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Also See: From Doggers to Footlongs, festival offers everything in between

The celluloid is getting ready to roll as the third annual Durango Film Festival gets underway this weekend. With 111 films slated, approximately 30 more than last year, festival executive director Sofia van Surksum expects this year’s event to be the best yet.

“ It’s huge, this has definitely been a growth year,” she said, adding that the growth has not just been measured in quantity. “The quality of the film submissions this year definitely has increased.”

Van Surksum said among the festival’s greatest supporters are the filmmakers themselves.

“ We’ve gotten some incredible support from the filmmakers, they’re some of our more raving fans,” she said. “The filmmakers love Durango and love the film fest.”

Among this year’s 111 films are 21 world premieres and five U.S. premieres. The films come from 15 countries, from as far away as South Korea and New Zealand. In addition to this, the festival was given national exposure in a spring 2002 article in MovieMaker magazine, a trade publication that praised it for its community outreach, including panel discussions and parties. “Film festivals are all about building community - fostering an appreciation for great cinema - and welcoming visiting movie-makers - Durango has succeeded on both counts,” the article stated.

Van Surksum said the festival will go even further to incorporate the community this year, offering a children’s program, a regional film program, roundtable discussions, an art show and a concert.

Of special note this year are two films that were recently nominated for Academy Awards. “Spellbound” follows eight driven youngsters as they prepare for the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee. The film not only reveals their quirky personalities and obsessive-compulsive study habits, but their family habits and a glimpse into American life as well.

The second Academy Award-nominated film is “The Collector of Bedford Street,” which follows the life of Larry Selman, a 60-year-old, who, despite developmental disabilities and a poverty-level existence, raises thousands of dollars a year for charity. On a deeper level, the film brings a human face to mental retardation while exploring how a community strives to tolerate and understand it.

Another unique facet of this year’s festival is the collection of regional films showcasing area filmmakers and topics.

“ We wanted to support local filmmaking and things that would be of interest to our audience,” said van Surksum.

The 11 or so regional films include “Riversense,” a documentary on whitewater kayaking that tells the story of five boaters, including Durangoan Dunbar Hardy, who survived a back-breaking plunge off a waterfall. “It’s a great documentary with footage of the Animas,” said van Surksum.

Also included in the regional line-up is “American Waitress, New Mexico,” an entertaining yet profound look at the human side of the service industry as seen through the eyes of four waitresses, fellow employees and customers; “Spirit of Snow,” a glimpse into the ethereal world of backcountry skiing; and “Zen Body,” an experimental short by two former Fort Lewis College students.

All regional films are free and will be shown in the brand-new 30-seat Brainstorm Industries venue.

The festival also will feature several documentaries of regional interest that will be shown at the larger venues. “Totah,” a world premiere, details the racial tensions that erupted in Farmington in the mid-70s in the wake of the brutal slaying of three Navajo men at the hands of white teens. Another world premier, “Three Women, 300 Miles,” follows the November 2001 journey of three daring women through the Grand Canyon on nothing more than glorified boogie boards.

“ It’s just an inspiring film, and the courage they had was unbelievable,” said van Surksum.

The three women also will be on hand for the panel discussion, “Women in Documentary Filmmaking,” 4 to 6 p.m. March 5 at the Diamond Circle.

Another documentary of regional note is “Darren Vigil Gray: Counterclockwise,” the story of a Santa-Fe-based Jicarilla Apache artist and a look at his 20-year career. In conjunction with the film, Gray’s works will be on display at the Estancia Gallery, 532 Main Ave., with a reception for him from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 2.

“ When I saw the film, I said, ‘I got to get him here,’” said van Surksum.

This year’s festival also will feature an encore presentation of “The Business of Fancy Dancing,” last year’s winner in the Best Narrative Feature category. Van Surksum said this will be the first time the film, which showed to capacity crowds last year, has been screened in 35mm format. Swil Kanim, the film’s star who last year serenaded crowds waiting in line with his violin, also will be returning this year for a closing night concert at the Diamond Circle.

Van Surksum said this will be a fitting finale to the festival, which has grown into much more than a collection of films.

“ We are not just a film festival anymore,” she said. “It’s a comprehensive arts festival.”







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