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10 reasons why the Crested Butte Film Festival is the best thing about fall in Colorado

By Brian Lewis

From the Denver Zombie Crawl and Great American Beer Festival to the Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival and harvest celebrations on the Western Slope, there are an insane amount of choices for how to spend your fall weekends in Colorado. And that’s without even mentioning just getting in the car and going aspen hunting or tagging a lofty summit before the high country is coated in snow.

But there’s really only one event that combines the best of all things Colorado when it’s all wrapped up in the snuggly warm tones and flannel softness of autumn: The Crested Butte Film Festival. Not sold? Let’s dig a little deeper and look at why CBFF needs to be your fall trip this year.


A Diverse Film Line-Up

Feature-length narratives with critical praise and Oscar buzz? Check. Documentaries exposing environmental disasters and human rights challenges, and comedy shorts to cheer you up after? Yep to both. A kids and teen program to engage the entire family? Got it. A cultural buffet of foreign films to provide a global perspective? Of course! An array of work by local filmmakers who might even be sitting next to you in the theater? Yes!


That Magical Mountain Scenery

I mean, it’s Crested Butte. Do we really have to explain how perfect the setting is?  


It’s Easy to Navigate Between Venues

This is not Cannes or Sundance. Every venue is easily accessible within a few blocks of a pedestrian-friendly downtown. So no worries about fighting traffic or hopping on shuttles to make your next showtime. Park the car in the morning and you won’t need it again until last call. Or, for the most efficient festival experience, bring a townie and peddle like the locals.


It Coincides Perfectly with Peak Fall Color

I can picture the initial brainstorming session by the festival organizers: Hmm...when should we schedule our film festival? I know! Let’s wait until summer crowds die down but before the powder addicts take over the town for the winter. What about late September? When some of the largest aspen groves in the world are exploding into their absolute crescendo of golden alchemy? Perfect!


The Outdoor Adventure Program

Have you noticed the line outside the Center for the Arts suddenly has a lot more trucker hats and puffy jackets in it? Must be time for this year’s Outdoor Adventure Program - a late evening, adrenaline-filled ode to wild places, scenic wonder and human-powered accomplishment. Better get inside before the PBR sells out.


Free Camping at Oh-Be-Joyful*

Price of mountain-town lodging got you down? For my first two festivals, I camped at Oh-Be-Joyful - a BLM campground beside the babbling Slate River only minutes from Elk Avenue. And while this not-so-secret spot is sure to be packed in the summer, by late fall it’s typically deserted and makes a convenient, inexpensive base camp for binge-watching films all day and stars all night.

*Donations are gratefully accepted to help with upkeep of this well-loved campground.


Access to Visiting Filmmakers

This year will feature over 30 visiting filmmakers whose works are screening at the festival. Whether you stick around for an informal post-screening Q&A, geek out at a free Filmmaker Talk, rub shoulders with a director at a red carpet party, or just chat up a producer in line for coffee at First Ascent, the accessibility you’ll have to talented creators is something nonexistent at larger festivals.


Legit Local Restaurants and Nightlife

At some point in your festival weekend, you may have to fill up on something more than popcorn and Good & Plenties. Lucky for you, CB boasts a diverse array of legitimately quality dining options. Need a morning coffee or scratch-made breakfast? Try Mountain Oven Bakery, Camp 4 Coffee or Paradise Cafe. Quick bite between shows? Grab a burrito at Teocalli Tamale or some authentic Tibetan Momos from the momo guy’s street stall (weekdays only, go early). Slower pace, but still casual? Check out Last Steep, Bonez or Secret Stash. Want to crank up the class-o-meter? You won’t do better than Elk Ave Prime, Soupcon or Djangos.

And you’ll obviously need a few good places to analyze that mind-blowing film you just saw over a local craft beer or cocktail. Dig into the multitude of taps at Brick Oven Pizzeria, the fresh rum drinks at Montanya Distillers or the infused cocktail concoctions at Dogwood Cocktail Cabin.

After all that, does anyone actually like Good & Plenties?


Plenty to do to Combat Vitamin-D Deficiency

If you’ve never been to a film festival before, be warned that it’s hard to resist the temptation to watch as many films as possible by strategically pre-planning every screening slot, then skipping meals and pushing your bladder beyond its evolutionary capacities to ensure a spot in line at your next film. That sounds all well and good, but unless your family tree makes mention of someone named Gollum, after a day at that pace your body starts to crave some sunlight. And for this, CB more than delivers...with dozens of hiking options, legendary mountain biking, gold medal fly fishing and endless scenic drives. Or you could just sit on a bench on Elk Avenue and recharge your depleted vitamin-D stores with some high-altitude UV mixed with a side of aspen-flanked beauty.


The Stories Will Take You

Even without any of those other reasons, this is the one that keeps me coming back each year. The stories. Through careful curation of hundreds of submissions, the festival team consistently puts out a lineup of films where story is paramount and you’re sure to be taken somewhere by them. It could be to an exotic faraway land or a mind-bending future world. It could be a place of gut-wrenching human suffering. Or a place where you question your impact on the planet and your role in the world. A place of tears or laughter or joy or love. But for a few hours in a dark theater, you’ll go somewhere. Then you’ll emerge into a high mountain paradise, into blinding blue sunlight, get back in line and do it all over again.