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Barbara Bridges leaves a lasting legacy at Denver’s Women + Film fest

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Barbara Bridges is in no hurry to figure out what comes next, but there’s sure to be more.

“I don’t know the answer to that at the moment,” said the arts champion, philanthropist and Denver Film’s Women + Film banner founder a couple of weeks after her retirement party in late March. “So, my answer is always cleaning out closets and traveling. Those are the only two things that I know about right now. And then we’ll just see.”

When the Women + Film Festival opened its 14th installment Thursday night at Denver Film’s Sie FilmCenter with the lively and smart documentary “Judy Blume Forever,” Bridge’s absence after nearly 20 years of often visionary leadership was felt — but so was her legacy. Bridges grew in her role as a film champion in tandem with her partnership with the arts organization Denver Film.

As a board member, she sponsored panels within The Women + Film Voices Film Festival and then — with the help of Tammy Brislin and guidance of Brit Withey, the organization’s inimitable programmer and late artistic director — a monthly screening under the sticky banner of Women + Film as well as a spotlight program within the annual Denver Film Festival.

In 2011, the women-focused festival was launched.

BRIDGES JOKES THAT having breakfast can be tricky. It was at a breakfast that Denver filmmaker and Oscar-winner Donna Dewey (for her 1997 documentary short, “A Story of Healing”) roped then non-filmmaker Bridges into becoming a producer on the 2006 indie “Looking for Sunday.” It was over breakfast that Jill Tietjen and Bridges agreed that the nonwriter would co-author a book about women in film as part of Tietjen’s “Her Story” history project.

“Hollywood: Her Story, An Illustrated Guide to Women and the Movies” was published in 2019. Because Bridges likes taking on new and different challenges, she then became a producer on “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’ controversial play of race and sexuality, which received 12 Tony Award nominations in 2019.

The apex of Bridges’ influence in Denver was on full display last spring when Women + Film awarded Rita Moreno its Inspiration Award and the Little Rock Nine civil rights activist Carlotta Walls LaNier its Impact Award at a sold-out luncheon at the Denver Art Museum. Both awardees received video tributes. The Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award winner (or EGOT) — sat with newscaster Anne Trujillo for a conversation.

“I didn’t have a plan,” Bridges told Trujillo of Women + Film’s impressive if vagabond journey. “Things just kept being added. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, is it time to add this?’”

When the festival was in its fifth year, in 2016, the Premiere Circle was inaugurated. Bridges and her Denver Film partners saw this engaged collection of patrons as a way to solidify the community around the year-round programming. Currently, there are some 75 people who help fund but also engage in Women + Film’s festival and year-round screenings and conversations.

“I joined the Women + Film Premiere Circle in its early years excited to meet fellow female filmmakers and watch their films,” wrote producer Susan Capitelli in an email. “The festival brought cutting-edge films that were creating buzz in the film world. Some of the heavy-hitter titles include ‘The Hunting Ground,’ ‘Miss Representation,’ and ‘Knock Down the House.’”

“Wow, Barbara knew how to get the conversation started,” wrote Capitelli, adding, “she also drew attention to local stories.”

INDEED, WOMEN + FILM provided an engaging platform for the Denver Film Festival’s world premiere of the Missy Franklin documentary “Touch the Wall” (by directors Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito). Last year, W+F screened Holly Morris’ engrossing documentary “Exposure,” about the 11 culturally diverse women who trained for an expedition to the endangered terrain of Antarctica (which Capitelli produced).

The inaugural year of the fest set the bar high when it hosted up-and-coming actor AnnaSophia Robb (who grew up in Denver) and surfer Bethany Hamilton, the woman Robb portrayed in the sports-and-faith film “Soul Surfer.”

“To me, Barbara is Women + Film and Women + Film is Barbara,” Capitelli stated. “I can’t imagine it any other way. Barbara brought Women + Film to the Denver Film audience because she recognized that women have their own unique perspective on the world, and she felt it was necessary to share them.”

It is that one-two punch that propelled Women + Film, said Bridges. “There was always two parts to it. One was the movies. I got to see all these movies about women with everybody else. But it was also always about the audience, all the people who I got to meet and share this with. I often have said that I was a movie matchmaker. Like, ‘Here’s a great movie and here’s a great audience.’ ”

(el)aescbridges01: Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th St: This is a Q & A with active philanthropist Barbara Bridges, founder of the Women + Film program which has a big even at the Starz Denver Film Festival Sunday afternoon. Photographed November 12, 2009. John Prieto, The Denver Post.Among the guests whose work on or off screen Women + Film has feted: director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, whose documentary “Miss Representation” was screened that first year; labor leader Dolores Huerta; journalist Maria Hinojosa; U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee; producer Abigail Disney; Fox News whistleblower Gretchen Carlson; and Prudence Mabhena, a Zimbabwean disability rights activist and star of Roger Ross William’s Oscar-winning short “Music by Prudence.”

Denver Film founder-director emeritus Ron Henderson was leading the organization when the first Bridges-sponsored panel, Looking for Peace in the Middle East, took place during the 2006 Denver Film Festival. “I remember that seminar as if it happened yesterday,” he said on a call. Moderated by then Colorado Public Radio journalist Lesley Dahlkemper, the panel featured three filmmakers and highlighted their films: Lilly Rivlin and Margaret Murphy’s “Can You Hear Me: Israeli and Palestinian Women Fight for Peace”; Donia Mili’s “Uprooted”; and Samira Goetschel’s “Our Own Private Bin Laden.”

In his introductory welcome before the festival even began, Henderson recalls writing that he hoped “this year’s festival can provide a peaceful meeting ground for the encounter of other cultures and the exchange of diverse ideas.” That wish turned out to reflect the prickly-then-engaged meeting of those panelists. “It was kind of a prophetic sentence that I had thrown in without knowing whether something like that would actually happen — but it did.”

At her retirement party at the Denver Country Club in late March, Bridges’ son Jeff, a Colorado state senator (and member of the important State Budget Committee), surprised the Women + Film force and the gathered when he presented her with a proclamation from Gov. Jared Polis, declaring March 23 Barbara Bridges Day. The list of “whereas” points from that document made a fitting acknowledgment of Bridges’ work with Denver Film on behalf of women filmmakers and their audiences, to be sure. But it is the notion that this week’s festival and all the other Women + Film-branded gatherings will continue, bringing together community around film, that speaks to an enduring legacy.


Women + Film Festival. Narrative features, documentaries, shorts, in-person Q&As, gatherings and a marketplace. Through April 16 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2500 E. Colfax Ave. Individual tickets and festival passes available at

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