Ouray film festival debuts

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Online event, set for this weekend, features eclectic cinematic assortment

  • Ouray International Film Festival co-founders Jake Abell and Terry Kiser are looking forward to the event's debut at the Wright Opera House, as well as on line at ourayfilmfestival.com, this month. Co-founder Jared LaCroix is not pictured.
    Ouray International Film Festival co-founders Jake Abell and Terry Kiser are looking forward to the event's debut at the Wright Opera House, as well as on line at ourayfilmfestival.com, this month. Co-founder Jared LaCroix is not pictured.
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The show must go on.

Or in this case, it must debut.

That’s what the co-founders of the Ouray International Film Festival decided to do, facing a pandemic in the midst of planning their inaugural event.

The uncertainty of the world right now doesn’t seem to have dampened the interest in connecting through film, from participants around the world who submitted more than 500 entries from dozens of countries.

Sure, the film festival events look a little different than Jake Abell originally planned when he cooked up the idea with co-founders Jared LaCroix and Terry Kiser. But that was back when they were wrapping up their last project – a short film called “Speak Again,” shot at the local Centennial Ranch. That was back in April 2019, and they had no way of knowing what 2020 would bring.

The organizers decided to forge onward with planning the festival, scheduled for Sept. 18-20, and despite challenges and uncertainty, are launching the event not only in-person but also online.

Though the festival won’t bring large crowds to screen the films at the Wright Opera House as originally planned, the hope is that this first festival will attract lots of online participants, who might not have been able to travel to Ouray and will participate virtually. The goal is to spark a new event that will only grow from here on out, post-pandemic.

For Abell, who first caught the film-making bug back when he was a student at Ouray High School and met Kiser, it was important to make sure they could plan an event that was safe.

“In a moment like this, if you’re a sane moral person, the number one priority with any endeavor like this is public health,” he said. “The second priority is a brilliant film festival.”

After postponing the festival dates once, in the hopes restrictions would ease and the pandemic would evolve, they decided to host it this month.

“Let’s be trailblazers here,” he said. “Show people how this can be done.”

It was difficult to limit the in-person festival to a small group of sponsors and filmmakers, Abell said, knowing what their original goal was in choosing Ouray for the location.

“That was devastating. The whole goal was to build a film festival that feels like it belongs to the community,” he said, adding he hopes people will still participate online and look forward to future film fests where bigger crowds can attend.

One of the main factors in continuing to host in-person screenings for a small audience was the professionalism and attention the Wright Opera House staff have exhibited in their own events during the pandemic. The weekly movies, with distanced tables, extensive cleaning and other precautions helped Abell feel comfortable holding the film fest there for the smaller crowd.

“We can do this in a very pared-down way where people feel safe and they are safe,” he said.

The festival lineup includes an eclectic assortment of films, curated by the co-founders to showcase a rich diversity of cinema. There’s everything from documentaries to mockumentaries, animated film and films about moose.

Kiser, an actor who lives near Ridgway and is famous for playing hundreds of roles films and television shows including “Weekend at Bernie’s,” said he was surprised at the wide variety of films the festival attracted as well as the number of entries.

The morning after advertising the call for entries, Abell called Kiser at 5 a.m. excited to tell him they’d already received 13 entries. Kiser wasn’t expecting more than 500 films to be submitted.

“Oh my golly, this is going to be real,” Kiser said.

The co-founders said they hope this first festival will prove successful, and lead to even better festivals to come.

“If we can give a safe and meaningful experience that leaves a lasting impression on a small group of people, hopefully that will sow the seeds for a bigger role of community involvement when we’re able to do that,” Abell said.

Anyone can purchase a film festival pass for $20 to view the films, interviews with filmmakers and other special features by visiting ourayfilmfestival.com.