Lights, camera, action
DIFF returns for 19th year with something for everyone

Lights, camera, action

"Bones of Crows."

Missy Votel - 02/29/2024

It may not be Cannes. And that’s a good thing. Now in its 19th year, the homegrown Durango Independent Film Festival doesn’t have a lot of glitz, glamor or red carpet rubbernecking. What it does have is close to 100 quality films from around the world – as well as our own back yard – including shorts, full-length features, documentaries and animation.

This year’s festival kicked off Feb. 28 with a free movie night and continues through the weekend, with screenings at the Gaslight Twin Cinema and Durango Arts Center. Each film will be shown twice to give folks ample opportunity to see all the films on their wish list.

In addition, there will be Q&As, filmmaker receptions and coffees, and plenty of other opportunities for film buffs to get the whole immersive experience.

“We had more submissions than ever this year,” DIFF Executive Director Carol Fleisher said Monday. “We have films from 37 countries. There’s lots for everybody.”

Carol Fleisher

Fleisher said she has been busy learning the velvet ropes since taking over director duties from former longtime director Joanie Fraughton last fall. But, Fleisher notes she couldn’t have done it without the outpouring of community support.

“It’s been a transition year with me being so brand-spanking new,” she said. “The community has really rallied. I’ve been awed by how people have stepped up.”

A former teacher of video production at Fort Lewis College as well as a documentary filmmaker for the last 40 years, Fleisher said she is most excited about the films showing this year that came out of the Native Lens program. A collaboration between Rocky Mountain PBS, FLC and the KSUT Tribal Media Center, the program seeks to give voice to the stories of Native Americans.

“It’s a way to try to remove barriers between filmmakers and their storytelling,” she said. “There aren’t many training programs for young Native American storytellers.”

As a result, a Native Lens fellowship sponsors a five-day “film bootcamp,” as she calls it, where teams of four or five are paired with mentors, learn the craft of filmmaking and ultimately, produce a film. Some of those films will premiere at DIFF at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Durango Arts Center. There will be a reception beforehand with the filmmakers from 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday at Sorrel Sky Gallery.

“This is the second year we’ve done it,” she said. “It was such a huge success last year that we’re driving to do more fellowship opportunities to help build a workforce for Native American storytelling.”

Admittedly, Fleisher said she’s been too preoccupied with coordinating all the festival’s moving parts this year to see a lot of the films. “I’ve been so busy that I’ve only seen three films,” she said. “But they’ve all been great!”

But fear not – the films have all been prescreened and carefully curated by the festival’s selection committee. Fleisher said although viewers can’t go wrong with any of the films, a few creating a buzz include:

• “Bones of Crows” (127 min., drama) - Removed from their family home and forced into Canada’s residential school system, Cree musical prodigy Aline and her siblings are plunged into a struggle for survival. “Bones of Crows” is Aline’s journey from child to matriarch, a moving multi-generational epic of resilience, survival and the pursuit of justice.

“It is a very powerful story,” said Fleischer.

• “Mom and Dad’s Nipple Factory” (82 min., documentary) - When Randi is diagnosed with breast cancer, her husband, Brian, a conservative Midwest family man, embarks on an extraordinary journey to boost her morale, which turns into a homespun prosthetic nipple business, all while staying under the radar from their friends, their church and their five children.

“It’s really outstanding,” commented Fleisher (and with a title like that, how could it not be?)

• “Proof of Concept” (6 min., narrative short) - An aspiring auteur tries coaxing her dad and uncle into financing her first short film but winds up raising more questions than dollars.

• “Why Not Us?” (10 min., documentary short) - Based on the efforts of Durango high school students to be allowed to carry Narcan at school following the overdose death of a classmate. 

• “Body of a Line (10 min., adventure) - Madaleine Sorkin undertakes an intimate and creative journey to climb the most difficult rock climb above 13,500 feet in the world: the Dunn-Westbay Direct on Longs Peak (Nen-iisoteyou’u) in Colorado. 

• “For When You Get Lost” (96 min., narrative feature) - In this coming-of-middle-age dark comedy, June Stevenson drags her estranged sisters on a road trip up the Pacific Coast in order to make amends with their difficult father before he dies. Along the way, she distracts herself with picturesque landmarks, craft breweries and picturesque men in craft breweries. But ultimately, she must face the fact that there’s more to her family’s fractures than she thought. Inspired by a real road trip.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of the myriad offerings at this year’s festival. Fortunately, there are also a myriad of options for passes, ranging from the all-access ($300/one or go in with a buddy for $450/two) to transferable 10- and 6-pal paks ($130 and $80, respectively.) In addition, single tickets can be bought individually starting 15 minutes before the show at the theater, depending on availability.

Fleisher noted that advance sales have doubled this year over last year. However, with each film showing twice, she said most folks should have a chance to see the films of their choice.

“I think we’ve got it pretty well planned out,” she said.

She also wanted to make a point of letting passholders know that, unlike past years, they will have to pick their passes up in person at the DIFF Box Office, inside Four Leaves Winery, 528 Main Ave. The box office is open Thurs. - Sat., 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

“Every single passholder has to get their pass at Four Leaves Winery,” she reiterated.

And when the last curtain has fallen and the last corn has been popped, get ready for 2025 – which will be the festival’s 20th anniversary.

“We’re going to blow it out,” said Fleisher. ?

For a more complete schedule and info., go to the DIFF website:

Lights, camera, action

A scene from "For When You Get Lost," a full-length feature described as a "coming-of-middle-age story about family, death and beer."