The setting isn’t quite as quaint, the elevation isn’t nearly as high, the celebrities don’t really generate the same star power and the surprises are, well, not so surprising, but the thirty-first Starz Denver Film Festival still has more than enough going for it to give the prestigious Telluride Film Festival a run for its movie money.
Just remember, the key word is more. More to watch. More to love. More to hate. More to appreciate.
For starters, the 2008 version of the DFF, which opens November 13, with most screenings held at the Starz FilmCenter on the Auraria campus, offers a much more prolific lineup (at cheaper ticket prices) than its state’s trendier but pickier neighbor to the southwest.
And it lasts much longer, taking 11 days to show 215 films (including features and shorts) from close to 30 countries in what festival director Britta Erickson calls a “cinematic celebration.”
And while there are 150 or so filmmakers represented, Denver, of course, likes to show off a few of its own. Among those with local connections who will be major players at the DFF include director Rian Johnson, who attended grade school in the area and whose family still lives in Denver.
Johnson’s second feature, The Brothers Bloom, opens the DFF at the oh-so-plush Ellie Caulkins Opera House and stars Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Mark Ruffalo as two con men trying to fleece a seemingly innocent heiress played by another Oscar champ, Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener). It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September and is scheduled for limited release on December 19.
Also flying high on the radar is former University of Colorado student Amy Redford, whose father, Robert, happens to be that famous actor-director who also went to college in nearby Boulder, then later founded a little film festival in Utah called Sundance.
Amy, who has acted in films and television, is now a director, and her first feature, The Guitar, featuring an incredibly brave performance by Saffron Burrows, debuted at Sundance in January and is part of the DFF’s New Directors Showcase. It is scheduled for screenings on November 15-16.
Then there’s director-producer Daniel Junge, who was born and raised in Wyoming but graduated from Colorado College and co-founded Just Media, a Colorado nonprofit production company dedicated to social justice, with his producing partner, Henry Ansbacher.
Specializing in documentaries, Junge brings his latest, They Killed Sister Dorothy, about the aftermath of the 2005 murder of an American nun in Brazil, to the festival on November 22. He is scheduled to host a discussion of the film, which is one of six nominated as Best Documentary at the DFF and which already won both the audience award and grand jury prize at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March.
Narrated by Martin Sheen, the movie “impresses and enthralls, balancing moral outrage and courtroom melodrama in a documentary filled with the sort of colorful characters one usually encounters only in fictional crime stories,” said Variety magazine.
Okay, so these and many other films at the DFF, like festival favorite Slumdog Millionaire (which held its world premiere in Telluride), already have been shown elsewhere. So much for originality. And unlike in Telluride, which announces its lineup the day before its festival begins over Labor Day weekend, the DFF makes its list of films known more than two weeks ahead of time. So much for spontaneity.
Still, even the hardiest moviegoer might uncover some gems and isn’t going to be able to catch all the high-profile films, panels and other special events and programs (like the First Look student film section) anyway.
The DFF folks also love to give out awards, with the People’s Choice offered for narrative feature-length fiction, documentary, and short-subject. There’s also the Spotlight on Animation (including another competition, the Animation Station), best foreign film (with The Class, the winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, one of the leading contenders) and a number of individual honors.
Two already announced winners are Federico Bondi (emerging Italian filmmaker) and Carolee Schneemann (a film artist whose work celebrates Stan Brakhage's “courage, boldness, uncompromising integrity and vision.”).
If that isn’t enough, take a look at more of what the DFF has to offer:
Excellence in Acting: Character actor and underrated funnyman (Flirting With Disaster, There’s Something About Mary) Richard Jenkins, right, considered a possible Oscar nominee for his role in The Visitor, receives the honor November 15 at the Denver Newspaper Agency Theatre. He will be interviewed about his career and film clips will be shown.
John Cassavetes Award: Established in 1989 in collaboration with the late actor’s widow, Gena Rowlands, this year’s recipient is Bill Pullman (David Lynch’s eerie Lost Highway), who is recognized for making a significant contribution to the world of filmmaking and reflecting the spirit of the Cassavetes, Indepedence Day notwithstanding. It will be presented November 23, the closing night, at the screening of his new film Surveillance, which was directed by Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Chambers Lynch.
More Red Carpet Presentations
Special guests are promised at the gala screenings and exclusive cocktail receptions for these films.
In addition to The Brothers Bloom, others getting top billing include Last Chance Harvey (November 22), with Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson teaming up for the first time since Stranger Than Fiction, and Slumdog Millionaire (November 15), which along with The Wrestler is getting the most Oscar buzz of the films showing here. Slumdog, set in contemporary India, weaves The Three Musketeers, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the Taj Mahal, and torture into a tale about an impoverished boy (Jamal) and his dreams and passions. It was my favorite 2008 Telluride movie, and you can go here to read my review.
More Special Presentations
Not quite red carpet material, but expected to make noise nonetheless. Two Lovers stars Joaquin Phoenix as a manic-depressive who must choose between two women, one of whom is played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who bares more than her soul in this odd roma-drama. But Paltrow’s rumored appearance at the November 22 screening (coinciding with hubby Chris Martin’s Coldplay concert a day earlier in Denver) and Phoenix’s recent declaration that he’s giving up acting (he better not go out like this) likely will bring it more undeserved attention.
Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Wally Pfister (Batman Begins, The Prestige) will introduce special screenings of Laurel Canyon and Insomnia, but not his most recent collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight.
Oscar-winning Paul Newman, Anthony Minghella, and Sydney Pollack will be remembered at screenings of some of their work.
Newman won the best actor award for The Color of Money but the DFF will showcase three of his other films – Nobody's Fool, The Hustler and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Minghella won a best director’s Oscar for The English Patient and Pollack for Out of Africa but Denver will present The Talented Mr. Ripley, where the two collaborated as director and executive producer, respectively.
So a serious DFF attendee will undoubtedly be a fan with a plan who is ready and willing to keep coming back for more. Go here for the entire lineup. And to see more news, interviews and reviews during the 11-day run, be sure to check the Denver Film Festival series right here at BC Magazine.