This weekend, as many as 25,000 film buffs will descend on Boulder and its movie theaters for the 20th annual Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF). From February 29 through March 3, cinephiles can choose from more than 70 films being screened around town, armchair-travel around the globe with international cinematography that ranges from the Himalayas to the African savannah, and maybe even spot James Franco or Chevy Chase strolling the Pearl Street Mall.

But far-flung stories aren’t the only ones on tap at the BIFF. The festival has also curated the Boulder Filmmaker Showcase, a slate of shorts by local filmmakers that will be screened at the Boulder High Auditorium on Saturday, March 2, starting at 7:30 p.m (tickets $18). To get a sense for some of the Colorado stories and talent BIFF organizers have assembled, we checked in with documentarians Mike Scalisi and Bruce Borowsky of Pixel Mill Studios. The Boulderites have two films being showcased at the BIFF on Saturday: Frozen Dead Guy Days and The Sink: The Rest[aurant] is History. Both films are as quirky as they are topical. But with this year’s Frozen Dead Guy Days coming up on March 14 to 17 in Estes Park, we leaned into what the creators learned about Colorado’s weirdest festival. After all, there’s some recent news to discuss.

Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

5280: Of all the topics to cover in Colorado, you decided to take a documentarian’s lens to Frozen Dead Guy Days (FDGD). What drew you to this strange festival?
Mike Scalisi: I don’t know if there’s anything quite like a party for a frozen dead guy. To have something like that up in the mountains with costumes, weird characters, quirky people, good beer, good music…

Bruce Borowsky: Yeah, it’s a very Colorado festival. I’ve been going to festivals here for 30 years, and it’s eccentric and unique in the same way that all Colorado mountain towns are. I’ve gone to FDGD a few times, and in this case, the Colorado Film Commission contacted us to see if we’d be interested in documenting its history for a PBS documentary.

So you ended up with a 27-minute film. Does it get into the origin story of FDGD?
Scalisi: Yeah, and it all started with a guy named Trygve Bauge, whose grandfather died in Norway and had expressed to Trygve that he wanted to be cryonically frozen. So after he died, his body was first shipped to California in 1989 and frozen at a cryonics institute. Then it was put in the back of a station wagon and driven from California to Colorado, where it was put in a shed in Nederland. Trygve and his mom eventually ran into trouble with immigration and were deported. While she was in the process of deportation, she asked, “Well, what do we do about the body?” Clay Evans was the reporter who broke the story, and he’s in our film.

Then, years later, in 2002, the chamber of commerce in Nederland was looking for a kind of festival they could put on in the dead time between ski season and when summer tourists come. They were like, “What stands out about Nederland?” And someone said, “Well, there’s all the national news stories about the frozen dead guy, so let’s lean into that.”

Thus the festival was born. Were you able to find any old footage from its earliest years?
Borowsky: We were able to unearth a treasure trove of archival footage from the very early days.

Scalisi: And there are all these famous events, the biggest one being the coffin races, where one person is in a coffin and six other people hold it up and go through an obstacle course. Second to that is the polar plunge. And there was even a brain freeze contest, where they would have a carton of ice cream and people would eat it as fast as possible, of course to comedic results.

Did you learn anything in your interviews that surprised you?
Scalisi: One thing I didn’t know was that when the town was trying to come up with the theme for the festival, they were torn about leaning too much into the frozen dead guy idea. But one of the places they looked to was Fruita, Colorado, where they have the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival. And they thought, well, it’s working out amazingly for them, even with the macabre stuff. So, I think that probably won the town over.

The other thing I learned was how fast Frozen Dead Guy Days grew, from the first festival with just a couple hundred people there to the last one where I’ve heard estimates of between 20,000 and 40,000 people.

As we reported last year, those crowds led to a lot of tension in Nederland, which influenced the festival owners to sell it so it could move to Estes Park. Did you speak to anyone in Nederland about what it means to lose Frozen Dead Guy Days?
Borowsky: We definitely found people that were all over the place on how they felt. There were some people who felt strongly that they wanted the town to continue doing it, not just because it was fun, but because it brought business to the community. And then there were people on the other side that were so tired of the traffic and said, “We can’t accommodate it anymore.”

The team calling itself The Fat Elvises carried their corpse, Chris Nyul, age 12, across the finish line during the coffin race in 2007. Getty Images

I know that you followed the festival to Estes Park during its debut there last year. How did it go—did it still feel like FDGD?
Borowsky: It was a very successful festival in Estes Park, that’s for sure. They did a great job with the new iteration. But there’s a word I’d use to describe the new Estes Park iteration that you never would’ve used in 20 years in Nederland. That word is slick. The festival was slick. And it never was that way in Nederland.

Scalisi: Yeah we interviewed people who have been going for years, including winners of the Ice Queen and Ice King costume contests, who said it was bittersweet. They were locals from Nederland who miss walking to the festival from their house. But now the Blue Ball is in the ballroom at the Stanley Hotel. So they were like, “That’s a perfect fit.”

Speaking of the Stanley, its longtime owner John Cullen bought the festival and convinced Trygve to move his grandfather’s body from the shed in Nederland to a new International Cryonics Museum on the Stanley property. But news also broke in December that Cullen is selling the Stanley to an Arizona nonprofit. Does the sale threaten the security of the festival at all?
Scalisi: I know what John Cullen told us in the film, which is that he bought the festival, and then he turned around and gave it to the city of Estes Park.

Borowsky: Yeah, I think the festival will continue to go on, despite John Cullen not being there. Fortunately from what I’ve heard, the nonprofit [that bought the Stanley] also has the intention to keep everything going as is, and even to add more stuff.

That’s reassuring, and it’s certainly a topical time to screen this documentary at the Boulder International Film Festival.
Borowsky: Yeah, and along those lines, I can tell you that I’ve been submitting films to the BIFF on and off for 20 years, and I’ve never been accepted until this year, and we now have two films screening. That feels great. It feels exciting. And it’s nice to be recognized in our own community.

Chris Walker
Chris Walker
Chris writes for various sections of 5280 as well as