There’s a difference between watching a movie and experiencing a film festival. Movie viewing has changed through the eras as much as the movies themselves. In the age of ubiquitous streaming, a film festival can deliver a collective experience in both expected and unexpected ways. And in the case of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, it can draw you in to a greater sense of community.
“It is a phenomenal opportunity to be in the same room with folks who have differing perspectives and differing responses to the films and to have beautiful discussion and dialogue afterward,” says Nicole Nicoletta, executive director of Rocky Mountain Women’s Film. “It’s a magical experience to watch a film with a group of people and see how everyone responds to that — and even if you don’t talk about it, just feeling the energy in the room. Add the opportunity to listen to a Q&A with the filmmakers or the film subject and it is a really powerful experience.”
This year marks the 36th year of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival. It is the oldest women’s film festival in the Western Hemisphere, with only a few European festivals older in the entire world. (You can read more about the festival’s origins and history in Community and Collaboration Make Rocky Mountain Womens Film Festival Special and 30 Years of Rocky Mountain Womens Film Fest from our archives.) This year’s festival takes place Oct. 20-22, an earlier shift from its traditional November timeframe. Little else has veered from the festival’s focus on creating community around the stories of women and others who are often unheard or unseen.
On the schedule this year are more than 40 films, including documentaries, narratives, shorts and animated films. But there is always much more than just the movies at the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival. That’s why we’re offering these tips for enjoying the RMWF Festival experience.
1. Don’t Miss the Opening Night Gala
Kick off the festival with an evening of live music, signature cocktails and sweet bites before the opening film screening. This year’s opener is Maestra, a feature-length documentary following a group of international women as they prepare for and perform in the Paris Philharmonic’s La Maestra competition for female orchestra conductors. Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Art Director Linda Broker says it’s a film with wide appeal that will be a Colorado premiere. “I’m really excited about our opening night film,” Broker says. “I always love the behind the scenes look, in this case at women orchestra conductors. I also love a film that follows a competition. It’s a really great story, and it focuses on something that I don’t think many people have given much thought to.”
2. Meet the Filmmakers and Film Subjects
One of the most unique opportunities of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival is the chance to meet the filmmakers and story subjects. It’s your chance to engage with the story behind the story you’ve just seen play out on the screen. This year’s collection includes 20 filmmakers and film subjects who will participate in post-screening Q&As and lunchtime Filmmaker Forums. “Some are award-winning, returning Rocky Mountain Women’s Film alums, which we always love,” Broker says. “Some are veteran filmmakers who we haven’t had the opportunity to host, and we also have some filmmakers that are sort of new to the game. So we’ve got a great combination of folks.”
In an interesting twist, one of the Filmmaker Forums will use a participating film called Subject as a springboard for discussion about filmmakers’ experiences and responsibility in deciding how to portray individuals in their films. The film Subject explores people who are portrayed in documentary films and the impact it has on their lives — “which is sometimes good, and sometimes not good,” Broker says. “They interview people from a lot of films that many people are familiar with: one of the kids from Hoop Dreams, the son from Capturing the Friedmans.” The co-producer herself was featured in the 2015 documentary The Wolfpack, a film about her and her seven children’s confinement to their apartment throughout their childhoods.
Explore the full list of attending filmmakers and film subjects at rmwfilm.org.
3. Get Inspired — Inspirational Film Tips
Linda Broker has helped select films for the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival for several decades, and she prefers to hold her favorites close to the vest. You can see the full menu of this year’s films, but Broker was willing to share some recommendations.
“For someone who just wants to really enjoy someone’s story: You Were My First Boyfriend,” she says. “It’s a unique hybrid in that the filmmaker does some recreations of awkward moments from her high school years. She casts students or younger people to portray her classmates, but she puts herself in at her present day state. It’s very entertaining.
For the adventurous, try Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun or Wild Waters. “[The first] is a really excellent film about a young Siksika woman who is an Indian Relay horse racer,” Broker says. “[The second] is a great film about a woman kayaker who launches herself down a 100-foot waterfall. That’s pretty inspirational — even though I don’t aspire to do that.”
Another that comes to mind for Broker is JessZilla, but with the caveat that it’s not an all feel-good film. The story follows Jesselyn Silva, a three-time national champion boxer from New Jersey, from age 9 to 15. Her quest is to become a gold-medal winning Olympic boxer — an inspiring story in and of itself — but on the way she is forced to fight her toughest battle against cancer. Broker says her journey is inspiring, but real.
4. Expect the Unexpected — Films to Surprise You
Film has the power to move us, sometimes in unexpected ways. “I love the process of my emotions at the beginning of a film and where that film takes me by the time it’s over,” Nicoletta says. “For example, there’s a film this year called Anne. I was very opinionated at the beginning in one way and felt very different at the end of the film — and it’s a short, 10 minutes. I love that I don’t know myself as well as I think I do, and that these filmmakers and the subject material can take me to an emotional or intellectual place that I hadn’t been.”
Broker says Your Fat Friend surprised her with its impact. “I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started watching, but it was sort of that journey of self discovery and revelation about yourself during the course of the film,” Broker says. “I definitely started in one place and ended in another.”
5. Challenge Your Perceptions — Thought-Provoking Film Tips
Meaningful, respectful discussion has been a hallmark of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, and some films are especially conducive to dialogue. Broker points out two such thought-provoking films with timely geopolitical themes. When Springs Comes to Bucha and Praying for Armageddon. The former looks inside a city in Ukraine. “You really get the perspective and the feeling of what it’s actually like to be there returning to your town that has been destroyed,” Broker says. “It’s very personal.”
Israel is a significant focus of Praying for Armageddon, which just made its U.S. premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival.“It’s a provocative film,” Broker says. “I haven’t watched it now for a while, and I would be really interested to see how differently I view the film in light of what’s just happened [in Israel and Gaza]. People are definitely going to be talking when they walk out of that film.”
6. Find Your Own Festival Path
There’s no single way to enjoy a film festival. The weekend is full of options for you to experience it however you want. Ticket options range from single days or nights to full weekend access (view all the options here). Besides the Opening Night screening, there are always film choices in the three theater venues at Colorado College (here’s the schedule).
Nicoletta says while some films give the opportunity to engage with heavy subjects, the festival doesn’t have to be intense if you don’t want it to be. “There are also opportunities for laughter,” she says.”The short films are easy to sit through. Not everybody wants to sit through a long film; that’s OK. … Stretch your legs and be outside enjoying the food truck, the party, the live music. It really is a phenomenal way to spend the weekend, and when you’re finished at the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, you are more enlightened than when you got there.”
7. Enjoy a Virtual Encore
Can’t make it to the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival in person? Want to catch up on films you missed? Or relive your favorites? Enjoy the Virtual Encore. Thirty-four films will be available for streaming Oct. 26-29. You can buy access to individual films or various passes for blocks of films. Check out the Virtual Encore info here, but note that some films are only available live at the original festival.
Find all the details for Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival 2023 at rmwfilm.org.