Wake-Up Call: Denver Festival Society keeps rolling

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While most of the employees of the Denver Film Society are back at work, they're not quite sure if they're still employees, because twenty of them had officially resigned before the board voted to dismiss new executive director Bo Smith last Friday. And there's also the matter of a major budget shortfall (which can't be made better by whatever goodbye package was given to Smith). But still, they're looking forward.

While the Denver Film Society drama played out over the weekend, I thought back over Westword's history with the Denver International Film Festival, which the DFS puts on. They go back to the very beginning, because the same year that we decided Denver needed a new publication, another group decided the city needed a film festival. We did what we could to help: Together, Westword and the festival put on parties (wild Halloween bashes) and programs (James Bond retrospectives, complete with bathing-suit fashion shows) and pasted up movie schedules late into the night.

By the late '80s, the connection had grown so strong that Westword became the title sponsor of the festival -- the Westword Denver International Film Festival -- putting money into the event and going to opening parties at the Governor's Mansion.

It was fun while it lasted. In the first issue of June 1990, Westword published a story about then-Governor Roy Romer's very close relationship with his deputy chief of staff. A convenient tornado in southeastern Colorado soon blew that scandal off the front pages (although it was resurrected years later, when the Washington Times caught Romer, then chair of the Democratic National Committee, in a liplock outside the airport). But there was collateral damage: The board of the Denver International Film Festival booted Westword as the corporate sponsor.

I thought about that as I heard the tales of the current Denver Film Society boardmembers voting twice to affirm their support of Bo Smith before finally reversing their decision.

The cast of characters on the board has changed a lot over the last two decades, of course, as has the cast at both the festival and Westword. But one thing remains constant -- the importance of the Denver Film Society's ever-evolving programs in this city's cultural landscape.

As the still-unknown-status employees moving back into the DFS office recognize, it's time to go on with the show.


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