The 29th Starz Denver International Film Festival opens this week and runs for ten days. Movie Habit will have four, maybe five writers contributing to coverage of the fest. We’re here to give you a little preview of some of the things that we’re most looking forward to, as well as some advice on attending the festival.
The fun thing about film festivals is that you have the opportunity to see films that may never play in theaters, like short films. A well-made short can be as interesting and memorable as a feature-length movie.
That’s not to knock feature-length films. For me, the more obscure movies often stand out at film festivals. Some of them may be rough around the edges, but they tend to have creativity and originality that are missing from many Hollywood movies. I remember one from 2004 called Human Error, which was basically a three-man play set in a factory, with unsettling computer-generated backgrounds evoked a feeling of claustrophobia. The movie had its flaws, as I recall, and Movie Habit gave it only two stars, but I still remember it’s ominous imagery.
If it’s film itself and not all the glamor and clamor of stars strutting the red carpet that sparks your interest, some of the most fun you’ll have is at the shorts programs. You’ll find me at one of the screenings of a program called “ART=LIFE,” three short films about creativity, including “Defying Gravity,” about architect Daniel Libeskind and the team who built the Denver Art Museum’s soaring new Frederic C. Hamilton wing. Also of local interest is the “Colorado Filmmakers: Documentary” program, featuring “Shaken,” in which Boulder director Deborah Fryer literally gets inside the head of a man with Parkinson’s disease; other nonfiction films in this program explore ways people respond to tragedy and death with grace and humor. I’ve found the narrative films in the local programs in earlier years to be not only funny but also inspiring; the Colorado film scene has spawned many talented directors. This year’s program, “Colorado Filmmakers: Narrative,” looks just as intriguing, with, among others, “Harry & Greta,” a retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale “Hansel and Gretel” that involves a couple down on their luck and the little old lady standing between them and their desires, and “Indie Film Adventures,” in which one fellow aims for autonomy in the wild world of independent film.
The Starz Denver Film Fest has dropped the “I” for international this year and is shining a regional spotlight on Canada, whence many of the short films in the program “Brief Encounters of the Animated Kind” originated. Other collections of short films to investigate include “Life Squared,” “Pocket-Sized Portraits: Independent Spirits,” “Secrets and Lives,” “Short Circuits,” and “Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision” (celebrating and showcasing the work of an award-winning animator).
When considering which full-length films to see, I find it easier to narrow my choices by selecting one theme. Several films about filmmaking and the filmmaking industry look worthwhile (such as cinematographer Haskell Wexler’s investigation of work conditions in Hollywood called “Who Needs Sleep?”), but this year I’ll focus on features and documentaries about rock music: “Kurt Cobain: About A Son” is on my list, along with “We Like to Drink, We Like to Play Rock ‘n’ Roll” (preceded by the short film “Moosecock”), and “Shut Up and Sing,” about the Dixie Chicks and the fallout from their anti-Bush remarks. “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny,” featuring Jack Black, Tim Robbins, and Ben Stiller, looks like good fictional fun.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to cover nearly as much this year as I have in years past. That’s too bad, because as exhausting as it is to immerse yourself in hours and hours of obscure, independent film, there’s something invigorating about it as well. Seeing a cheaply produced film from Germany can look surprisingly similar to an independent American film, until the characters start talking about “kids these days” not knowing what life was like under Communist rule. Film is universal, and it can be intensely local, too. What better medium to explore the human condition?
This year, instead, I’m focusing on a few of the more prominent films. I can recommend Pan’s Labyrinth, a great-looking fantasy film from Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy), and although I had mixed feelings about Breaking and Entering, the opening-night movie, I admired Minghella’s mastery of the texture of film. Hopefully I’ll get an interview with him while he’s in town.
I’m thrilled to see that six very promising titles have been scheduled to play in Boulder at the International Film Series as part of the DIFF, including Pan’s Labyrinth, the latest film from Tony Gatlif, and a nice little horror-comedy I saw in Telluride called Severance.
I also plan to keep my ear to the ground for those few breakout gems that seem to come from out of the blue. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch one or two between the time the buzz starts and the time the last show sells out.
If someone dies, don’t cry because of their death, cry only because it wasn’t filmed. Cinema sustains life, and film festivals are the spice.