First Horsetooth International Film Festival opens with an immersive experience

Ty Davis

People gathered in the lobby and socializing at The Museum of Discovery.
People take in the first-ever Horsetooth International Film Festival. (Ty Davis | The Collegian).

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery hosted the opening events of the first-ever Horsetooth International Film Festival (HIFF) this past Friday night. The three-day festival is committed to showcasing the work of filmmakers in Northern Colorado. Guests to the black-tie gala were treated to live music, food, a bar area, two screenings of 360-degree videos and Virtual Reality short films, as well as access to the museum and roof-top area to socialize.

Some would expect a film festival’s first night ever to start with something more traditional, but HIFF decided to use the Museum of Discovery’s dome theater to showcase 360-degree videos and VR footage. According to HIFF co-creator Jesse Nyander, the idea to showcase films for the dome came out of discussions with the Dome Theater manager Ben Gondrez, and their mutual desire to show off multidimensional films.

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“When this festival came around it was just a logical step and the dome was such an awesome experience that deserves this recognition,” Nyander said.

Festival co-creator John Hunt stressed wanting to bring a large variety of filmmaking to a diverse crowd, which includes experimenting with new technology.

“The dome was a really cool idea because we knew Ben Gondrez and there aren’t a lot of opportunities we know of in the country to display that format of filmmaking at a festival,” Hunt said. “So it was an opportunity to be unique and an opportunity to provide something really cool and show people what’s possible.” 

The dome presentation was a line-up of short films. Before the first showing, Hunt and Nyander gave a short introduction along with Gondrez to discuss the event’s sponsors, promote the remaining festival events and also discuss the dome technology.

First to show was “Sonolumin,” a stop motion film of long-exposure light trails, mixed with CG animation set to the titular track. The film took place in what seemed to be an abandoned plantation in the Savannah, Georgia area, where the film was reported to capture the scenes. The film made use of the 360-degree dome setting to create a dazzling melodic light show.

The second film, “La Fuga-L.” took the audience through an infinitely falling tunnel of hexagons through space as abstract imagery flashed across the screen along with a hazy voice over. The hexagonal cells each displayed one of the 10,000 images from the Apollo 5th, 8th, 10th and 11th missions, according to the events program. Although it was one of the weirder of the showings, audience members reacted positively to it.

It’s an amazing feeling to see it happening and to see tickets selling fast enough that we need to actually cut off online sales to make sure that we don’t oversell it.”-John Hunt, co-creator of Horsetooth International Film Festival.

“That, actually, was legitimately my favorite,” said audience member Emma Dawn. “I know it was a different experience for most but it was something I was really hoping to see at this kind of venue.” 

The third film “Immersive” was an abstract lightwork display making full use of the 360-degree area with a rhythmic light show performance. The fourth film was a 360-degree VR film “Nubivagant” which follows a group of climbers as they complete a free ascent up the Pica Cao Grande, a large needle-shaped volcanic plug located in Sao Tome and Principe. The film is a short look into the planning, trip and eventual ascent the team makes.

The fifth film “Tree Huggers” takes a look into Operation Old Growth’s mission to inspire conservationism with their tree climbs. 

The sixth film “Architecture in The Dome: Community Virtual Reality Experience” seemed more akin to a sales pitch than a short film, with its dry voice-over and short pitches for the use of VR in architecture. The film demonstrated and talked about the possibilities and uses of VR and digitally constructed spaces in various industries including architecture, realty and engineering.

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The final film “Voyager: The Never-Ending Journey” took the audience through a virtual tour of the many discoveries made by the 1977 voyager space program. The film showcases each discovery made by both probes for each planetary body the probes passed by.

Through some bumps in the road the audience seemed overall positive about the films shown and excited about the rest of the film festival.

“The films overall were incredible. I really did like the climbing film and the voyager film…those were really incredible and made me think back (to) home,” said Gavin Wayne, a hospitality management major at Colorado State University. 

More information about the Horsetooth International Film Festival can be found on their website

But though the audience was positive, none seemed happier than Hunt and Nyander as they bounced from conversation to conversation with the guests of the festival.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see it happening and to see tickets selling fast enough that we need to actually cut off online sales to make sure that we don’t oversell it,” Hunt said. “That was a moment of appreciation, and realizing that we’re on the right path and providing something that people are interested in, and that’s the goal.” 

Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length and clarity. 

Ty Davis can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or Twitter @tydavisACW