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Lyons roars in with Oscar contenders

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
Summit Daily/Brad OdekirkJeffrey Lyons, film critic for WNBC in New York, brings hard-to-obtain premieres to the Breckenridge Festival of Film.
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BRECKENRIDGE – Jeffrey Lyons grew up with a father who invited guests like Joe DiMaggio for dinner and who brought Lyons along as he hung out with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope in nightclubs.He watched his father write six, 1,000-word Broadway columns a week for the New York Post between 1934-1974. So it’s no wonder he became a national film critic.As the film critic for the Public Broadcast Station’s “Sneak Previews” from 1982-1996 and the film critic for WNBC since 1996, Lyons has interviewed nearly every major movie and Broadway star. The contacts he has made allows the Breckenridge Festival of Film to present premieres that often become Oscar contenders, as well as attract respected actors, directors and producers to Breckenridge.Every year, he competes with bigger film festivals such as the one in Toronto to obtain movies he thinks are must-sees.

“I fight tooth-and-nail to get them, and this year, I think we’re lucky to get the best crop of premieres we could have,” Lyons said about the 13 premieres he brings to this year’s film festival.He had given up on reeling in “Shark Tale” from DreamWorks, but at the last minute the company granted him permission. He hit a home run with Touchstone Pictures by persuading it to release “Mr. 3000” to him. To score, he had to send the books he has published on baseball, tell them he has lectured on baseball at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. and Fenway Park in Boston, and then ask how the company could deny him a movie about baseball.He predicts at least one premiere, “Motorcycle Diaries,” based on the journals of Che Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution, will be one of the big Oscar contenders.The Breckenridge Festival of Film may not have made it onto Lyons’ radar screen if it hadn’t been for a childhood connection in Chicago. Jim Rianoshek, the husband of Breckenridge resident Mary Rianoshek who co-founded the festival, used to carry Lyons’ wife’s books home from school. Because of that simple connection, Breckenridge has a richer film festival experience.

Last year, Lyons became NBC’s national film critic, which means his reviews go to 200 NBC stations.”My job is not to be a celebrity,” he said. “My job is to review movies and to recreate the average person going to the theater – not to talk about where it stands in film history or technical shots. I say what it’s about, what’s going on with the actors and where they’ve been seen before, why it works or not and is it worth $10? I try to appeal right down the middle without trying to pontificate.”His son, Ben Lyons, has followed in his footsteps by landing a spot on “Your Movie Show” with current MTV VJ SuChin Pak. In addition to hosting the show, his production company, Ruff Sketch Productions, in collaboration with Zack Sherman, is developing several television and DVD projects.Ben Lyons has become an integral part of the Breckenridge Festival of Film throughout the several years he has attended.

“Ben is bringing young executives from Hollywood this year,” Jeffrey Lyons said. “There will be a lot of industry talk and panels, and it’s all because of Ben.”One might think being a renowned film critic and rubbing elbows with so many celebrities might lead to snobbery. But the Lyons don’t have an air to them, and they don’t bring stuffy celebrities to town.”The Breckenridge Festival of Film prides itself on the laidback style with which we conduct the festival,” said Dawna Foxx, executive director. “Every year, we hear from celebrities and filmgoers alike that this is the best festival they’ve attended.”Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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