42nd Filmfest includes a tribute to the founder

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Ellen Kohner (Hunt) pictured in her office in September 1985 (Aspen Historical Society / Aspen Times Collection)

The 42nd annual Aspen Filmfest features some of the year’s most anticipated independent films, thought-provoking documentaries, foreign language titles and a spotlight on a local filmmaker, continuing the vision of its founder, Ellen Kohner Hunt , died at the beginning of this year.

The festival program itself, which opens Tuesday night with the Jessica Chastain-directed drama “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, is a tribute to the founder. To further honor Hunt’s memory, Aspen Film is also producing “Ellenfest” Thursday night, bringing friends together at the Wheeler Opera House and showing an hour-long compilation of tributes and music videos.

“My goal was never for people to need to like what we showed,” Hunt says in the film. “I just didn’t want anyone to be hopelessly bored.”



With memories of friends and filmmakers, the film chronicles how Hunt started Aspen Filmfest with a group of committed volunteers – all women – and turned it into a launching pad for independent filmmakers with Filmfest, later creating an incubator for new and marginalized voices at Aspen Shortsfest.

“I would like Aspen to be a place of welcome for short film directors, the place that supports and identifies new emerging talent in the world of cinema,” she says in the film.



Documentary filmmaker Aviva Slesin recalls how Filmfest fed her and shares a short comedy she directed with a young Bill Murray – starring an array of costumed parrots – during the founding year of the Filmfest.

“Ellen was at the heart of this fraternity,” Slesin recalls. “She was warm, she was generous, she loved and knew cinema very well and it was easy to laugh with her.”

Local figures in the tribute include Aspen Film mainstays Gail Holstein, Judy Royer, Joyce Semple, Steve Alldredge and former theater owner Isis Dominic Linza.

With Hunt at the helm, the organization has resisted commercialization or too much growth – staying focused on the locals even as festivals like Sundance and Telluride have grown into international events.

“We wanted then, and still want, to be an intimate experience,” Hunt says in the film.

The filmmakers include directors like Edgar Boyles, Bill Plympton, and Adam Collis, interspersed with some of Hunt’s favorite shorts from years past. Local Hollywood figures including Robert Wagner and Jill St. John also make appearances.

Hunt herself sums up her volunteer work at Filmfest as an act of gratitude for a community she loved and supported her and her family.

“I felt like I wanted to give something back,” she says. “It sounds really cheesy, but that’s how it was. … There were a lot of filmmakers whose work was not seen, and I thought it would be wonderful to have a film festival where we could promote and support the work of independent filmmakers and broaden the horizons of our community. somewhat insular.

The six-day, all-in-person 2021 festival features films like the Kristen Stewart-directed Princess Diana biopic “Spencer,” which premieres Friday night at the Wheeler, the prequel to “The Sopranos” “The Many Saints of Newark “, director Antoine Fuqua’s new thriller” The Guilty “with Jake Gyllenhaal and the locally produced documentary” Flying Boat “by Aspen documentary maker Dirk Braun.

The Isis Theater will also host daily documentary mornings through Saturday, including “Chasing Childhood” on the helicopter parenting phenomenon, “My Name is Pauli Murray” from the director duo who made “RBG” and Leonard’s documentary Bernstein “Bernstein’s Wall”. “

Foreign titles include “A Hero” by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, “Bergman Island” by Mia Hansen-Love, and “The Worst Person in the World” by Joachim Trier – all three already favorites of the festival circuit since their debuts in Paris. Cannes.

This Filmfest marks the first in-person festival for Aspen Film since Academy screenings in early 2020. Due to the pandemic, last year’s Filmfest was held both virtually and in person, with screenings remotely held at the Isis Theater. Aspen Film canceled the Academy Screenings series last winter and virtually hosted the Aspen Shortsfest 2020 and 2021.


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