Offseason comes alive on the silver screen

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
“Ida,” the Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language film from Poland, is the first of six films being screened at the Wheeler Opera House in May.
Courtesy photo |

Aspen is no stranger to great films. We have Aspen Filmfest in the fall, Shortsfest in the spring and the Academy Award Screenings over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. But local movie man Jon Busch will argue that the films being screened at the Wheeler Opera House in May are just as impressive.

“We try to book films that have not played in Aspen before,” said Busch, whose Wheeler Film Society, in collaboration with the Wheeler Opera House, is presenting six films during this month’s “mini festival.” “And we try to get ones that have won prizes and awards.”

On this note, Busch has been successful. Four of the six films being screened were Oscar nominees (three in the Foreign Language category, including the winner). The other two films come with some serious street cred, too.

“There’s a lot of buzz and word of mouth around ‘What We Do In The Shadows,’” said Busch, explaining that the film sold out every screening when it played the Hawaii International Film Festival (and more were added) and recently wrapped up a monthlong-plus run at the Mayan Theatre in Denver. “And we’re only showing it once, … so, if you snooze, you lose.”

The same holds true for all the films beings screened in May, Busch said.

“Each of these films is only playing only once, which means you have to come see it that night or you miss your chance,” he said. “That said, it’s a good idea to get your tickets now for our first film, Ida, as it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.”

“Ida,” by acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Last Resort,” “My Summer of Love”), shows Sunday. According to the Wheeler, it is a drama about a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who, on the verge of taking her vows, discovers a dark family secret dating from the terrible years of Nazi occupation. It features 18-year-old Anna (played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska), a sheltered orphan raised in a convent who is preparing to become a nun. When the Mother Superior insists she first visit her sole living relative, innocent Anna soon finds herself in the presence of her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a worldly and cynical Communist Party insider who shocks her with the declaration that her real name is Ida and her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. This revelation triggers a heart-wrenching journey to the family house in the countryside and into the secrets of the repressed past, evoking the haunting legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar communism.

Busch said it is the type of film that he wishes he could bring more of to Aspen audiences.

“One of the problems is that live theater takes up so many nights,” he said. “But what we are able to do in these few weeks of May is very exciting; I just wish we could do more.”