At the end of each Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF), I impatiently begin waiting for the next one (a macro parallel to the around-the-block lines to catch the films during each fest). Alas, the wait is over, as BIFF returns to downtown Boulder March 5 to 8. This year, more than 50 films from 25 countries will play at five venues around town. Forty-plus filmmakers and movie subjects will be on-site for presentations and Q&As, including this year’s Career Achievement Award recipient Alan Arkin. There will be after parties, a themed cook-off featuring eight area chefs, singer-songwriter showcases and more.

But the real draw for the festival is, of course, the films. Crowd into the deservedly popular shorts presentations, race for tickets to Boulder filmmaker Louie Psihoyos’s new eco-thriller Racing Extinction, and catch these five beautiful and illuminating films (if you can):

Lion Ark: Bolivia was one of the first countries to ban animal circuses after evidence of rampant cruelty, yet the show went on. This film follows activists from Animal Defenders International as they worked to free 25 lions from these circuses and relocate them to Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary. In this moving and inspiring piece, witness the unbroken spirit of these human activists and the resilience of these kingly predators. Activist/producer Jan Creamer, director Tim Phillips, and Wild Animal Sanctuary’s Pat Craig will be on hand at the film’s screening; March 7, 10 a.m.; Boulder High School, 1604 Arapahoe Ave.

Austin to Boston: Follow four bands as they embark on a low-budget trek across the eastern half of the U.S. in a handful of vintage Volkswagen vans. This film captures beautiful stage (and impromptu campsite) performances from Denver’s own Nathaniel Rateliff, the lone U.S. act on this tour, along with the U.K.’s Ben Howard, Bear’s Den, and The Staves. Driver and resident VW mechanic Gill Landry (of Old Crow Medicine Show fame) is our guide, as his poetic narration perfectly compliments the film’s beautiful cinematography—including a Super 8 view of the American landscape. Escaping the pitfalls of Behind the Music-style melodrama, this film provides a joyous journey for music fans. Nathaniel Rateliff performs live at the film’s screening; March 7, 5:15 p.m.; Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St.

A Place to Stand: This gripping film reveals the inexplicable transformation of Jimmy Santiago Baca—from an illiterate convict to acclaimed poet. At age 21, a drug-dealing Baca was incarcerated for narcotics in Arizona State Prison—one of the roughest penitentiaries in the country. During this time, Baca taught himself to read and write, and discovered a preternatural poetic skill. Today, he’s a celebrated poet, novelist, and screenwriter, and shares his passion by teaching writing workshops in prisons. The film uses interviews with Baca, family members, fellow inmates, and experts, along with patient camerawork, to illustrate his gruesome past and inspiring awakening. Jimmy Baca and director Daniel Glick will attend the film’s screening; March 8, 10 a.m.; Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St.

1971: At the close of the Vietnam War, the FBI was one of the most feared organizations in the nation. “Even the presidents of the United States were afraid of the FBI,” says one of eight citizens who broke into an FBI branch in Media, Pa., in March of 1971, uncovering evidence of the agency’s illegal surveillance programs and attempts to dismantle the anti-war movement. The damning evidence this group found led to a congressional investigation and returned important freedoms to the American people (at least for a time). Remarkably, their identities were never revealed—until now. This documentary tells the suspenseful story with interviews and reenactments. March 8, 2:30 p.m.; First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St.

Of Men and War: This 2.5-hour meditation on Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from PTSD—a fly-on-the-wall view of the challenges of family life and painful group counseling—is a difficult and moving must-see. The film patiently explores the effects of war on the human psyche, doing so without narration or titles—doing as little as possible, in fact, to shape the message the viewer takes away (which is certain to be profound). March 8, 4:45 p.m.; First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St.

The Boulder International Film Festival runs March 5 to 8. For more information, visit

(Read about Colorado’s thriving documentary film industry)