The largest film showcase in the Rocky Mountain region features red-carpet premieres, filmmaker access, late-night parties, and more. The Denver Film Festival, now in its 42nd year, is a celebration of talent and community, and that’s why people come from all over the world to attend. But while this year’s event will offer all the things cinephiles have come to expect over the years, it may also be a melancholy moment for people who know the festival’s history.

Brit Withey, who served as the festival’s artistic director since 2008, died in a car crash this past March. Having spent 23 years working for Denver Film (the nonprofit that operates the festival), Withey was a fixture in the city’s film community. “He laid the groundwork of what we know as Denver Film today,” says Britta Erickson, the festival director. “Brit left a large legacy with big shoes to fill but he did give us all the tools internally to know how to operate in his absence.”

Brit Withey, the late artistic director of the Denver Film Festival. Photo courtesy of From The Hip Photo.

The 2019 festival opens on Wednesday, October 30, at the Sie Film Center with a retrospective of films that illustrate Withey’s sensibilities including American Movie (7:30 p.m.), Frownland (6:30 p.m.) and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (7 p.m).  For some, these screenings will be an introduction to a man who laid the groundwork for the Denver Film Festival, while for others it will be a chance to remember and celebrate his life. The festival’s final screening, John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under The Influence, will take place at 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, November 10 at the Sie Film Center. “This is a film that embodies the spirit of Brit Withey,” says Festival Director, Britta Erickson. “This year, Withey gets the last word.”

The festival can be overwhelming; more than 260 films will be screening at four different venues over the course of 12 days. So, in order to make the most of your time, we recommend seeking out these 10 motion pictures.

On The Lighter Side

It is fitting that the festival’s official opening night on October 31 will be a screening of Knives Out by Rian Johnson at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. It was Brit Withey, after all, who programmed Johnson’s first feature film, Brick, which played the Denver Film Festival in 2005. Johnson, best known for directing Star Wars: Episode VII – The Last Jedi, is returning to Denver, where he lived until middle school, with his latest film, a raucous whodunnit featuring Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Colette and Daniel Craig.  Johnson will be in attendance for the screening to introduce the film and to receive the festival’s distinguished John Cassavetes award. Thursday, October 31 at 8 p.m; Elli Caulkins Opera House

The Brazilian Element

Every year, the festival selects one country to bring into focus by showcasing a selection of its cinema. This year that honor goes to Brazil. Two of the best films in this year’s program come from this selection. Bacurau, a film set in rural Northeast Brazil, tells the story of a small town under siege by politicians and violent outsiders that seek to remove it from the map. Bacurau is one of the most surprising and audacious films of the year and demands to be seen with an audience. Various screening times and locations.

The Invisible Life, which Brazil has submitted to the Academy Awards for best international film, is a tale of two sisters whose lives are forced apart from one another. Set in a colorful 1950’s Rio De Janeiro, the film is a sobering look at how these women were stripped of their agency and prevented from charting their own destiny. Various screening times and locations.

Leave It To The Ladies

Denver Film has an ongoing commitment to celebrate and honor female filmmakers through the Women + Film sidebar in the festival program. If a film education is what you’re searching for, challenge yourself to Mark Cousins’ sprawling 40-chapter, 14-hour documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. The film will be screened in five parts and examines the work of over 180 female filmmakers and their impact on cinema. Various screening times and locations.

Two other standouts from this year’s selection, which require less of a commitment, include Clemency and  Portrait Of A Woman On Fire. In Clemency, Alfre Woodard gives an indelible performance as a female prison warden whose conscience consumes her as a death sentence that she must oversee approaches. Various screening times and locations.

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Woman On Fire is an 18th century period piece about two women’s relationship and beautifully employs female gaze. The film creates new conversations surrounding the formative power of romantic encounters and the stories that lie behind expressions found in works of art. Various screening times and locations.

Oscar Watching

Celebrating cinema is not about award ceremonies. There are plenty of rich offerings in this year’s festival that are well worth your time without any Oscar prognosticating involved. However, for those who are doing some Oscar hunting, look no further than The Cave. Director Feras Feyyad, who received an Oscar nomination in 2018 for Last Men In Aleppo, returns with another Syria-based documentary about a subterranean hospital mostly run by female physicians who risk their lives to serve the besieged population. Various screening times and locations.

Other films guaranteed to factor in the Oscar conversation include the red-carpet presentations at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, notably Waves, featuring Sterling K. Brown (November 7 at 8 p.m.) Marriage Story, featuring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver (November 9 at 8 p.m.), and The Two Popes, written by three-time Oscar nominee, Anthony McCarten (November 9 at 2 p.m.).

If You Go: The Denver Film Festival runs from Wednesday, October 30 through Sunday, November 10. Screening times and ticket prices vary by event. Find more information here