Second annual Mimesis Documentary Festival brings over 80 projects to first in-person event

Daily Camera
By Kalene McCort
July 31, 2021

Running Aug. 4-10, the artist-focused festival will feature workshops, installations and more

Mimesis is a word that carries many meanings, including “resemblance, receptivity, representation and the act of expression.”

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Mimesis Center — originally founded in 2016 as the Center for Documentary and Ethnographic Media — allows up-and-coming creatives to dive deep into the art form of documentary film making by exploring the many layered shapes it can take on.

With a focus on encouraging profoundly personal, underrepresented and culturally-specific works to bloom, Mimesis cultivates boundary-pushing material whose influence stretches long after credits roll.

Last year, the center launched its inaugural Mimesis Documentary Festival, but the event — in keeping with COVID-safe guidelines — was strictly virtual. This year, the fest returns with workshops, at-home and venue-based screenings, conversations with world-renowned film makers and other intriguing offerings.

The festival will open — on Wednesday, at The Dairy Arts Center’s Boedecker Cinema — with “Film About A Father Who” by award-winning documentarian Lynne Sachs. Through a series of thoughtfully curated home movies, images and interviews, Sachs creates a captivating collage steeped in nostalgia that also carries the complexities of familial relationships.

On Aug. 7, she will lead a workshop “Day Residue” that will prompt attendees to utilize fragments of their daily lives as fodder for film poems.

Award-winning Portuguese film director Pedro Costa — the festival’s featured artist — will give a master class on editing at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 8 at Grace Gamm Theater, within the Dairy Arts Center.

His 2019 film “Vitalina Varel” will be screened at 7:15 p.m. on Aug 6., and his 2014 film “Horse Money” will be shown at 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 8, both at Boedecker Cinema with the Dairy Arts Center.

Aside from a variety of visually and emotionally compelling features and shorts, installations that utilize film and other materials to enhance the art of storytelling can be found at CU Boulder’s B2 Center for Media Arts and Performance.

“Blowback,” by Nima Bahrehmand, is a three-channel synchronized video and sound installation sourced from a found footage video, streamed online, from a location in the Middle East. It can be viewed from Thursday through Aug. 10.

“24 Cards,” displays the artful decades-long postcard correspondence between filmmakers Abraham Ravett and the late Donald Richie.

There are several audio documentaries; “Put the Brights On” sheds light on the experience of transgender individuals residing in rural Minnesota.

From docufiction to experimental selections, over 80 projects aim to stir something in viewers.

There are a variety of ticketing options and festival passes are $270. CU Boulder faculty, staff and students are eligible for a 50% discount on most tickets and passes. Some free tickets will be offered to CU Boulder students.

We caught up with Mimesis Center Director Eric Coombs Esmail to find out more about the upcoming festival, some of the documentaries that have had a lasting impact on him through his life and his latest film project that spotlights the stories of homeless citizens seeking refuge in the tree-lined national forests of Colorado.

Daily Camera: What inspired you to bring Mimesis to Boulder and what are you most looking forward to about this year’s upcoming fest?

Eric Coombs Esmail: Mimesis is an initiative of the Center for Documentary and Ethnographic Media at the University of Colorado Boulder. We support documentary production, pedagogy, and exhibition at CU and the festival serves part of that mission by acting as the focal point for building a strong documentary community in our region and exhibiting unique international work. As this will be our first year in-person with physical events, I am most excited to see that community come together on opening night on August 4, at the Dairy Arts Center, to celebrate the outstanding work of the programming team and all this year’s Mimesis artists.

DC: What do you think sets Mimesis apart from other festivals?

ECE: We are an artist-focused festival. For us, this means a commitment to programming at least 80% of our lineup from the open submission process, rather than through distributors or direct relationships. Our team actually watches each project submitted — more than once — and they are carefully curated into programming blocks so that every selected work really shines. We also are quite different in that we accept works of expanded documentary arts, including installation and interactive projects — installed in the B2 Center for Media, Arts and Performance in the Atlas building on the CU Boulder campus.

Our programming is unique and brings international documentary to Boulder that you simply won’t see anywhere else.

DC: Do you recall the first documentary that had an impact on you and prompted you to want to get into this form of storytelling?

ECE: There’s not really one specific project, but I remember being blown away by a range of works, like Gottheim’s “Fogline,”, Flaherty’s “Man of Aran,” Jacobs’s “Little Stabs at Happiness,” Kopple’s “Harland County, USA” and so many others. What really captured my imagination was the idea that the documentary impulse exists in all art, from the experimental to the traditional. When art is articulated through the lens of documentary, we get so much more than simple information — we get to share in the lived experience of others in a powerful, embodied way. Mimesis is all about creating a space in our community for that to happen, and to celebrate the artists whose labor makes those experiences possible.

DC: I know this is the first in-person festival of Mimesis, but what would you say you hope for the evolution of the fest?

ECE: We have decided that Mimesis will always be a hybrid event. We learned in the pandemic that flexible access points for artists and audiences is critically important and that hybridity allows for productive participation that in-person only events simply do not.

We will always be a festival that centers artists and their work and that builds community in a grassroots way. While we welcome industry participation, we will never be industry oriented. Our goal each year will be to create an event that is valuable to our artists and unique for our audiences. With our community’s support, we intend to continue growing our festival and expanding our programming each year.

DC: I read that you are currently working on a documentary feature that focuses on houseless communities that live and travel through Colorado’s national forests. What has your experience been like capturing this so far and when can we look forward to a release?

ECE:American Refuge” investigates the strange and complex history of the national forests around Nederland. Shooting is challenging, fast-paced and exciting. We’ve found so many amazing people — both housed and unhoused — who use the forest as a place of refuge and respite and of transformation and recovery — but not without significant risk. The pandemic put a hold on production for a year, but we are set to finish principal photography at the end of this summer with a festival run starting in 2022. Curt Heiner, our founding festival director, is also a producer on the project.