The Denver Film Festival returns to the Mile High City for its 40th anniversary this week. It’s come a long way from its debut in May 1978, when 78 films were shown over ten days and about 12,000 people were in attendance (compare that to the 40,000 tickets sold at last year’s festival). Now, the twelve-day event (November 1-12) features more than 200 local, national and international films from around the world, complemented by industry panels, workshops, and award ceremonies celebrating cinema.
“This is a community festival,” says Neil Truglio, education director and public relations manager for the Denver Film Society. “The most exciting part about us turning forty is not something we’ve achieved…it’s the fact that the community of Denver continues to ask for this and continues to support it and continues to come in droves.”
New this year: a focus on Danish cinema, two new awards (one for the best United Kingdom film of the year and another designed to help documentary filmmakers purchase music rights or hire a musician), and educational initiatives designed to engage the next generation of filmmakers and help them develop connections within the industry.
“Every year it’s just a new adventure and there’s always new and exciting things that we are doing,” Truglio says. “But a lot of what we do, in some ways, stays the same—in that we are trying to bring the best films from the year from around the world to Denver.”
Here’s a selection of films screening at this year’s festival:
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing), this drama is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier raised in Loveland, Colorado who ran one of the largest high-stakes poker games in the country for the rich and famous—until she became targeted by the FBI. The film is co-presented by Wish of a Lifetime, a nonprofit charity that grants lifelong wishes to isolated seniors, which was founded by Molly’s brother, Jeremy Bloom. Thursday, November 9, 7 p.m.; Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 1385 Curtis St.
Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman (who you might know from the Harry Potter franchise, The Fifth Element or the Batman trilogy) stars as Winston Churchill in this historical drama, which follows the Prime Minister’s first few weeks in office during the early days of World War II. The fictionalized account is based on true events and shows how Churchill, in his darkest hour, must rally a nation to fight against incredible odds and attempt to change the course of history. Tuesday, November 2, 6:30 p.m.; Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave.
In this detailed and vivid exploration of the world’s refugee crisis, internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei gives powerful visual expression to mass migration and its profoundly personal human impact. Filmed over the course of a year in 23 different countries, the documentary follows a chain of human stories and gives audiences a glimpse of refugees’ desperate searches for safety, shelter and justice. Tuesday, November 7, 6:30 p.m.; Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave.
Colorado filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp co-produced and directed this highly acclaimed documentary, which captures the lives and imaginations of five orphans at a storytelling workshop in Swaziland. The film weaves animated fictional narrative with documentary storytelling, intertwining the reality of the children’s individual lives with their own imaginative creation: an original African fairytale following the dangerous journey of a girl named Liyana. Friday, November 10, 6 p.m.; Saturday, November 11, 4 p.m.; and Sunday, November 12, 11 a.m.; all at Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave.
In 1999, native Coloradoan Jessica Gonzales experienced a mother’s worst nightmare: her three young daughters were killed after being abducted by her estranged husband in violation of a domestic violence restraining order. In the wake of their deaths, Gonzales filed a lawsuit against the police, claiming they did not adequately enforce the restraining order despite her repeated calls for help. Filmed over the course of nine years, this documentary follows Gonzales’ legal quest to the United States Supreme Court and beyond, as well as her relationship with her one surviving child. Saturday, November 4, 1:45 p.m.; Sunday, November 5, 4:30 p.m.; and Wednesday, November 8, 4 p.m.; all at UA Pavilions, 500 16th St.
Walden: Life in the Woods
Shot on location in Colorado, this film is a radical, Western re-imagining of the classic book Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Taking place over just 24 hours, the film weaves together three contemporary narratives about the trappings of modern life and the few unlikely people who dream of escape (for example, an eighty-year-old woman trying to recall a core memory tries to break free from her dementia–and her nursing home). Eventually, the characters experience a moment of spiritual epiphany and confront their inner wild (as in Thoreau’s Walden). Saturday, November 4, 6:15 and 6:45 p.m.; Monday, November 6, 1:45 p.m.; and Friday, November 10, 1 p.m.; all at Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand stars as the mother of a murder victim in this dark comedic drama from Irish-British writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). With the case still unsolved nine months later, she commissions three billboards designed to send a message to the revered local police chief (Woody Harrelson)—and a battle for justice begins. Saturday, November 11, 2:30 p.m.; Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 1385 Curtis St.
In this paranormal thriller from Norway, young Thelma has just left her religious family to go study at a university in Oslo. She suddenly begins to experience violent seizures, which leads to an encounter with beautiful classmate Anja—while also revealing supernatural abilities. As the girls’ friendship deepens, Thelma must confront the terrifying implications of her powers and the tragic secrets of her past. Friday, November 3, 9:40 p.m.; Saturday, November 4, 3:45 p.m.; and Monday, November 6, 4 p.m.; all at UA Pavilions, 500 16th St.
Call Me By Your Name
Based on Andre Aciman’s acclaimed novel, this coming-of-age drama tells the story of a young man named Elio living in Italy during 1983, who is enamored by the graduate student who comes to study and live with his family in their northern Italian home. Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino directs the screenplay, which was written by American director James Ivory (A Room with a View, Maurice, Howard’s End), who is best known for his literary adaptations. Monday, November 6, 6:45 p.m.; Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave.
Written and directed by acclaimed actress Greta Gerwig, this dramatic comedy explores the complicated relationship between a teenage girl and her mother, portraying both the humor and pathos that exists within their bond. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, the film provides a closer look at a rapidly-changing American landscape, and explores the idea of appreciating where (and from whom) you come from. Wednesday, November 1, 8 p.m.; Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 1385 Curtis St.
Info: Screenings generally cost $15 for non-members; weekday matinees are $11 and special presentations are $18. Festival packages are also available. Films show at the Sie FilmCenter, UA Pavilions and Ellie Caulkins Opera House.