If you lived in Aspen over the last forty-five years, you likely encountered Ellen. She loved to dance, gather with friends, and she could throw a fabulous party. She was also a caring friend, a loving wife, and a devoted mother and grandmother.
Moving from Chicago with her mother, Mary Bradley, Ellen attended Marymount High School in Los Angeles and went on to study philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College. Her passion for film developed during her marriage to Pancho Kohner, a filmmaker whose work took them to Europe in the 1960s. Over the course of the next decade, fluent in several languages, they lived an elegant life in France and Spain, exploring every corner of the continent.
In 1975, Ellen moved to Aspen with her young children, Melissa and Alex. She got involved in local cultural organizations that reflected her passion for the arts and the environment and joined the Aspen Foundation for the Arts. With a small group of women, she founded Aspen Filmfest (now known as Aspen Film) and then created Aspen Shortsfest. Under Ellen’s leadership for over 20 years, Aspen Filmfest became one of the premier Aspen arts events of the year, while Aspen Shortsfest became known internationally as one of the top film festivals in the United States for emerging filmmakers. To honor her contributions, Aspen Film raised money from the community in 1999 to create an endowment, and each year at Aspen Shortsfest the “Ellen Award,” along with a cash prize and a distinctive statue, is given to an outstanding filmmaker.
Ellen loved Aspen and said that the town “gave her a home, a career, and a community.” Her commitment to making the world a better place was reflected in her work with many local organizations including Aspen Film, Anderson Ranch, the Wheeler Opera House, Room to Read, the Pitkin County Agricultural Committee for Land Use, the Aspen Arts Council, Baguettes, Lift-Up Pantry, the Aspen Thrift Shop Grant Committee, and numerous panels assembled by the Colorado State Council.
Ellen especially loved to travel. She had a keen sense of adventure and heartfelt love for animals. She rafted through the Grand Canyon, rode horses through India and Africa, searched for mountain gorillas in Rwanda, played with orangutans in Borneo, and frequently visited friends in Europe.
But her heart was always in Colorado. In 1988, Ellen fell in love with a large, remote parcel of land outside of Carbondale. She never shied away from a challenge and dove into restoring the property’s century-old cabin. Ellen loved being off the grid in the wilderness. In 2020, with a generous personal contribution, she arranged for Pitkin County Open Space & Trails to acquire the property to ensure its continued undeveloped preservation and access for the public forever.
In 1994, Ellen married Bill Hunt, of Chicago, at that wilderness cabin. In Aspen, they lovingly restored an 1888 Victorian house overlooking Hallam Lake. The house served many roles over the years: wedding venue, concert hall, fundraising site for countless organizations, and playground for grandchildren. Her home was often a cultural crossroads – an Aspen Algonquin Round Table. In 2002, the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission presented Ellen and Bill with an award in recognition of their outstanding effort to preserve a historic structure and contribute to the character of the West End neighborhood.
Ellen is survived by her husband, Bill; her children, Melissa and Alex Kohner (Ali); stepchildren, Hilary McCutcheon (Ian), Ian Hunt, Christopher Hunt, and Fiona McMillan (Andy); grandchildren, Charlotte, Daisy, Felix, Arla, Brooks, and Margo, as well as a community that will forever be grateful for her grace and devotion to the people and place that she loved.
Because of Covid, a full celebration of Ellen’s life will be held at a later date. If Ellen has anything to do with it, it will be a great party and reflect her “independent by nature” spirit.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to a dedicated Ellen Hunt fund at Aspen Film, the purpose of which is to educate, support and recognize young and upcoming filmmakers.