Ever since I graduated from Ouray High School in 2009, I had wanted to return to the San Juans to shoot a film. The mountains seemed like a sublime place to tell stories. In 2019, fellow Nashville-based filmmaker Jared LaCroix and I came to Ouray with a crew to shoot a short film starring actor Terry Kiser. In the course of our work, Terry, Jared and I came to feel that the Wright Opera House would make a perfect home for a world-class film festival. Working with the leadership of the opera house, we began to craft a vision for a festival that could bring together filmmakers, critics, scholars, and audiences to celebrate the best in international cinema. What better place to enjoy the magic of film than Ouray, Colorado?
Then a global pandemic arrived. After a year of planning, our team made the only logical choice in the face of rising case numbers: the festival, originally scheduled for summer 2020, would have to wait until September. To further assure public safety, we made the difficult decision to cancel the public festival event, opting instead for a very small private gathering of artists and guests with strict protocols in place to ensure the health of participants and the community. We also built a digital platform so patrons could enjoy the films from their homes.
Even with our tiny, masked gathering in September, we were able to screen a dazzling range of films from all over the world. We also convened a variety of socially distant conversations between filmmakers and scholars. Emmy-nominated producer Sarah-Jane Murray joined award-winning documentary filmmaker Michiel Thomas for a moderated discussion about telling ecological stories through film. From Los Angeles, the writing and producing team of The Steed, Mongolia’s recent submission to the Oscars, joined us via Zoom for a Q&A session following a screening of their epic film at the Wright Opera House. Short films in several languages took audiences on journeys from outer space to California jazz clubs.
At the festival’s conclusion, we were able to honor filmmakers from Russia to Cyprus with awards across several categories. In keeping with our commitment to local business, our festival medallions were crafted right here in Ouray County by Lisa Issenberg at Kiitellä. It was a special sight to see the recipients of “Best Animated Film” posting images of their custom award in Australia.
The pandemic required important changes to our first year, but it hasn’t slowed the pace of our development or the reach of our vision. We are already working with our fantastic intern team, all graduates of the film program at CU Boulder, to begin building our 2021 festival. With over three hundred film submissions received already from six continents, our 2021 festival program (June 25-27, 2021) will amplify the diverse range of cinematic voices that we brought to Ouray in our inaugural festival.
With the gradual rollout of vaccines in 2021, we hope that the second annual Ouray International Film Festival will be able to open its doors more widely this year. Regardless, two things have not changed: our priority to protect the health of Ouray County and our commitment to building a world-class film festival. Whatever shape our second annual event will take, the Ouray International Film Festival is here to stay. As my co-founder Terry Kiser said, this is a film festival by artists for artists and the people who love their work. We can’t wait to continue bringing excellent films to Ouray County for years to come.
See you at the movies!
Director’s Spotlight: Michiel Thomas
Film in Action: SJ Murray
Audience Favorite: That’s Wild / The Steed
The Wright Opera House is a 501c3 nonprofit, operating a historic venue and premier performing arts organization located in the City of Ouray. It is supported by event fees and by generous donations. Click here to make a tax deductible donation to the Wright.