In January, our hearts were broken when we lost our founder, Ellen Kohner Hunt, following a valiant battle with cancer.
Filmfest started in 1979 when Ellen passed a note to a friend in an Aspen Arts Council meeting and said, “How about having a film festival”? Her management style never got more formal than that. Ellen ran Filmfest for seven years with one paid staff member, and it wasn’t Ellen. She has been called one of Aspen’s most remarkable volunteers, who, as someone observed, “cajoled, bribed, and blackmailed a group of cinema junkies to sit through reels of film and shelves of video, and then debate the merits of each.”
Visionary as ever, in 1991 Ellen saw the popularity and plethora of short features being made and which were available for presentation, and started Shortsfest. In the years since, it has grown into one of the top festivals in the country devoted to the short film. As a tribute to her passion and zeal, Ellen’s dear friends and Shortsfest collaborators created the Ellen Award was created in 1999. This honor is bestowed annually on a Shortsfest Film that reflects the spirit of its namesake – tasteful but whimsical.
In 1992, to complement the other two festivals, Ellen began Academy Screenings to showcase films over Christmas when many voting Academy members were in Aspen. All three of these festivals continue today and would not have ever come to fruition without the drive, humor and generosity of their founder.
Throughout its entire history, Ellen made sure that three principal traits have always characterized Filmfest (now part of the larger organization called Aspen Film ). First, its tagline: Independent by Nature. This both describes Ellen’s M.O. and the kinds of films shown. Independently produced features and documentaries, even if not technically perfect, have a real sense of truth – “the viewer sees into someone’s life,” she said. “We want to encourage these talented people who need experience and background to help them break into an expensive industry.” “Films came from people with a statement to make…”
Part two of Filmfest, (and Aspen Film), magic is the credo: for the community. “It’s just us folks, a time to reconnect in the quiet season.” she said. Reserved seats were originally marked by tee shirts that just had the person’s first name, and you knew who everyone was. Ellen loved including good films by Aspenites and always felt it was the largest block party in the Rockies.
That’s the third key to the unique stamp Ellen left on Aspen Film: Inclusion. To Ellen, involving everyone, always meant filmmakers too. She felt that bringing filmmakers to Aspen offered a rare chance for the filmmakers themselves to interact. Whether it be a picnic on Aspen Mountain, easy get-togethers in people’s homes, or Q&A’s after the movies – she insisted on letting the community’s film buffs mix and m
ingle with the creators.
To honor the legacy of such a huge presence in our community, Ellen’s family has generously set up the ELLEN FUND at Aspen Film. The purpose of the fund is to educate, support, inspire and recognize young and upcoming filmmakers. To pay our respects to our beloved founder, we are asking everyone we can think of to make a contribution to THE ELLEN FUND.
Ellen would say, “Whatever you can give is perfect. If it’s $5 that’s great. If there are a few more zeros, that’s great too.”
Donations may also be mailed to: Aspen Film 110 E Hallam St, Suite 103 Aspen, CO 81611
Please make sure checks are payable to Aspen Film and add “Ellen Fund” in the subject line.