Photo Courtesy: Beth Kovacs

The Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) has quietly emerged as one of the ‘coolest film festivals in the world.’ Celebrating the spirit of Independent Film for the last 8 years, the BIFF annually pays tribute to films and filmmakers from around the world with screenings, parties, workshops, red carpet premieres, and many star sightings like James Franco, Oliver Stone, Chevy Chase, and Alec Baldwin.

This year is no different.

Last night, at the kickoff of the 8th Annual Boulder International Film Festival (Feb. 16-19) at the Boulder Theater, famed director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Award of Excellence in Producing recipient, Anthony Bregman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Our Idiot Brother), attended a red carpet gala to present a pre-release screening of their latest film, Darling Companion.

Starring Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline, Darling tells the story of a Denver woman who rescues a stray dog (Freeway) only to have her husband lose him after a wedding at their vacation home in the Rockies. In the aftermath, the couple assemble a unique search party to find the missing dog. And in pursuit, uncover much about themselves. With a talented ensemble and a handful of schmaltz, Darling is a pleasant retreat on life, love, and relationships.

Then, fast forward to tonight. And William H. Macy is back in town to accept the Vanguard Award during “A Conversation with William H. Macy.” The Oscar nominee and two-time Emmy winner is best known for his range of roles, from his breakout performance as the Minnesota car dealer, Jerry Lundegaard, in Fargo to warm comedic roles in Pleasantville, Happy, Texas, and Mr. Holland’s Opus, to dramatic made for television movies, “The Wool Cap” and “Door to Door.” Currently, he’s starring in Showtime’s original hit series, “Shameless.”

Topping things off, tomorrow afternoon (2:30 p.m. at the Boulder Theater), Martin Sheen, will be on hand for a healthy dose of Q&A. The veteran actor has over 65 films to his credit, including Badlands, Catch-22, Gandhi, Apocalypse Now, and Wall Street, while also dominating the small screen in memorable roles like “The West Wing,” “Murphy Brown,” and “Two and a Half Men.” A committed political activist for peace and justice, Sheen will join George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson on stage for “8,” about the court fight over California’s gay marriage ban. And then, star in The Amazing Spider-Man, out later this summer.

Of course, in between all the star sightings, the BIFF is showcasing many terrific feature films, documentaries, and shorts. Among them, Jeff Who Lives at Home (starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms), a hilarious romp about a slacker turned private eye, Lasse Halstrom’s charming romantic comedy about faith and fish in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt), and the powerful true story of Maldives’ environmental crusader, Mohamed Nasheed, in The Island President.

Plus, many more: BIFF 2012 Schedule

Rounding out the festival on Closing Night will be a presentation of the Best of the Fest awards (Vielehr sculptures). And a screening of Chasing Ice, a documentary produced in Boulder by Oscar nominated filmmaker Jerry Aronson (The Divided Trail) and Oscar winning producer, Paula DuPre Pesmen (The Cove). The film follows National Geographic photographer James Balog and his team as they track down the world’s disappearing glaciers. Balag and Pesmen will be on hand after the screening for a brief Q&A.

Then, in addition to the red carpet events, the BIFF will host a Digital Media Symposium with Pixar co-founder, Dr. Alvy Ray Smith, a Master Animation Class with Bill Plympton, a Filmmaker Lounge for mingling with all the artists, documentarians, and storytellers alongside a handcrafted beer or glass of wine from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and BAD, an After Dark program that highlights short films from local animators and award winners with live comedy and music.

Chasing Ice

Plus, student workshops and seminars on how to make your own short film or produce your own documentary.

One of the most influential young festivals around, the BFF brings the art of cinema with a touch of class to downtown Boulder.

-Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”

Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film journalist and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles). In addition to his blog on 303, you can follow The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest entertainment news, reviews, and interviews.

For tickets and information on the 8th Annual Boulder International Film Festival: