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Francis Ford Coppola and (then-mayor of Denver) John Hickenlooper. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

Scenes from 40 Years of the Denver Film Festival

An intimate look at some of the Denver Film Festival's most memorable moments, in honor of its 40th anniversary.

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Morgan Freeman. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“When I lived in New York, Morgan Freeman and I lived in the same neighborhood. At that time we traveled in some of the same social circles and Morgan was mostly doing Broadway and Off Broadway productions. When he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Denver Film Festival in 2004, it was so nice to see him in that capacity. He was the same guy, but with better opportunities and hopefully a better paycheck.” —Bob Denerstein, former Rocky Mountain News film critic

Sean Penn
Sean Penn. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“In 2000 the festival gave the [Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award] to Sean Penn. This was a major turning point in the festival’s history because this was the first time the festival had ever given the award to a household celebrity. Once this happened everything changed. The expectation that the festival would host a well known Hollywood guest every year thereafter was planted.” —Brit Withey, artistic director

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LIlian Gish
Lillian Gish. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“What you have to remember about Lillian Gish is that she was one of the longest living actors from the silent era. She was very regal. About ten journalists gathered in a private room to interview Ms. Gish and while she was talking our photographer, Larry Laszlo, was taking photos. She stopped mid sentence and looked up at Larry and said ‘Don’t take my photo while I’m talking because I don’t like to be photographed with my mouth open. Here, you may take your photo now,’ and she threw Larry a practiced smile” —Howie Movshovitz, KUNC film critic

Kyra Sedgwick / Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“In 2004, Kevin Bacon received the John Cassavetes Award from the film festival. He brought his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, who happens to be receiving the same award this year, and their two kids – Travis and Sosie. At the time they were little kids and I nicknamed them the “Bacon Bits” as short-hand for how I referred to them in planning out their schedules. I’ve always held so much esteem for Kyra Sedgwick as an actress but when she was here with her kids, I realized she was so much more, so was also working mom raising some great kids. She’s an inspiration.”—Britta Erickson, festival director

Jonathan Demme
Jonathan Demme. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“The most fun I have ever had at a the Denver Film Festival with an audience was in the Paramount Theater when they showed Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense. It was the first time the film played in Denver and the audience was totally into it. It is the type of film that gets you up out of your chair and makes you want to move. The auditorium was rocking. I would argue it is the greatest concert film ever made. It was a great experience to have with an audience.” —Bob Denerstein, former Rocky Mountain News film critic

Coen Brothers
Joel David Coen and Ethan Jesse Coen. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“The Coen Brothers attended the festival in 1984 with their first feature, Blood Simple. We actually screened the film here in Denver before they showed it at Sundance a few months later. I shared a shuttle bus with Joel and Ethan from Salt Lake City to Park City in January for that festival. It would end up being their first of many visits to Sundance.” —Ron Henderson, DFF founder

Jeff Goldblum / Geena Davis
Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“I once spent an evening with Jeff Goldblum. He did not spend it with me, however. Nor did he have much to say. We were in my 1936 Bentley and went to the governor’s mansion for a party and then to other events. The entire time we were together, he was all over a girl in the back seat who no one knew at the time. Her name is Geena Davis.” —Steve Weil, festival volunteer

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Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola and (then-mayor) John Hickenlooper. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“When Francis arrived at Centennial Airport, he got off the plane wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. It was mid-October but he had flown in straight from the Caribbean. where he’d left behind his hair brush. I told him we’d have the hotel get him one but he insisted that he purchase one on his own. Watching one of the greatest directors of all time walk into a Walgreens on South Broadway, wearing island gear on a cool fall day, to buy a hair brush is something you never forget.” —Britta Erickson, festival director

Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“In 1982, the opening night film was ‘Threshold’ and its star, Donald Sutherland, was in attendance. Sorry to say, he was a little distracted from his celebrity duties since his beloved Montreal Expos were playing the New York Mets at the very time his film was screening. So, after a quick introduction to the audience and a promise to reappear after the movie for the customary Q&A, he went looking for a pay phone. Sadly, the Mets won 9-4.” —Larry Laszlo, festival photographer

Ang Lee
Ang Lee. Photo courtesy of Larry Laszlo.

“Before Ang Lee landed in Denver, I received a call from his assistant that Ang had injured his eye and he needed to see an ophthalmologist as soon as he landed. It really says something about our festival community because I only had to put out a couple of calls to folks and within no time flat, an ophthalmologist called me to say he was headed to his office to open up and awaited our arrival. It turned out that it was only a minor scratch and Ang kept genuinely apologizing to the doctor that we’d interrupted his Saturday. Not surprising given Ang’s gentle and sweet manner. He was a pleasure to host.” —Britta Erickson, festival director

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