It’s the kind of encounter that happens in the movies, the kind completely out of the blue that ends up altering the trajectory of your life. It happened to Linda Broker in 1992, right when she moved to Colorado Springs from Pasadena, California. Unbeknownst to Broker, one of her new neighbors was an original organizer of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival.
“She strolled over and introduced herself and said, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna tell you the same thing I tell everybody who moves to town: You’ve got to come to the Women’s Film Festival. You know, it’s the best thing going,’” Broker says.
As a Springs newbie, Broker says she had no frame of reference—or friends—so she went.
It was a good move. “I don’t even think I’d been to a film festival before in my life,” Broker says. “She said ‘women’s film festival,’ and there was something that so resonated like, Oh, that’s gonna be awesome! And it was.”
She began volunteering the next year, and in 2000 the nonprofit hired Broker as its first executive director, a position she still holds 17 years later.
When Broker gathers with about 1,400 other attendees on the Colorado College campus this November for the 30th annual Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, they will all be participating in the longest running women’s film festival in North America—second in the world only to the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival in France. They will also be supporting a tradition that began 30 years ago with two locals, Donna Guthrie and Jere Martin.
As Broker tells it, the two had attended their first Telluride Film Festival that year and thought, Wouldn’t it be awesome to have something like this in Colorado Springs?“
They were also good feminists, and they thought it would be even more awesome to have a festival that focused on films by and about women,” Broker says. “It was 1987, and at that time, women were struggling to find different opportunities to showcase their work. That’s still true today, FYI.”
Guthrie and Martin knew nothing about programming or running a festival, but they forged ahead with the support of a couple key sponsors, Penrose Hospital and Holland & Hart law firm. A festival was born.
That first year, RMWFF showed about a dozen films, Broker says. As is still the focus, those pieces came from both national and international filmmakers. The size, however, has changed quite a bit over the years. With more than 40 films now, the range includes documentary and feature to shorts and animated. Those are selected by a jury from about 400 annual submissions. Screenings are held across four theaters, three on the Colorado College campus and one at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. And the festival often sells out its seats.
The organization itself has changed quite a bit as well. What was primarily a once-a-year festival grew into the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Institute in 2014, and over the years, additional programming has been added, from a Filmmakers Retreat to outreach programs with youth and community partners. This summer, the organization moved its office to a new suite with screening space inside the Lincoln Center.
The history is a credit to volunteers, staff, community support and thefilmmakers—who often submit films as often as they produce them, and cross their fingers hoping for an invitation.
One such filmmaker is Washington, D.C.-based Andrea Kalin, principal and founder of Spark Media. She has attended and screened films at three of the festivals, most recently First Lady of the Revolution in 2016. Her second appearance at RMWFF came 10 years after the first, and she says she wassurprised there were people in the audience who had seen her first film there a decade earlier.
“What I love about this festival is the audience,” Kalin says. “These are engaged cinephiles. They love film. They embrace the filmmakers. They make a point of coming back year after year. And many of the attendees that I’ve met organize as groups and in collectives and this festival turns into their annual pilgrimage. I think that’s really unique. I have not found that loyal base at other festivals, and over the years I’ve been to a lot.”
Kalin thinks RMWFF is special for another reason as well. “It’s not necessarily a festival where you’re looking for acquisition or where distribution deals are made,” she says. “But this festival allows you to hit the pause on the deal-making and the award-collecting and really get together with a group of badass filmmakers and feel renewed and inspired. Seriously. It creates a sisterhood.”
Broker agrees, noting that festivals come in all different kinds of sizes and categories. “We will never be a Sundance or a Toronto or a Tribeca, one of those top-tier festivals,” she says. “But for a regional-themed festival, honestly, we’re perceived as really one of the top festivals where filmmakers want to have their film. And they want to come to the festival.”
It’s never been RMWFF’s objective to restrict the programming to films that haven’t already been seen, or that might already be available through another platform, Broker explains. Instead, film curators look at the programming with an eye to what the audience is going to appreciate. “We see it as an opportunity to expose the community to maybe some different ways of looking at the world, or exposing them to an issue or a topic that seems relevant today,” she says. And there’s more to the festival than the films themselves.
“If you go to see a movie, maybe you go with friends, but this weekend is an experience to be shared with your neighbors, your family, your friends,” says Sarah Arnold, RMWFF marketing coordinator. “You can’t get that at home with Netflix.”
It’s worth noting too that despite its title, the weekend experience is not only for women. RMWFF’s mission statement of “celebrating the drive, spirit and diversity of women” resonates through the art and the audience, which includes many men. The selection committee will even accept a film made by a man if it reflects that criteria and includes a female director, producer or editor.
“I think that people feel first of all that it’s really just for women, and having attended, there are a lot of men that attend as well,” Broker says. “The subjects that are reflected in the films are often focused just as much on men as they are on women. My dad’s been coming for probably 15 years.”
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO … COLORADO SPRINGS
The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Institute has screened a highly lauded list of films, including these that had won or went on to win Academy Awards.
1988 Young at Heart
1990 The Lunch Date
1992 Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase
1993 Defending Our Lives
1994 Bob’s Birthday
1995 One Survivor Remembers Antonia’s Line
1996 Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien
1997 A Story of Healing
1999 My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York
2004 Born Into Brothels
2006 The Blood of Yingzhou District*
West Bank Story*
The Danish Poet
2009 Music by Prudence*
2010 Strangers No More
God of Love*
2011 The Shore*
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore*
2013 The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life*
2014 Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
*Screened at Shorts Night.
Check It Out
Film buffs should know about the Madelyn Osur Film Library. Maintained by Rocky Mountain Women’s Fim Institute at the Lincoln Center office, the library of DVDs includes a majority of the films shown since 1987. For a suggested donation of $20, individuals receive a RMWFI library card and may borrow up to three films at a time for 10 days. Find a complete listing of available films at rmwfilminstitute.org/library.
Can’t wait for the festival? Watch rmwfilminstitute.org for an announcement of the RMWFF lineup. In the meantime, celebrate Arts Month at the movies with special screenings every Tuesday in October, featuring favorite selections from festivals past.
30th Annual RMWFF
When: Nov. 10-12
Where: Main venue Colorado College’s Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave.
How: Tickets range from $15 for a one-block pass to $140 for a three-day full festival pass. Details:rmwfilminstitute.org