From Aspen Daily News: Aspen Filmfest first-timer serves up a film feast

September 20, 2018

From Aspen Daily News: Aspen Filmfest first-timer serves up a film feast

Todd Hartley, Time Out Writer
Sep 20, 2018

It’s been just over a year now since film-industry veteran Susan Wrubel was named the interim executive director of local nonprofit Aspen Film, an organization which, at the time, had endured a couple of turbulent years as its leadership changed hands. With her deep connections in New York and scads of experience, Wrubel was a wise choice, and in her year at the helm, she has steadied the ship and returned Aspen Film to its prominent place in the local arts scene.

Since being thrown into the fire, starting her new job just a week before the 2017 Aspen Filmfest, Wrubel has shed the “interim” part of her title, overseen last winter’s Academy Screenings and last spring’s Shortsfest and programmed Aspen Film’s Indie Showcase screenings and a Dance, Art & Music Films series at The Temporary in Basalt. One thing she hadn’t done, however, in Aspen or earlier in her career, was program an entire film festival. That will change this week with the first Wrubel-programmed Aspen Filmfest, which runs Tuesday-Sunday, Sept. 25-30, at the Wheeler Opera House and Isis Theatre in Aspen and the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.

This may be a first-time effort for Wrubel, but with her experience and connections, choosing the lineup of 21 films proved well within the scope of her abilities.

“I guess this is my first foray into being an artistic director in general,” she said. “But my background is acquisitions and development, and I was an executive producer, so I would read a lot of material. I also saw films as a career for several years, looking to buy things to put on screen, so I’m familiar with a lot of what’s out there, and I have a lot of relationships with distributors and studios and publicists. It was not a huge leap for me to get in and start requesting movies.”

Wrubel’s choices include features and documentaries from all over the world with a few themes running through them that reflect her evolving understanding of the mountain town she now calls home.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback throughout the last year’s festivals that people really do not want dark,” she said. “I was very conscious of that while curating and reviewing films.”

With that in mind, Wrubel made selections that she hopes have something positive to say and will inspire and uplift local audiences.

“There is a big call to action in several of the films, particularly the documentaries,” said Wrubel. “There’s triumph over adversity. There is a lot about family and what constitutes family, whether it’s the family your born into or the family you choose, and a lot of female and kid empowerment. Also just pushing boundaries.”

From big-name, Oscar-buzz features like the closing-night Steve Carell vehicle “Beautiful Boy” to smaller-scale documentaries like festival opener “Howard,” about famed Disney songwriter Howard Ashman, all the films are worth seeing. But some of the unexpected surprises to look for, according to Wrubel, include Western comedy “The Sisters Brothers,” with Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly (“if it’s not on people’s radar it will be really quickly”); survivalist drama “Leave No Trace,” which will be followed by a talk with the author of the book on which the film is based; Holocaust docudrama “The Invisibles,” about Jews who stayed in Berlin during World War II; and “This Mountain Life,” a documentary about people who’ve chosen to leave society behind and live in the wilds of British Columbia (“absolutely gorgeous”).

“I could go on and on because I truly love every single one of these movies,” said Wrubel.

Sounds like the first-time festival programmer has been enjoying her new role.

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at

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