in Hollywood. It had success, lots of celebrities and media attention," English says. "But Moondance is about more than that, much more. In fact, that's not it at all." She says it's not about celebrities or attendance numbers, but about the mission of Moondance, which is to promote nonviolent conflict resolution, as well as promoting women filmmakers and "Baghdad Diary," a feature-length documentary built around the video diary of Iraqi taxi driver Fadil Kadom around the time of the U.S. invasion, screens Saturday at Moondance. Camera file photo Elizabeth English, founder of the Moondance International Film Festival, is bringing the event back to Boulder this weekend after two years in Hollywood.
This manifests in many ways. This year's festival includes films like "Baghdad Diary," a view of the war in Iraq through the camera lens of an Iraqi cab driver; "Beauty Mark," a local film about eating disorders and body image by Boulder-based, world-class triathlete Diane Israel; and "Heart & Soil," a documentary on sustainable farming featuring farmers in Durango. "I think this is a good place to highlight these types of films," says Kathy Beeck, director of the Colorado Film Society. Along with her sister Robin, Beeck founded and runs the Boulder International Film Festival. "Boulder has a lot of good festivals," says Beeck, such as the Shoot Out, Bent Lens and the Toofy Film Festival. "There's a great film scene here." The return of Moondance, she says, will increase the profile of the local film scene. "I think it's a good sign for this town," she says. One of the festival's highlights is "Ghosts of the Heartland," a feature film by director Allen Blumberg concerning anti-Chinese sentiment in the 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism. Though set in a historical period, the film is about racism in general, and its look at immigration issues could easily be applied to current debate. "It's not necessarily about the Chinese," Blumberg says. "It's about whatever group gets it in the future." The film revolves around a Chinese-American journalist struggling to do his job while the local Chinese population is persecuted. And though Blumberg started writing "Ghosts of the Heartland" in 2003, it germinated in his childhood. "The McCarthy era really made an impression on me," he says. "Ghosts of the Heartland" screens Friday at the Chautauqua Community House.
And the winner is ... "Ghosts of the Heartland" won the festival's Seahorse Award, which is given to male writers and directors. (Female writers and directors are eligible to win the Spirit of Moondance Award. Other awards include the Sandcastle Award, for co-ed filmmaking teams, the Dolphin Award, for filmmakers under the age of 18, and the Columbine Award, for the films that best exemplify the festival's mission of nonviolent conflict resolution.) Blumberg has already won awards for "Ghosts of the Heartland," including an Accolade Award -- international, nontraditional awards for creativity in filmmaking, often emphasizing new voices in cinema -- but the Moondance Award is special. "The Moondance Award means something," he says. "If you go to these small festivals and win awards, you're not fooling the distributors. If you win an award at Moondance, they pay attention and they listen. They know it has value." The value, he says, is that English does the judging herself, unlike festivals with numerous judges. "In the case of Moondance, you have one person doing everything," Blumberg says. "Nobody is getting anybody's friend's film in." Online ad expires 8/31/2008 Online ad expires 8/29/2008 a single film program. Party admission is $26.75 per party, $52.85 for Awards Ceremony. Workshops are $50
"Nobody is getting anybody's friend's film in." It's not just Blumberg saying so. In 2003, the Los Angeles-based Filmmakers Alliance polled thousands of industry insiders, who voted Moondance the "third most important film festival in the world," behind Cannes and Sundance. "We're talking about important for your career and important for world cinema," English says. Even Oprah endorsed the festival and featured it in her magazine. One of the more unique elements of Moondance is that the award-winners are announced in advance of the festival. "That's very unusual," English admits, but as she works with small, independent filmmakers she doesn't want to see budget-strapped directors make the trip only to be disappointed if they don't win. It also encourages the winners -- who might not otherwise make it out -- to come and participate in the festival. Especially international winners, like the filmmakers and actors from the French film "Echoes," a Sandcastle Award winner, who are flying in from France to attend the festival. "We are very happy to see that a festival on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean could be interested in our message, and we are now curious and enthusiastic to see reactions to the film from spectators living on the other side of the planet," says Tiphaine Siovel, the film's star. An avant-garde feature film, "Echoes" has been described as a movie version of an impressionist painting. It concerns a woman's relationship with nature expressed through the lead character, Alise, a journalist who becomes lost in a nature preserve and must respond to the elements. "For the first time (she) is forced to listen to the nature that surrounds her and to listen to herself," Siovel says. "'Echoes' is of course talking about the meeting of a woman with nature, but also, and most of all, it speaks of her meeting with herself." "Echoes" screens Friday at the Chautauqua Community House.
The King in the People's Republic One of the fest's biggest draws will likely be director Eric Burdett's "Elvis in East Peoria," a finalist in the feature documentary category. At the very least it will be the festival's most hyped film. It's a documentary about an aging Elvis impersonator and the woman who manages him and becomes overly obsessed with turning him into a star, going so far as to letting him live with her and her husband. Burdett has hired a local Elvis impersonator, Bruce Black, to promote the film by performing on Pearl Street the day of the screening. But ultimately the film sells itself. "It's this story of an ambitious woman who never gives up on her dream of turning a struggling Elvis impersonator into a success," Burdett says. "It's really a family drama. What happens when Elvis comes home to live with the family? It's not a normal situation. There's nothing normal about this film. It's a chance to see people and things you've never seen before." The film is at times funny, at times sad, but above all it is compelling. "It's so sad, but you want to see if he makes it," English says. This is Burdett's first documentary, but he hopes to make more in the future. "The one thing I like about documentaries is you can't make this stuff up. It's so brilliant that you ask yourself, 'Is this stuff real?'" he says. "You couldn't write something this brilliant." "Elvis in East Peoria" screens tonight at the Shambhala Meditation Center.
Learning the lingo But Moondance is about more than films. It also features more than a dozen workshops and panels today through Sunday, including three workshops led by noted script Moondance Film Festival returns to Boulder after a two-year stint in Hollywood : Movies : Boulder Daily Camera 8/28/08 9:27 PM Page 4 of 5 and panels today through Sunday, including three workshops led by noted script consultant and author Linda Seger. She'll be teaching "Creating Unforgettable Characters," "Making Your Script More Cinematic" and "Making a Good Script Great." Other workshop topics include getting an agent, learning about the inner workings of Hollywood and "First Impressions: Titles and Loglines for Screenwriters and Filmmakers," which will be run by English herself. The festival also offers a three-part panel series on how to craft and present a pitch, culminating with attendees pitching their ideas to film industry insiders. "You pitch what you have to the pros," English says. English has also organized a series of festival-related parties today through Sunday at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, the Bombay Bistro and the Med, respectively. All of the workshops and parties are open to the public. The parties and festival will serve as a homecoming for English, who, after two good years in California, has brought her prodigal festival home. While Boulder may not have the bright lights and red carpets of Hollywood, it has the spirit of the festival -- and English is happy to have it back. "It's been a great run. I'm glad to be back in Boulder," she says. Contact Vince Darcangelo at

By Vince Darcangelo

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