For BIFF founders Kathy and Robin Beeck, festival is a dream realized
By Adam Perry
Boulder Weekly, 2/16/2012
Getting a few minutes with the inimitable Beeck sisters — the founding mothers of the Boulder International Film Festival — in the weeks leading up to BIFF isn’t easy, even if you’re sitting across from them in the festival’s downtown Boulder offices. Phones ring and are quickly answered. Assistants’ fingers flail away on keyboards. Deadlines loom. But for a few moments here and there, the smiling Beecks seem a little like Forever Came Calling, the young, desperate, nowhere-California punk trio featured in the unforgettable Warped Tour documentary No Room for Rock Stars (showing at the Boulder International Film Festival this weekend, see full schedule here), when they’re finally allowed to perform for an audience: elated to be living their dream. And hyper-aware of what it took to lasso that dream.
Look up the word “busy” and you might see a photo of Robin and Kathy Beeck during BIFF, and the days leading up to it, each year. “We go big or go home,” Kathy says.
Travel arrangements must be made for countless directors, A-list celebrities, producers, etc. The big, complex schedule of films must be finalized (this happens later than you might think), and this year they made sure not one film overlaps another, despite all the different venues. Quote-hungry journalists like myself come knocking. Hundreds of volunteers must be organized. And internal preparations must be made for the thrill of hanging out with superstars like James Franco and Chevy Chase.
At this point, last year is the last thing on the Beeck sisters’ minds, but I can’t help thinking how powerful the addition of the Call 2 Action tent was in 2011, BIFF’s seventh year. After seeing an incredibly moving film like The Green Wave — about Iran’s violent reaction to a wave of free speech among its citizens — BIFF film-goers were able to engage in discussion not only with each other but in many cases with the filmmakers themselves. And more importantly, the Call 2 Action tent gives film-goers the chance to connect with organizations directly involved with the issues dealt with in the BIFF films up for discussion.
According to Robin Beeck, “It was so great that we had to get a bigger tent.” And that’s where our recent conversation at the BIFF offices just off Pearl Street began.
Kathy Beeck: We have more Call 2 Action films this year. So that’s become a nice centerpiece of the festival and a great differentiation between us and other festivals. We have 14 fabulous movies that are either environmentally focused or about breast cancer, the government’s wild-horse roundups … just a wide variety of different issues people are really passionate about. We love being able to present local community groups that work on these issues and can help inspire people to actually do something to help with the issues.
People like the opportunity to contribute, whether it’s signing a petition or signing up with a volunteer group. They like the ability to do something about a film that has really captured the issues in a certain problem. People are activists in Boulder.
Boulder Weekly: But Boulder is such a bubble. Did you actually see any heated discussions between people with different viewpoints?
KB: One of the more controversial topics was the film Mother, about the population explosion. That issue tends to be a little bit of a taboo issue, because it has a lot to do with religion and government and politics. There wasn’t a heated discussion, but we do pick films that are not always black-and-white, as in “everybody’s going to agree with this.” We like to expand the horizons of our audiences and see films they may not agree with. We’re seeing this year, with Cape Spin, that even a subject like wind turbines, which are a great energy source, can be a really controversial issue.
BW: Since this is an election year, is there more of a need for political films and political discussions?
KB: Cape Spin is much more about politics than about wind turbines. Patriocracy is very timely for the election year because it is about how far the left and the right really are from each other anymore, and it really tackles the issue head-on of how people are arguing politics and how that’s evolved over the years to where we’re at today. And then there’s Pink Ribbons…
Robin Beeck: It blows the pink lid off of a lot of these corporations that do a lot of things like, “If you send in this many caps we’ll get money to breast cancer.” It just kind of gives you a little more reality about how much money is going towards research rather than prevention. It is so powerful, this film, and there will be a big discussion afterward with the president of the Colorado Breast Cancer Research Fund. And we’ll talk about how there’s nothing “pink” about breast cancer.
BW: But BIFF also has so many funny and entertaining films every year.
KB: We have a lot of really impactful films at BIFF each year that make you laugh and cry and really think.
RB: We’ve got so many great films this year that are just gonna blow your mind. It’s gonna be exciting. [Last year] was a blast. Oliver Stone was so much fun. It’s just incredible to sit there and watch one of our legends in filmmaking tell all these great stories.
BW: How many films do you watch each year?
RB: I think I watched up to 500 films this year altogether, between going to film festivals and watching entries. We’ve got a selection committee that watches a lot of films.
KB: Combined, everybody watches well over 1,000. But she gets the good stuff.
BW: How has BIFF been growing since the first year?
KB: We have a lot of new things this year. We were happy because even in the first year we had a lot of people, but we’re growing in audience numbers every year.
We had a 9 percent increase last year in audience attendance. Every year we add a few things here and there. This year we’re using the Boulder High School theater again. It’s a big theater and it’s very comfortable. This year we have a shuttle that’s going to go between the Boulder Theater and Boulder High School. That’s gonna run on Saturday and Sunday between those venues, just in case the weather’s bad or people just don’t want to walk.
RB: If you’ve been drinking, it’s a good idea. (Both laugh)
BW: What are you looking forward to most?
RB: The narrative film about [Nobel Peace Prize Winner] San Suu Kyi. I just lost myself in this film when I saw it in Toronto.
I’m so happy that we were able to get that film. William H. Macy. I met him a few years ago in Telluride, and he is a wonderful person. We’re so excited to be bringing him here to Boulder. And on closing night we are going to be doing an evening with Martin Sheen and will be presenting him with the Master of Cinema award. We love having special guests of that caliber here. I think he’s been in almost 70 films. I’d give you his resume but it’s too heavy.
BW: [Emcee] Ron Bostwick probably won’t ask him about Charlie.
RB: Who knows what’ll come up?
That’s the exciting part of the festival. Oh my gosh. Ron researches every one of these celebrities. He reads their books, he watches their films, he puts together the retrospectives, he knows every intimate detail of their lives, and they’re always shocked when they get here. They’re stunned at the level of research Ron puts into these interviews. He’s intimately knowledgeable about every detail of their lives. He’s just really dynamic and professional. Oliver Stone was like, “Wow, that guy was great.” He knows everything.
BW: I see all these pictures of you gals at past festivals with people like Alec Baldwin and Chevy Case. Are you still star-struck?
KB: We’re too busy for that. We’re too dang busy. No, I’m always star-struck. (Laughs)
RB: I grew up watching Martin Sheen films, for instance. So it is kind of stunning at first to meet them and have the opportunity to hear what they have to say. But, for example: Alec Baldwin, we’re still in touch with him. We ran into him at Tribeca. They’re really very special people. But we have a lot of other exciting people coming. I’m excited to meet [legendary producer-director-screenwriter] Lawrence Kasdan. These are the people behind the films.
KB: And even our local ones. We’re star-struck by the Chasing Ice people. You’re gonna be hearing a lot about that film over the next year.