BIFF Celebrates 20 Years of Connections, Creations, Artists, Movies and Storytelling

Boulder, Colorado, is a vibrant, eclectic city known for its outdoor adventures, its phenomenal landmark of slanted, reddish rock formations known as the Flatirons, its academic excellence at the University of Colorado Boulder and since 2004 its celebration of film. Twenty years ago, two sisters, Kathy and Robin Beeck, dreamt of an annual party, bringing filmmakers from around the world to Boulder to share in one another’s passion for storytelling. Two decades later, their dream has evolved into a gathering of thousands of cinephiles, movie makers and locals looking to showcase and watch their dynamic creations on the big screen. This year, from February 29 to March 3, thanks to Kathy and Robin, the Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) celebrates 20 years of connections, creations, artists, movies and storytelling.

People outside, movie theater, screen, text, BIFF 20
Photo Courtesy of Boulder International Film Festival on Facebook

For years, Kathy and Robin hopped from one festival to another, having a blast showing their documentaries, meeting fellow filmmakers, attending screenings of renowned films and enjoying the party of it all. They went to the Telluride Film Festival, Banff Mountain Film Festival, Sheffield Documentary Film Festival and Arkansas’ Hot Springs Film Festival. Traveling to these events only made them wonder, “Why doesn’t Boulder have one of these? It’s the perfect place for a film festival.”

Although they never held a festival before, in 2004, they brought the party to Boulder and raised the curtain on their little film festival. “We were kind of just making it up as we went along. We didn’t know who would show up,” said BIFF co-founder and director Kathy Beeck. “Let’s put this on and see who comes. And if nobody comes, maybe this isn’t a great idea”. Five thousand people attended BIFF that first year, and the Beecks knew they could have something special on their hands. “If we just keep doing this and keep improving and keep maybe expanding, not in the sense of the number of days, but in the sense of the number of events and things that we put on, we can make this a fabulous community event,” said Beeck.

people in crowd, stage, person on stage, theater, BIFF 20
Photo Courtesy of Boulder International Film Festival on Facebook

Since that first event, more than 25,000 film enthusiasts, media and filmmakers have attended the festival each year to partake in BIFF’s diverse programming, film screenings and opening night galas. “Over the years, we’ve added a lot of different programs. For example, we added a Singer-Songwriter Showcase ten years ago highlighting musicians and. It’s accessible to the public, and we hold it at Velvet Elk Lounge,” said Beeck. “We added a Call to Action program about 15 years ago, showing films with a different message like environmental topics or Native American rights. We partner with local community groups that work on those issues, and we have them introduce the films and themselves. It’s grown in popularity over the years because we have post-film discussions about these issues.” These unique programs create community and engagement, causing attendees to return year after year.

In addition to BIFF’s Singer-Songwriter Showcase and Call to Action program, the festival hosts CineCHEF, a competition where local chefs create a dish based on the movies that inspire them. 2024 is an extra special year for this event. In honor of BIFF’s 20th birthday, chefs will pay homage to Boulder’s food scene. It’s a unique opportunity to dine on “classic-film” inspired dishes by eight award-winning Colorado chefs.

people outside
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Beyond its role as a showcase for cinematic talent, BIFF hosts parties every day, a key element to any film festival. “Parties aren’t just fun for a party’s sake, but that’s where you meet the filmmakers, and that’s where you meet other people, talk about the films, and really get a dialog going. That’s the purpose of parties. It helps build the community aspect of a film festival,” said Beeck.

Festivalgoers can indulge in delicious food, specialty-crafted cocktails, wine, local beers and live music while enjoying each other’s company at red-carpet galas. On March 1st, opening night, BIFF will host two pre-film parties at Hotel Boulderado and Rembrandt Yard, followed by a presentation of Ezra directed by Tony Goldwyn and starring “Hollywood royalty” Robert De Niro.

What sets BIFF apart from other film festivals is the storytelling. “The festival has always been about great storytelling; we just look for those great stories. It doesn’t have to be slick production or anything like that. We need it to have a great story to tell,” said Beeck. Since year one, Kathy and Robin have sought out the stories to be told at their festival. Even though it takes a year to sort through 1000 film entries by a 12-person committee and travel to different festivals to see what films are doing well, it’s all to showcase the best movies out there and put on the best festival possible.

As a result, BIFF has a high reputation for its specialty-curated lineups, with audiences continuing to talk about movies from past years. Their upcoming program includes 74 films from 25 countries, festival favorites from years past, 18 films made by Colorado filmmakers, four world premiers and five U.S. premiers, with 50 filmmakers expected to attend.

Beeck gushed about some of her most anticipated screenings. “We have a fantastic film called Maestra, and it’s about women composers, and it’s a competition. And that’s a film about the International Women’s Composing Championships. It’s one of the best films we have,” said Beeck. “We have this great film that is very pop culturey, which I also like. It’s called Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field. She is the designer who did all the clothes for Sex in the City, The Devil Wears Prada and most recently, Emily in Paris. It is just a great story. And she is a character, and I recommend that film to anybody attending the festival.”

woman outside, road, mailbox
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Biff’s 20th anniversary will also include films like Wildcat, directed by Ethan Hawke, Viva Varda! about Belgian-born filmmaker and legend Agnes Varda and One Life starring Anthony Hopkins. In honor of BIFF’s 20th anniversary, past favorites will return to the screen, including Meet the Patels, The Secret of Kells and Hip Hop-eration.

cowboy, horse, outside
Photo Courtesy of

The festival will close its four-day event on March 3 with its Closing Night Film and Awards Ceremony. BIFF will honor the outstanding work of filmmakers with Vielehr Award sculptures. The festival ends with British royalty, The Cowboy and the Queen, a movie about a California horseman catapulted into fame by Queen Elizabeth II.

Beeck hopes to maintain a sense of community as she looks ahead to the next 20 years of BIFF and beyond. “We expect that the films we screen will impact people each year, more connections will be made, and more local filmmakers will enter the film business. We have youth programs specifically because we know those youth are the festival’s future. We’ve had some success stories there as well for youth filmmakers going on to do great things,” said Beeck. “So we just want the whole cycle to continue and to grow and build excellent programming, leading to great dialog, leading to great relationships and continuing to learn about other cultures and other cultures in the world. That one thing we bring to Boulder is all these other cultures worldwide, leading to an understanding of all those other cultures and being entertained.” Beeck does not want attendees to forget that beyond relationships and culture, the films are entertaining. “The movies take you away; we need that in the world.”

Twenty years ago, Kathy and Robin sought to create a space for film lovers, casual movie-goers and industry professionals. This year, thousands will flock to BIFF to connect, be merry, and, most importantly, enjoy another stellar lineup of films emphasizing great storytelling that they will talk about for years to come.

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