For those who don't already know, Breckenridge, Colorado, is a ski town, built up around a seasonal industry. When there's no snow on the ground, they look for other ways to get people to come in and spend money at the acres of little shops and eat at the dozens of restaurants carrying almost any sort of cuisine you can imagine (they even have a Bubba Gump seafood place up here).

So, it's not too much of a surprise they came up with a film festival here. September is particularly a lull in the tourist industry as most of the summer vacationers are home to put the kids in school. The Telluride film festival (the one you hear about, that is) is also in September - though that's a much, much longer drive for me. The only thing I can say to explain Sundance being in January is that the higher profile industry moguls were at least as interested in the skiing as the films.

This is the 22nd year of the Breckenridge festival, and its success is as much a testament to the hard work of the volunteers as to who knows who - like business in Hollywood, the films you can get at a festival are often a result of networking. The festival has been m.c.'d by Jeffrey Lyons since the early days, and his connections as a professional film reviewer have resulted in both wonderful pictures and excellent second tier celebrity guests.

Last year, the festival began two days after a certain terrorist incident. Films and guests that were slated to be here suddenly were grounded along with all national air traffic. Even Mr. Lyons was caught back east and couldn't make it - the first time since the birth of one of his children many years ago. The organizers pressed on with the festival with what films and guests they had on hand, trading in their usual gala for some more subdued parties. The result was a heavier emphasis on the independent films, which I certainly didn't mind.

This year marks my seventh consecutive year of attendance at the festival. I really enjoy the intimate feeling of a smaller festival like this. It's only four days, and it's been rare for me to not be able to get in to see something. Besides, this was my first festival I went to, and it's become something of a tradition for me. At under a two-hour drive from where I live now, it would be awfully hard not to go.

Like most things in this world, the festival has evolved some over the years. I am accustomed to buying a so-called "Star Pass", which gets me into all the films just by flashing it at the door. This year, the pass is a way to get advance tickets for a screening, which guarantees a seat. If you show up without a ticket, the pass will only get you in if the show isn't sold out - apparently the frequency of that sort of thing has been slowly going up (ah, progress...). I really don't mind - I can continue my practice of randomly jumping from screening to screening, or protect my position somewhat by committing to a schedule. It's almost more flexibility, in fact. It's just the connotation that my little festival is starting to get too crowded that bothers me in the back of my mind.

So, I'm settled in, and have attended the opening night premiere of The Emperor's Club, which did live up to its billing for the opening slot. You can read my review here. They make it easy on you the first night, but there are many more films to come - though I've not yet decided my schedule much further beyond the closing night Slap Her, She's French, and almost certainly Igby Goes Down, which is screened twice. There are three Susan Sarandon movies here (The Banger Sisters, Moonlight Mile, and the aforementioned Igby Goes Down) - Jeffrey Lyons mentioned that, if not for her kids needing to be sent to school, the festival might have landed here this year (her ex-husband, Chris Sarandon, was here several years back supporting a film called Road Ends, by the way). But they have pulled through with Jon Favreau, who was to have been a guest last year only to have been stuck somewhere unable to get on an airplane. I rather look forward to see Favreau's insights in person. His IFC program, Dinner For Five, is a fairly uproarious glance into the filmmaking world, and I'm sure he has some stories to tell that haven't been aired... though perhaps he is wise enough not to tell them within earshot of someone who might post such information on a certain publicly accessible communications network.

Much more to come from Breckenridge, but it's time for me to turn in, or else I'll be sleeping through tomorrow's films.

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