Aspen Film’s flagship event, Aspen Filmfest, runs Tuesday through Sunday and returns with in-person screenings at three theaters: the Wheeler Opera House and the Metropolitan’s Isis Theater in Aspen, as well as the Crystal Theater at Carbondale.
Susan Wrubel, Executive and Artistic Director of Aspen Film, begins curating films in January for the festival. “There is always a buzz around what is supposed to be Venice, Telluride and Toronto [film festivals], which is the fall trifecta that really kicks off the festival season for the New Year, ”she shared.
Wrubel recently celebrated its fourth year with the nonprofit organization.
In addition to Filmfest, Aspen Film’s premier events include Aspen Academy screenings in December and an Oscar-qualifying short film festival, Aspen Shortsfest, in April.
The festival’s programming is by invitation only and offers a limited selection of 15 films this year instead of 20, as in previous years.
In its 42nd year, this will be the first time the festival has been held since the passing of Aspen Film co-founder Ellen Kohner Hunt, who passed away at her home in Aspen on January 25, 2021, at the age of 79.
On September 23, the Wheeler Opera House will present Ellenfest Community Night, an evening honoring the legacy of Kohner Hunt. The festivities will begin at 4 p.m. with an appetizer reception, followed by a tribute to Kohner Hunt at 5 p.m. The tribute will include a recorded program of friends sharing memories, as well as a screening of several of Kohner Hunt’s favorite short films.
Then, at 7 pm, there will be a meeting with the filmmaker, photographer and pilot of Aspen Dirk Braun for his first film, “Flying Boat”. A screening of the film at 8 p.m. will follow, and “Flying Boat” will also have a screening on Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Crystal Theater.
A seaplane, Braun explained, “is the appropriate term for the seaplane, which is different from a seaplane which is a modified land airplane.”
“Flying Boat” delves into the lives of 10 pilots who own and fly a Grumman Albatros. The Albatross is an American aircraft with a large bi-radial engine. This “amphibious seaplane” was initially used by the American armed forces for search and rescue missions on the high seas.
“What’s special about the Albatross is that it has been used for so many different things,” Braun said. “You know, 70 years later, they’re still the best design. There has never been such a versatile machine ever.
At the end of July, “Flying Boat” was presented for the first time at the 68th annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh International Airshow in Wisconsin. It was part of the film lineup at the open-air Fly-In Theater, presented by the Ford Motor Company.
“I think aviation, in general, is ubiquitous, but esoteric.” Braun said, “People are mostly unaware of its culture and how widespread it is, consciously.”
Braun said Pan American Airlines was the first airline to offer long-distance travel. Braun said Pan American had ordered flying seaplanes: “And these are the ones that crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific first.”
He focuses on the Grumman Albatross in the film, claiming that the last one used for passenger transport was also flown by Pan American Airlines.
The “golden years of aviation,” Braun said, “were a celebrated time to fly. People liked it as a thing to do. They didn’t take it for granted, it wasn’t just a commodity, and it wasn’t as efficient and practical; it was a romantic experience.
Tom Casey, one of the pilots featured in the film, has been friends with Braun’s father since kindergarten. Ironically, Casey was restoring an Albatross. Casey put Braun in touch with other riders and, Braun said, “I realized there was a small, tight-knit community. They have different aspirations and ambitions as to why they drive them. Instead of making it a fact-driven film, I made it more of a character-driven film and an emotion-driven film, and explored their interests and aspirations.
Braun continued that the film “is a vision of a world that you basically didn’t know existed.”
Festival passes and individual tickets can be purchased at aspenfilm.org. Like almost every festival in the Roaring Fork Valley during the lingering days of the pandemic, Filmfest audiences will need to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.
At the Wheeler Opera House, “You won’t be able to access tickets, or a pass, without first showing a negative COVID test within 72 hours or a vaccine card,” Wrubel explained. “You will get a bracelet, which shows you have a negative COVID test or vaccination, and then you will be allowed to enter the Wheeler.”
The Crystal Theater will not accept a negative COVID test, only proof of vaccination, and screenings are limited to 50 seats.