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Film Festivals of the World: U.S. Comedy Arts Aspen

by Katharine Leis

Looking for a lot of laughs, celebs, and skiiing? Got a few extra dollars to spend? Then be sure to consider Aspen in March as your next vacation. If the last few years have been any indication, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival is one chuckle-packed week that can't be beat!

U.S. Comedy Arts Festival ASPEN


Where it be at: Aspen, CO
When it be at: Mid March 2006, was in Mid February 2005.
How expensive it be: US$600 for Black Diamond Pass. This will get you 5 days of films, live shows including stand up, comedy theater and awards/panels. Other passes with less oomph are $200 and $300, and a locals only pass is $99. Individual movie and show tickets can also be purchased.

Number of films screened: 23 features and 23 shorts

Value for money: Though it doesn’t seem to make sense to say $600 for 5 days of entertainment is a bargain, it truly is. The venues are all small, the largest being around 300 seats, so you have VIP quality seats to every show. If the comedians are not famous this year, they probably will be next year. I’d recommend going for the Black Diamond pass over the more limited ones, as the Black Diamond guarantees admittance to the shows that will sell out while the others do not.

What you'll see: Uber high quality short films and features with a comedy flair, or made by famous comedians. Shorts range from two to twenty plus minutes, animated and live action. Features all are of the type that will probably be in theaters or at least on cable channels. Live performances and stand up by up and comers, stars, and headliners.

Celebrity-spotting: They’re everywhere! As it is Aspen, the number of people in the city and at the events is much less than normal cities. The city itself is known as a celebrity haven for skiing, so some may not even be there for the festival. Expect to run into them at Starbucks or be seated next to them at events or in theaters. Guests of the festival have included Goldie Hawn, Sarah Silverman, Jim Carrey, Conan O’Brien, Garry and Scott Marshall, Dane Cook, Dave Chapelle, Jon Favreau, and oodles more.

Accommodation: Get your wallet out and up the limit on your credit cards. Staying in Aspen is expensive, no matter how you slice it. There are some hotels and lodges located on the outskirts of the city that are somewhat more reasonably priced, if by more reasonable you’re talking less than $600 a night. Book these early. The Tyrolean Lodge is the best deal I found, with rates around $130 a night. The main digs are at the St. Regis, a magnificent hotel which is 5 star all the way. Though the rooms are very expensive, you’d be just an elevator ride away from some of the best events, which take place in the St. Regis Ballroom.

Transport: Get yourself a comfortable pair of insulated boots. Aspen is maybe 20 blocks squared, and cabs and cars exist, but I never used them except for getting to the airport. The venues are spaced around a 5-10 minute walk form each other, so nothing is a true hike. That’s one major bonus on saving money as you really do not need to use ground transportation unless you want to venture outside the city.

Parties: Parties, parties everywhere! Some were sponsored around certain people, films, or events and were at the SkyBar at the base of the mountain, some were at restaurants, and though I didn’t venture to any on the mountain, I heard there were plenty there. Keep your eyes and ears open. People are pretty friendly, and most invitations are good for more than one person. The sponsored parties were all open bar, appetizers served by tray throughout. Appetizers included some of the most decadent and amazing food I’ve ever tasted. They really do go all out.

Best venues: The Wheeler Opera House and the front room at the St. Jerome. The Wheeler Opera House was the venue for the AFI Star award, this year given to Goldie Hawn. Imagine a two-tier grand theater in a classic style with plush, comfortable seats and an incredibly high ceiling. That’s the Wheeler, but even nicer. The front room at the St. Jerome Hotel was the venue for the nightly “Fireside chats” series. The series included talks with producers, distributors, directors, and such, and was an intimate, full but not over full gathering. The room would best be described as all of your friends with nice houses’ living rooms put together…wing chairs, comfortable sofas, arm chairs, and of course a bar, neatly placed to accommodate many conversations and allow for walking room in between.

Worst venues: The Tent – Realistically, this wasn’t even a bad venue, but if I had to pick one, it would be the tent. It was a huge tent in the middle of a field. Once inside, it was well insulated, the seats and the sound system were good, and the stage was set where every seat in the place had a good view. Outside, particularly at night and while snowing, the line up before the venue was a little annoying. It was cold, and the inner waiting area was small. Not terrible, but not my favorite place to wait.

Places to hang out: The Isis Theatre is where all the films are screened. Out front of the screens is a small area with a table of freebies and room to chat and mingle with other people. There aren’t any chairs, but you can strike up and end a dozen conversations and learn a lot about what’s good, what’s great, and which films are getting the most buzz. The lobby restaurant at the St. Regis Ballroom is also a favorite spot in the early evening through to the night. Seating is limited, but a small crowd usually spills out into the lobby area. A great place to unwind before turning in for the evening, for a snack or a glass of wine and to talk a bit with fellow filmgoers.

Traps for young players: Like most things, food can be pricey. Unless you’ve got lots of money to burn, steer away from the fancy restaurants nestled between the shops on the main streets. You’ll get a gourmet meal, but you may have to mortgage your house by the end of the week. There are lots of options along the outer street that offer specials. I went to a little pizza place that had a $10 lunch special of a small pizza and salad…probably the best pizza and salad I’ve ever had, but surprisingly there was no one else in the restaurant. Menus are often posted outside, make sure to check before entering.

Press facilities/access: Incredible! Along with the unbelievably friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful staff from Rubenstein Communications, the press room in the St. Regis was a dream come true. Coffee, tea, sodas and a buffet of snacks were stocked during the day, and they even provided a breakfast every morning. Large screen computers, fax, and copy machine were provided for use by the press. A table of cards and press kits was just outside the room for filmmakers to stock at will. Ticket exchange was fast and courteous. Upon arrival, I met with Tammie Rosen who sat down with me and gave me the scoop on many of the films and shows. I highly suggest meeting with someone if you can before tackling the festival. The information she provided me was much more than I could have hoped for, and helped me make a game plan to get the most out of the festival. With so much going on in just a few days, it helped immensely.

The 2006 lineup offered a grand variety of comedy: a/k/a Tommy Chong, American Dreamz, Art School Confidential, Bickford Schmeckler's Cool Ideas, Conversations With Other Women, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Fired!, Friends With Money, Kinky Boots, A Prairie Home Companion, The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang, Thank You For Smoking, and about a dozen others. For a closer look at our Comedy Fest coverage click right here!

The eFilmCritic final grade for U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Aspen: A+. Expensive but worth it, and if you skip the fancy restaurants and souvenirs, it’s really comparable to any large city considering what you’ll save on transportation. Top notch entertainment, from both legends and future legends of comedy. It’s almost like a fashion show of comedy entertainment as you’ll see up close and personal the people and shows that the rest of the country will be raving about in the year or two to follow. Planning and budgeting are key to having an incredibly memorable and awesome time.

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originally posted: 04/25/06 20:20:05
last updated: 05/02/06 11:42:41
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