Aspen Film fosters diverse storytelling through collaborations | Messages

Film is a powerful platform for storytelling. And Aspen Film manifests its medium – and its mission – to bring diversity to the screen and stimulate conversation, collaborations and community programs throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

From hosting three major festivals per year to hosting monthly Indie Showcase and Aspen Film Presents screenings at the Isis Theater and other local venues, the non-profit organization offers a range of opportunities for people to engage with the arts of film, explains Susan Wrubel. Managing Director and Artistic Director of Aspen Film.

“We do a very robust set of programming each month, along with our three festivals each year – Filmfest, Academy Screenings and Shortsfest will all be happening in-person for the first time in two years,” Wrubel said. “And lately there seem to have been a lot of people or partnerships coming to us who want to do something with film.”

Wrubel, who has an extensive background in the film industry and has been in her current role as a director for about four years, said that while some Aspen Film events are governed by accessibility and entertainment purposes, the organization cultivates much of its programming to be relevant historical events and cultural events.

In honor of Black History Month, Aspen Film presented the 2021 documentary Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America for its monthly Indie Showcase. The screening event was held at the Isis Theater on February 9th and the film was also screened at the Aspen Film Academy’s screenings series in December.

Directed by sisters Emily and Sarah Kunstler and written by criminal defense attorney Jeffery Robinson, “Who We Are” tells a path to exploring the future, Wrubel explained.

“We really tried to do everything we could to honor Black History Month,” Wrubel said. “For the past few years we’ve typically screened one film for Black History Month, but since we’ve been doing so much more through our online platform, it’s been much easier to offer even more screening opportunities.”

During the pandemic, Aspen Film adapted its programming to include virtual screenings, providing accessible entertainment to people in times of need. The organization continues to use this virtual model, Wrubel said, as it has allowed for wider audience reach and more film screenings. Aspen Film’s online platform, Eventive, can be accessed through the organization’s website.

In celebration of Black History Month, Aspen Film has two films on Eventive: A Walk in Her Shoes and I Am Not Your Negro. Both are available to stream anytime throughout February and tickets are $12.

“‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is based on a book by James Baldwin and was groundbreaking when it first came out, and ‘A Walk in Her Shoes’ is about a woman who actually follows Harriet Tubman’s journey down the subway – two very important films,” said Wrubel. “We’re really leaning into the messages surrounding this topic and trying to get a wider community to pay more attention to looking at the past to inform the future.”

Other Aspen Film events this month include a free screening of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground on Wednesday nights at the Isis, members only. The event is being held in partnership with the Aspen Art Museum and in celebration of the Andy Warhol exhibition — and also serves as a “membership boost” for both organizations, Wrubel commented.

“Anyone who is a member of Aspen Film or Aspen Art Museum can register for the screening through one of our websites and attend for free,” said Wrubel. “You know, our tagline is ‘Membership Matters’ and I think people are realizing that membership is really important to us.”

Aspen Film currently has around 300 members, according to Wrubel, and while memberships typically swell around one of the organization’s annual festivals, she said there is a steadier surge in new members, with new members arriving every week.

With varying levels and benefits, Aspen Film members can participate in a variety of programs, including at least 10 free screenings throughout the year, free access to the festivals, and invitations to attend receptions and question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers from around the world the whole world. Aspen Film is currently working to offer members discounts for all online programs, Wrubel said.

Last month, Aspen Film launched another concept for its online platform, presenting its virtual retro film series in partnership with the Aspen Historical Society. The series features newly digitized vintage film from the Aspen Historical Society’s collection, telling the stories of skiing and ski culture in and around the Aspen-Snowmass area.

The February movies – One for the Money (1973), Winter of ’74 (1974) and Return to Aspen (1987) – were released on February 8th and are available to stream until the end of March.

In addition to offering a variety of in-person and virtual screenings this month, Aspen Film is also partnering with The Arts Campus At Willits to host one of its “Dinner and a Movie” events.

On Friday, February 25, at the TACAW campus, the organizations will screen Breaking Bread, a documentary about a food festival where Arab and Jewish chefs work together to create dishes and promote social change through culinary practices.

“It’s really about building bridges between cultures and erasing differences,” Wrubel said. “People are being forced to work together in a way that makes them realize that there are more similarities than differences.”

Wrubel mentioned that in the past, Aspen Film and TACAW have jointly hosted an ongoing film series called DAM, which featured films about dance, art and music. The upcoming event with TACAW will be the first to be co-curated at the new venue, and Wrubel said she plans to continue working with TACAW in the future.

“We love working with them and we love having a footprint in the Midvalle,” Wrubel said. “We found an amazing food film to do with them for having this amazing new kitchen and being able to put on a really amazing dinner.”

The Dinner and a Movie event at TACAW is open to the public. Dinner and movie tickets are $65, and screening tickets alone are $15, with a discount for Aspen Film members, Wrubel said.

While Aspen Film has partnered with organizations at the local and national level for more than four decades, the non-profit organization is expanding their collaborative efforts to help share the stories and spread the messages of people and groups from around the world.

Wrubel said she’d be surprised if there were another nonprofit that works with as many diverse groups as Aspen Film.

“The more partnerships we can build, the more diverse storytelling we can navigate,” Wrubel said. “And I think one of the things that makes our organization and the film in general so unique is that we’re a platform to really get everyone else’s word and messages out there.”

From partnerships within the valley — some of which include AAM, TACAW, Anderson Ranch, the Aspen Institute, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Aspen Music Festival and School, and The Collective — to national-level collaborations with groups like the USC Shoah Foundation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and several mental health programs, Aspen Film strives to promote core storytelling.

“We just love using the storytelling aspect of the film to really help other organizations spread their message,” Wrubel said. “And as long as we can continue to help get other organizations’ messages out to the public, we’re able to diversify the stories we bring to the community.”

About Cindy Johnson

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