(All Hail) Vail Film Festival: A Place Where Women Are Seen, Heard, And Celebrated

This piece originally appeared on Zimbio. Click here to read it there.

You might not have heard about Vail Film Festival, but it's an event that should be on every woman's bucket list. While the Colorado arts showcase has been held for 15 years, creators Sean and Scott Cross pivoted its focus toward female film-makers in 2016 — a year before Me Too, Time's Up, and similar movements were created. This forward thinking allowed talented women a respectable place to share their work, and the featured films this year were no exception.

VFF showed a number of impressive female-led films this year, but the one that captured my heart was director Molly McGlynn's Mary Goes Round. In it, Aya Cash (You're The WorstEasy) stars as Mary, a substance abuse counselor who can't seem to get sober herself. After one majorly destructive night (girl, we've all been there), she drops everything to visit her estranged father in their home town. Following a tragic turn of events, Mary finally finds something that means more to her than alcohol. It's a powerful tale of the transformative power of grief that left no dry eye in Vail's quaint Blue Starlite Cinema.

McGlynn, who wrote the movie based on her own life, liked Cash for the role from the beginning despite considering the star's participation "a long shot." After getting ahold of the script, Cash fell in love with Mary's journey, but it was only after she met McGlynn on Skype that she signed on.

"It's interesting. While I have worked with a lot of male directors, my first equity card theater job was with a female director," Cash told me during the festival. "The first pilot I ever did, I was championed by two female casting directors... I feel like women championing women has been the path of my career — despite the fact that I've worked with plenty of wonderful men as well."

Throughout the event, McGlynn and Cash scarcely left each other's side. Their camaraderie was a gentle reminder of what women stand to gain from collaborating — friendship, financial freedom, and award-winning art.

 Image courtesy of GMC

Image courtesy of GMC

Another part of the film that cut me to my core was Cash's portrayal of addiction: the toll it takes, the weight addicts bear, and the vicious cycle of self-medication.

"I don't think you can go through life without knowing people who are struggling with addiction," Cash said. "We live in a very addictive society, whether that's on the softball level — technology — or if it's drug and alcohol. We're a very addictive culture. I've been around people struggling with those addictions, and it's very complicated to be someone who is trying to be supportive of that person and also struggling to take care of yourself. To play someone like that gives you a lot more empathy for what those people are going through."

While Cash doesn't personally suffer from addiction, she had first-hand experience while working in abuse counseling.

"I'm not addicted to anything besides probably my phone, but there's definitely a few people around me who have struggled a lot," she shared. "I also worked at a youth hotline in high school, so people would call in with a lot of easy questions about movie times and then some suicide calls and some abuse calls and stuff like that. I feel like I grew up a little bit more aware of that stuff other people didn't have access to."

Vail's featured films also proved it doesn't take a $250 million budget (*cough cough* Marvel and friends) to produce a quality cinema experience. Mary Goes Round, for example, somehow managed to honor its modest $200,000 Canadian budget.

"It looks like it's four times that budget on screen," Cash said. "Molly and the cinematographer really, I think, made it look like a much more expensive movie than it was."

In addition to beautifully depicted fictional heroines, the festival's diverse film offering highlighted real women who are fighting to make the world a better place for their communities. Anne Makepeace's Tribal Justice followed the challenging lives of two Native American judges who work to keep their fellow tribe members out of the traditional justice system, where they are more likely to be incarcerated long-term and to succumb to chronic substance abuse addiction.

Another stand-out film was producer Kerry David's Bill Coors: The Will To Live, a deeply touching and revealing documentary on the life of Coors Brewing Company heir, Bill Coors. Unbeknownst to me, Coors essentially invented mental health awareness in the workplace after he was plagued by depression for most of his life. Thanks to David and screenwriter Margo Hamilton, Coors' compelling story was packaged in a meaningful two-hour slate that's sure to influence the topic of mental health for years to come.

As for Vail itself, what can I say? Staying at The Arrabelle was like living in a snowglobe for a weekend. Snow-capped tree tops, sky-high mountains of white powder, impeccably decorated surroundings, warm fireplaces, crisp air, and gorgeous dogs — there's no better destination to make the snow bunny in you twitch with ferocity.

My stay in Colorado, which was hosted by GMC in honor of its new partnership with Vail hotels, led me to a big revelation: I could genuinely see myself living in the state. Between the unwavering friendliness of the people, the natural beauty of the land, and the remarkable art, I was sold by day two — even after what might have been a harrowing drive from the Denver airport to Vail. ("Did I write my dog into my will?" I'd thought before embarking on the journey.) Luckily, GMC provided a Terrain Denali for my drive that drove like a dream, even on the icy Colorado hills.

Vail Film Festival would have been a fantastic event at any time, but it seems serendipitous that its founders prioritized female creators at a time when the world needed it most.

Somewhere deep in the Colorado mountains is a small, fierce group of people who not only value the creativity of women, but spearhead its celebration.

Much like the snowflakes that somehow find their way into your boots, jeans, and sweaters, Vail Film Festival is one of a kind.