Aspen Film co-directors to leave organization

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

Longtime Aspen Film directors George Eldred and Laura Thielen will leave the nonprofit at the end of June, its board president announced Wednesday.

“Over the course of their two decades with Aspen Film, they’ve taken a humble organization that very few people knew about and elevated it to something world-renowned,” board president Howard Gross said in the announcement. “They are very, very special people.”

Eldred and Thielen joined the organization in 1995, coming from the San Francisco International Film Festival and settling in the valley with their then-four-year-old daughter. They said they plan to stay in the valley after leaving Aspen Film.

The pair has shepherded the organization through two decades of growth, helping make the Aspen Filmfest and Aspen Shortsfest a platform for emerging filmmakers and a destination for established greats in the field, and turning the Academy Screenings into a cornerstone of the holiday season in Aspen.

Thielen said she was proud that, as the organization has grown in stature, it’s stayed true to the Filmfest’s roots as the locally born, local-serving nonprofit it began as in 1979.

“It was founded to serve the community, and we’ve worked hard to preserve that community feeling — to keep it accessible to everybody,” Thielen said.

The organization also introduced its education programs, its memberships and has expanded screenings to the whole Roaring Fork Valley under Thielen and Eldred’s leadership, while adding partnerships with organizations such as the Aspen Institute (on the New Views summer documentary series) and Metropolitan Theatres (on The Showcase independent film series at the Isis).

“It’s been an adventure, but 20 years seemed like a good round number,” said Eldred of their resignation, adding that they look forward to using the newfound free time to attend other arts events, hike and catch up with friends.

Before 2013, Thielen had acted as artistic director and Eldred as programming director, choosing films and filmmakers for local events. After repeated turnover in the organization’s executive director post, the board eliminated that position and the pair took over as co-directors. At the helm over the past two years, Gross said they brought the nonprofit out of a period of financial insecurity by landing grants and cultivating Aspen Film members.

“Their contribution has been remarkable, both on an artistic and organizational basis,” Gross said. “They do fabulous programs, and they’ve anchored the organization.”

Thielen said Aspen Film is in a stable position, and she believes it will continue on an upward trajectory after she and Eldred leave it.

“The organization is in a positive place right now, and I’m confident they’ll be able to attract a talented executive director,” Thielen said. “(Aspen Film) will benefit from fresh leadership and new ideas that are going to keep Aspen Film relevant in the community and also in the film world.”

Gross said the organization is conducting a national search for Thielen and Eldred’s successor, seeking someone with film event experience and a love of the art form. The nonprofit is looking for one person to take on the role Thielen and Eldred filled as a pair.

With their tenure as co-directors ending June 30, Thielen and Eldred will serve through the annual Aspen Shortsfest (April 7 to 12) and will book films for Aspen Filmfest (Sept. 25 to 30). Filmfest presents a logistical challenge this year, as its traditional home, the Wheeler Opera House, will be closed for a fall renovation.

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