BolderLife Festival: Building Emotional Intelligence and Empathy through Art

by Jessica Camp

BolderLife held its third annual film festival in October 2014, in The Highlands neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. This multifaceted event supports emotional education and personal growth through a range of different art forms. This year the festival ran from October 13–19 and presented fifteen international films, eight original plays, several panel discussions on women’s issues, filmmakers, human trafficking experts, and six local artists.

A majority of the programming is aimed at high school students, but the festival also attracts the general public. According to BolderLife’s website, one of the goals of the nonprofit is to address difficult and taboo topics through film, theater, fine art and dance, and then deepen the conversation with professional speakers and workshops.1 This year’s festival focused on several topics of a feminist nature through their Women’s Program, Fine Art Program, and Educational Program.

The Women’s Program included films that dealt with relevant feminist topics, such as domestic violence, political activism, and women and girls in society. One of the most moving films was Private Violence (dir. Cynthia Hill, 2014), a feature-length documentary film that follows two survivors of domestic violence. The film highlights the dark realities of intimate partner violence and the difficulty of seeking justice. After the screening, BolderLife volunteers and a licensed professional counselor facilitated a conversation with the audience about the effects of domestic violence and the role of friends and family for survivors.

Other highlights of the Women’s Program included Forbidden Voices: How to Start a Revolution with a Computer (dir. Barbara Miller, 2012) and Derby, Baby! A Story of Love, Addiction, and Rink Rash (dir. Robin Bond and David Wruck, 2012). Forbidden Voices focuses on the lives of three internationally known female bloggers: Yoani Sánchez, Zeng Jinyan, and Farnaz Seifi. These women demonstrate courage and tenacity as they risk their lives in order to expose the violations of human rights and free speech within their countries. Derby, Baby!, narrated by Juliette Lewis, explores the growing popularity of roller derby, a sport that thousands of women across the world are playing. This screening attracted many from the Denver roller derby community.

In addition to the numerous films focusing on social justice and women’s issues, the Women’s Program also built connections with the local community. “Living Out Loud: Women and Girls in Society, Business and Government” was a well-attended panel discussion that followed a compelling performance titled “Because I Am That Girl” by girls who are part of the Blossom Project. The panel was comprised of Dr. Hava Gordon, Director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Denver; Susan K. Shepherd, City Councilwoman District 1, Denver City Council; Roweena Naidoo, Director of the Self-Sufficiency Initiative at the Mile High United Way and Executive Director/Founder of The Blossom Project; Diane Feliciano, Co-founder/COO at Biocosm Corp. and Co-founder of BolderLife Festival and Director of its Women’s Programming. The casual discussion-style panel centered around struggles unique to women as they build their careers. After the panel discussion, attendees met Cleo Parker Robinson, Founder/Executive Artistic Director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, as she presented “Now Go Forth and Live out Loud!” a discussion about her role as a dancer, a diplomat, and an educator. After she shared her story she facilitated a group dance event. Participants were initially skeptical about dancing in front of others, but with a little encouragement they became engaged and enthusiastic.

Other programs highlighted issues relevant to gender and power, as well. BolderLife’s education program, for example, sought to express the global and local implications of human trafficking. One film, Im Schatten der Fremde (dir. Julian Weiss, 2014), tells the stories of young women who are manipulated into leaving Eastern Europe for Western Europe where they are sold into human and sex trafficking. After the film, Alexis Newton from the organization Free the Girls hosted a discussion between the members of the Denver Police Department, City Attorney’s Office, and nonprofit organizations, all of whom work in various arenas in the fight against human and sex trafficking.

One of the artists featured in the Fine Art Program showcased a collection focusing on human trafficking. In her exhibit “Meat~Not for Sale,” photographer Keri Mills depicts the market for human slaves and connects the female body, as sold into trafficking, to that of animals butchered for consumption. Mills’s work is reminiscent of ecofeminist work, such as that by Carol Adams.2

Perhaps the most moving part of the festival was the Bullying and Suicide Prevention Program, designed specifically for high school and middle school students. This program encourages each young person to take small steps to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of their peers with regard to bullying. The students watched Facing Fear (dir. Jason Cohen, 2013), a short documentary about 13-year-old Matthew Boger, who was attacked by a group of neo-Nazi skinheads and was given the opportunity to reconcile and forgive one of the men who attacked him years later. After the screening students were introduced to a panel of survivors of bullying and experts on the topic, including the mother of a son who committed suicide as a result from bullying. Students asked questions about survival, coping, and supporting peers who are being bullied.

BolderLife is much more than just an event that shows films. The festival offers film, dance, and motivational speakers as a way to build emotional intelligence and empathy. From Ash Beckham’s opening-night talk about coming out to Dr. Pam Gillen’s workshop about mindfulness, BolderLife seeks to engage participants in multiple ways. The festival volunteers travel from all over the world to put together this unique and eclectic festival in the heart of Denver.  

1 BolderLife Festival, “About Us.” Accessed December 1, 2014.

2 See, e.g., Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York: Continuum, 1990) and Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals (New York: Continuum, 1994).

Jessica Camp is a doctoral candidate at Texas Woman’s University in Women’s Studies where she teaches courses in Women’s Studies and Composition. She holds a MA in Women’s Studies and English and is the editorial assistant for Films for the Feminist Classroom. Jessica also serves as a committee member on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the BolderLife Film Festival, and is an active volunteer in North Texas.