The longest-running event of its kind in North America, the annual Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival seeks to honor and celebrate women in the film industry by showcasing projects that shine particular light on how women experience the world.
It runs Nov. 15-17 at Colorado College.
This year’s festival will feature approximately 40 films shown over two days, including a bio-documentary about local mural artist Eric Bransby. “Art for the People” was produced by homegrown filmmakers Nancy Bentley and John Atkinson.
Bransby has painted more than 35 public murals, many in the Kansas City area, but the one featured on the Pioneer’s Museum is his largest at 75 feet. He also completed restorations to murals at the Fine Arts Center in 2011, which had been previously damaged by weather and sunlight.
“It’s a wonderful story about an artist who never gave up on his art,” Bentley said. “Even when mural art was out of fashion, Eric never gave up painting murals.
“(Last month) he turned 103 years old, so he’s indomitable.”
There was never a time in Bransby’s life when he did not want to be an artist. Four years into his studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, Bransby was inducted into the army as World War II began. Later, he studied with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and continued to work developing his own unique style and medium in the face of a culture wherein murals had fallen from favor.
The documentary, Bentley said, travels with Bransby through his artistic passions and career, as well as through his more than 70-year relationship with fellow artist and wife Mary Ann Bransby. Featured also is the influence of the Fine Arts Center (previously the Broadmoor Art Academy), which is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“The film does two things,” Bentley said. “It talks about the history of the Fine Arts Center and the Broadmoor Art Academy, it’s about Eric Bransby and his life and work as a mural artist – and it comes at a time when mural art is on the rise again.”
“(Eric and Mary were) both dedicated to their art, poor or rich,” Atkinson.
Bentley and Atkinson were not the original minds behind the project, however.
In 2015, Bentley was working on a film called “Talking Walls,” about the mural artwork of Colorado Springs. In the course of that venture, she interviewed Bransby for the first time.
“Two years later,” she said, “another videographer was doing an hour-long film about Eric. ... We got a call asking, ‘Would you like to finish the film?’ as that videographer had passed away.
“We were given 40 hours of film and a five-month time frame to put together a documentary film.”
Most documentary films, Bentley and Atkinson explained, take years to develop. But with dozens of hours of rough footage and a huge binder of transcripts, they set out to complete the effort that had been begun by fellow filmmaker Jay Kriss, unfinished upon his unexpected passing in 2015.
“We just dropped everything else in our lives and had to go full bore into it,” Bentley said. “We’ve been members of this community for a long time, and it was a chance to pull in other talented community members.”
The film features a wealth of local talent. From music performed by area symphonies to the assistance provided by local librarians Virginia Carlson and David Doman, to the contributions of the Fine Arts Center, “Art for the People” is a true local showcase. It even features a cameo of Colorado Springs’ native puppeteering talent David Simpich, who lent his property and materials for the film’s opening scene.
Bentley wrote the script with the help of Kriss’ original transcripts and notes.
“(Kriss) left a three-ring binder, three or four inches thick, of transcripts in hard copy, and Nancy went through and highlighted all the pieces that she thought would work in the film,” Atkinson said. “She sat with the pieces (Kriss) had highlighted.”
Bentley said, “I felt like I got a video of the relationship between Eric and Jay (Kriss), which was a really loving and positive relationship.”
The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, Bentley said, “is very difficult to get into. We feel honored to have had the film selected to be shown,” in part because she and John have attended the festival for many years as viewers.
Bransby will be in attendance at the showing, and “I’m sure anyone who wants to talk to him will be able to. He’s a very special artist in the artist community here in Colorado Springs,” Bentley said.
“Art for the People” will debut at the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, but will also show on public TV more than once in December.