How Denver Film worked to add various films to its annual festival

king richard, with Will Smith, will close this year’s Denver Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.


The efforts included using the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival to help bring Oscar-worthy films to Mile High moviegoers.

The last time the Denver Film Festival (DFF) rolled out a physical red carpet for its signature opening gala at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the cinema was still a very white space. At the time, in 2019, only 27.6% of the main cast in theatrical and streaming movies were played by people of color, although minorities made up the majority of ticket sales for eight of the top 10 films. Although that number has grown to nearly 40% by 2020, Hollywood still relies on inclusion, with women and minorities still lagging behind in critical jobs behind the camera. As the DFF returns to in-person screenings this month (November 3-14) – COVID-19 has forced the 2020 edition to go virtual – Denver Film, the non-profit organization that hosts the event, strives to shine the spotlight on organizations that promote diversity in cinema. “Rather than trying to invent something ourselves or stepping on the toes of people who are already doing the job,” says James Mejia, CEO of Denver Film, “we’d rather help them succeed.”

The most visible partnership at this year’s DFF is with the Color of Conversation Film Series, Denver’s only festival dedicated to filmmakers of color. Founded in 2018 by Stephanie Tavares-Rance and her husband Floyd Rance, the low-key event brings together attendees at the University of Denver’s Newman Center (except 2020, when it took place virtually) to watch movies and television shows and participate in panel discussions. Then, last June, Denver Film and Color of Conversation co-hosted a screening of Spike Lee’s film. Do the right thing at the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. “A diverse audience of people came to support the film and the panel discussion,” Tavares-Rance said, “debunking the misconception that there are no black moviegoers in this city.”

The collaboration will also benefit this year’s FDF. Rance’s production company, Run & Shoot Filmworks, hosts the 19-year-old Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. This longtime summer affair saw the couple build relationships with major Hollywood studios and celebrities (this year’s event featured Lee and actor Regina King). Thanks to these connections, Run & Shoot was able to obtain early detection of king richard– an Oscar-winning biopic starring Will Smith as the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams – to take the coveted closing spot at DFF on November 13. “This is what I want to do for Denver,” says Tavares-Rance. “I want people to really take Denver seriously and see him as a player in Hollywood.”

Broaden the goal

Three more ways Denver Film works both within its organization and with other nonprofits to promote diversity in filmmaking.

1. CinéLatinx

Included in the DFF lineup for November, Denver Film’s CineLatinx recently signed Amazon as the title sponsor, providing more funds than the festival can spend on acquiring Hispanic films.

2. CinemaQ and Women + Film

Founded in 2006, Denver Film’s showcase for LGBTQ cinema, CinemaQ, plans to expand at next August’s event with a new award for a rising star in queer cinema. Women + Film, launched the same year, will screen The driver, a documentary about former Colorado maestra Marin Alsop, at the Denver Botanic Gardens on November 7.

3. Colorado Dragon Boat Film Festival

The people behind the iconic Sloan Lake Boat Race started this festival five years ago to promote Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures. Denver Film organizes the event’s programming based on a theme chosen by the community, such as health and wellness or media representation.

This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of 5280.

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