W ild mustangs, sushi chefs, the Bishop of New Hampshire, mountaineering war veterans and animations are some of the characters that will fill area cinema screens as the eighth-annual Boulder International Film Festival reels into town, starting Thursday through Feb. 20.

This year's festival will showcase 54 films, including feature films, documentaries and shorts.

BIFF will also be bringing big Hollywood names to Boulder -- including chats with Oscar nominee and two-time Emmy winner, actor and writer William H. Macy; actor Martin Sheen; producer Anthony Bregman ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind;" and Academy Award-nominated writer, director and producer Lawrence Kasdan ("The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark").

According to director of the festival, Robin Beeck, this year's schedule offers the most diverse lineup of films since the festival's inception.

That includes films from all over the world: Israel, India, Europe, Germany, Maldives, Japan, Canada and right here in Boulder.

The plot lines are just as varied, Beeck says.

In "Darling Companion," BIFF's opening-night flick, Diane Keaton is joined by others on a search for her missing dog, a companion she saved from a Denver street. In "Kumare," filmmaker Vikram Gandhi conducts a social experiment by forming his own cult.

"These aren't movies you're going to see at your regular cinema," says Beeck. "It's fun to bring in films that people just aren't going to see anywhere else.


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One of the most highly anticipated films of this year's festival is "Chasing Ice," a documentary produced in Boulder. The film follows National Geographic photographer, James Balog, as he and his team deploy time-lapse cameras throughout the Artic in an effort to capture the effects of the world's melting glaciers.

"It presents to people, in a very clear way, that climate change is going on and that the glaciers are melting at a faster rate than anyone knew," says one of the film's producers, Oscar-nominated Jerry Aronson.

Four of the films being screened at this year's festival have already been nominated for Academy Awards: "Pentecost" (produced in Ireland, short), "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," (USA, short), "Raju" (Germany, short) and "Monseiur Lazhar" (Canada, feature).

Related festival events include actor and filmmaker chats, an opening night red-carpet gala, awards ceremonies and filmmaker receptions. These events are scheduled throughout the week, and tickets can be purchased in advance on BIFF's website.

New to this year's festival is a Filmmaker Lounge, located in the Lazy Dog Sports Bar and Grill, 1346 Pearl St., just down the street from the Boulder Theater, where many events will take place. The lounge will be open to BIFF ticket-stub holders for a 4-6 p.m. happy hour on Friday and Saturday during the festival. The happy hour will provide an opportunity for film fans to rub elbows with other enthusiasts and potentially even meet the greats of the industry. A free, crowd-interactive, Filmmaker Panel will take place at the Boulder Public Library on Saturday from 3-4:15 p.m.

Also making its debut this year will be the BIFF Bus, a free shuttle for ticket and pass holders. The shuttle will run every 10 to 15 minutes between Boulder High School, 1604 Arapahoe Ave., and 14th and Spruce streets.

BIFF's Call 2 Action program will be reappearing this year, with a selection of 14 diverse films. The Call 2 Action program pairs films with activist groups. An information tent will be set up on the Pearl Street Mall at 14th Street so filmgoers can find more information on how to become involved in various causes brought up in the films.

"We don't want people to watch a film, say 'I'm bothered by this,' and just walk out thinking there is nothing they can do," Beeck says.

"Wild Horse, Wild Ride," a documentary chronicling 100 trainers who were given 100 days to train a wild horse before competing in the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, is a part of the Call 2 Action lineup this year.

Colorado Horse Rescue's executive director, Judy Smetana, will be in the related Call 2 Action tent to answer questions after the Feb. 18th screening. 

"The film fits with our mission to rescue, rehabilitate and adopt horses to forever homes," says Smetana. "The training piece of the Mustang Makeover is so important. We also put our horses through training and it helps the adoption process tremendously."

For Smetana, being a part of BIFF's Call 2 Action is a way to connect with the local community in a deeply influential way.

"It helps build awareness around horses, training and adoption," says Smetana.

Also reappearing this year is the Digital Media Symposium (DiMe), happening 1-6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16. DiMe provides the opportunity for local and national digital entertainment industry innovators (including musicians, video-game makers, digi-comics, animators) to gather, learn and share. Two-time Academy Award-winner and co-founder of Pixar, Alvy Ray Smith, will be delivering the keynote address.

For the younger film enthusiasts, ages 13-18, a free workshop on how to make a short film will be held in the Canyon Theater of the Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Ave., from 12:30-2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19.

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Films will be screened at the Boulder Theater, Boulder High School and First United Methodist Church.

Workshops and panel discussions will take place in Boulder Public Library's Canyon Gallery.

Ticket prices vary according to the event. Most individual screening tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and adults 65 and older. A four-day pass costs $345.

Full schedule, addresses and ticket information can be found online at Biff1.com.

Tickets may be purchased online or by calling the Boulder Theater at 303-786-7030.