These Colorado documentaries are now touring the global film festival circuit
The world is learning about Colorado through two documentaries currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit.
Julian Rubinstein’s feature documentary, Holly, following a book of the same name, recently won the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries at Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival over Memorial Day weekend. Rubinstein, 53, a visiting journalism professor at the University of Denver, is now seeking a distribution deal.
The Holly discusses the 2013 shooting of a suspected gang member by Terrance Roberts, a former gang leader turned anti-gang activist. The story takes place in a part of the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver known as The Holly, a historically black neighborhood in northeast Denver.
Rubenstein started working on it in 2014 and completed the project for around $500,000.
“At the heart of the story was this shooting case that I was trying to figure out what happened,” he said in a recent interview. “And there’s an incredible amount of archival footage that I discovered or was given to me that also helped tell a visual story that I thought had a lot of power.”
There was never really any question that Roberts shot the man, leaving him paralyzed. But the 100-minute film focuses on suspense over whether his self-defense claim would sway the jury. Roberts was acquitted.
“I was, on the day of the verdict, extremely just agitated and stressed,” recalls Rubenstein. “And I just remember being in that courtroom, feeling my heart racing.”
It was a sentiment he hoped to convey to an audience.
“When I was editing, I knew the outcome…” Rubinstein said. “If I could just manage to recreate the tension and the suspense, really that I felt while telling the story, I would be able to create a suspenseful and intriguing documentary.”
Filmmaker Adam McKay has now signed on as executive producer, and Rubenstein is waiting to see if that will allow the film to gain distribution and find a wider audience.
Roberts, 45, who went to the Telluride festival with Rubenstein, said he loved the film.
“I got to see for the first time what other people were saying to him when I wasn’t there, because I had never seen the footage and didn’t know it,” he said. “It was weird seeing me like this and for him to squeeze all these different times into an hour and a half, and those things took years.”
Colorado’s other film played on an even bigger stage. Marcel Narucki is the subject of “My Father’s House” a 16-minute look at the evolution of an Aurora Church. It was produced by Amanda Blaurock, who, like Rubenstein, is a first-time filmmaker.
The 46-year-old Denver resident has worked as an intellectual and international property attorney for the past 20 years. She decided to try her hand at filmmaking with a short documentary about the transition from St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church to Aurora. It opened in 1949 and at one point had about 300 parishioners, but as demographics changed and the church lost attendees, it became a spiritual community center in 2018, renamed the Village Exchange Center. It is a place of worship for people from all over the world. It also distributes food and provides other community services.
“We have four different Christian congregations,” said Blaurock, who is the executive director. “So a Bhutanese Nepalese, Akachin, from Myanmar, Burma. And a Congolese and the African Americans,” she said. “And then sporadically throughout the year we have different Hindu and Buddhist festivals.”
The short was made for around $35,000 and it won the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase in the Documentary Category at the American Pavilion at Cannes Film Festival in 2020. Due to the pandemic, Blaurock went for the award at the festival this year .
The church has now been redesigned with an architect and now has 200 seats, an 80ft ceiling and retractable bleachers.
Pastor Marcel Narucki, 63, said the film can reframe how people see the value of churches in transition.
“People who maybe have been churchgoers at one time or another, and they watch the documentary and they think, ‘Gee, the church can be like this. The church can do things like this.'”
Next month, the film will be at the Wyoming International Film Festival, according to Blaurock.