After two years of cancellations and virtual screenings due to the coronavirus pandemic, in-person film festivals are officially back in Colorado this summer. Whether you head to the mountains of Telluride or Colfax Avenue in Denver, here are some of the best events at which to see everything from blockbuster films to underground cinema.  

Mountainfilm

If you find yourself devouring documentaries about epic climbing summits or athletes overcoming impossible odds, this is the festival for you. Every Memorial Day weekend for more than 40 years, Mountainfilm in Telluride has screened some of the best films about crazy adventure exploits, environmental issues, and more. Notable movies that have shown at the event in past years include Raj Patel’s The Ants & the Grasshopper about a Malawian activist who travels the world preaching the threat of climate change and climate injustice, and Jo Ardinger’s Personhood, which highlights America’s growing system of laws that target and criminalize pregnant women. May 26–30; $99–$5,000

What to See: The Holly will have its world premiere on Friday, May 27 at the Sheridan Opera House at 8 p.m. The documentary, which is an accompaniment to the book of the same name by journalist Julian Rubinstein, follows the anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts over the course of eight years. In 2013, Roberts shot a gang member at a peace rally intended to help save Holly Square, an important civil rights landmark in the Park Hill neighborhood. Roberts was acquitted for the shooting and released on a $100,000 bond. He returned to northeast Denver to rebuild his reputation, but the event revealed the complexities of a community dealing with cycles of violence.

Cinema Q Film Festival

The local Cinema Q Film Festival has been dedicated to elevating the voices of the LGBTQ community since 2008. Attendees can catch films that bring visibility to issues often left out of the picture in mainstream film, like gay marriage, the AIDS crisis, the history of Christian conversion camps, and transgender rights. This year’s event will take place at Sie FilmCenter in Denver, after conducting virtual screenings since the onset of the pandemic. August 11–14; ticket price information will become available closer to event start date

What to Expect: While the official 2022 lineup has yet to be released, Denver Film’s artistic director Keith Garcia’s favorite screening at last year’s Cinema Q was director Todd Stephens’ feature Swan Song. The film follows a retired gay hairdresser, who, in his final days, escapes from a nursing home to style a former client’s hair for her funeral. Making it to the funeral is a challenge, however, and the journey finds the main character back in his hometown where he faces the ghosts of his past.

Telluride Film Festival 

The Telluride Film Festival (TIFF) gives some of the most prominent film gatherings in the world—including Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and Sundance in Park City, Utah—a run for their money. Each September, the event’s slate of screenings brings some of the biggest names in movies (think: Barry Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff, Francis Coppola, Jack Nicholson, and many more) to Colorado to promote upcoming projects, conduct panels, and roam our state’s gorgeous San Juan Mountains. September 1–6; $390–$4900; All 2022 passes are currently sold out. Email the administration at passes@telluridefilmfestival.org to inquire about their waitlist. It is also possible to buy same day passes to individual movies (prices vary).

What to Expect: TIFF doesn’t reveal what films will be screening until the weekend of the event. But the lineup is typically chock-full of some of the most anticipated documentaries and feature films of the year. Last year, attendees had the opportunity to see Kristen Stewart during a Q&A panel for her starring role in Spencer, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, as well as a talk with Jane Campion, who won an Academy Award for Best Director for her film The Power of the Dog.

Breck Film Festival

The Breck Film Festival in Summit County has already received more submissions to participate in this year’s event than ever before in its 42-year history. Expect to see inspiring, uplifting, and community-based films that fit this iteration’s theme of “Where the story begins next.” The event also puts on a kids program, which allows future cinephiles the chance to watch animated features, eat snacks, make crafts, and interact with filmmakers for free all day on Saturday. September 15–18; Early bird priced passes are available from June 1 to July 7 and start at $140. 

What to See: Drinkwater, a feature film by acclaimed director Stephen Campanelli, is expected to have its world premiere during the festival’s opening night (though that has not been officially confirmed yet). The movie is a coming-of-age tale that follows Mike Drinkwater, an anxious and awkward teen living in British Columbia, Canada, as he tries to survive high school, parental mishaps, and learn the importance of adolescent friendships.