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Sure, the Mile High City might not be Venice or Cannes, but the annual Denver Film Festival is a favorite among some 40,000 cinephiles who pack local theaters for a look at some of the state’s most anticipated motion pictures. The festival is back for its 45th year from November 2 to 13 with more than 250 full-length films, documentaries, shorts, and interactive experiences, not to mention parties, red carpet events, and panels with filmmakers.
While the festivities include big-budget, Hollywood-star-studded showings—like the opening night screening of Armageddon Time starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and Anthony Hopkins—viewers can also try to catch any of the 20 films that have a local twist. Here, we’ve rounded up six of the most anticipated motion pictures that were either filmed in the state or made by a Coloradan.
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Emma Needell grew up on a cattle ranch in rural Colorado and often experienced feeling lonely and out of place—that is, before Oprah Winfrey picked her original script to produce Netflix’s The Water Man. Now, Needell directs and produces Life Rendered, a 25-minute short film loosely based on her own life (picture above). The plot: Protagonist Mark Redman works on his family’s ranch in rural Colorado while also taking care of his disabled father but leads a double life in virtual reality, where he feels free to explore a romance as a gay man. Needell and her team explore how humans can truly be who they are when they are connected with one another, even if that happens virtually. Buy tickets here.
- Tuesday, November 8 at 7 p.m. at Sie FilmCenter
- Wednesday, November 9 at 4:15 p.m. at Sie FilmCenter
One of the most anticipated films at this year’s fest is The Holly, a 102-minute long adaptation of journalist Julian Rubinstein’s eponymous book from last year. Rubinstein studies the real-life incident where former-gang-member-turned-anti-gang-activist Terrance Roberts shot and paralyzed a man at his 2013 peace rally. While Roberts was found not guilty of attempted murder as he was acting in self-defense, the shooting leads Rubinstein to explore Denver’s troubling gang activity and violence. He focuses on an area known as “The Holly,” a corner of the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood where street gangs, law enforcement, peace activists, and developers have long struggled for control. While Rubinstein directs the film, the film’s executive producer is Adam McKay, director of 2021’s Don’t Look Up. Buy tickets here.
- Sunday, November 6, at 1:30 p.m. at Denver Botanic Gardens
- Thursday, November 10, at 8 p.m. at Ellie Caulkins Opera House
After the sudden death of their father, sisters Aria and Ava set out to clean out his cabin, which sits deep in the woods. There, they encounter a supernatural presence. University of Colorado Boulder grad and Denver-based filmmaker Bruce Tetsuya wrote, directed, and produced this 17-minute short horror film with the help of a teeny production team. Those who aren’t fans of traditional slashers are in luck: Tetsuya set out to create a horror film that is more cerebral and deeply eerie and haunting. In other words, Aria doesn’t rely on jump scares. Buy tickets here.
- Tuesday, November 8, at 7 p.m. at Sie FilmCenter
- Wednesday, November 9, at 4:15 p.m. at Sie FilmCenter
This is [Not] Who We Are
In March 2019, Zayd Atkinson, a Black student at Naropa University, was harassed by a white police officer while picking up trash around his dorm building. The incident drew local protests, and a settlement between Atkinson and the city of Boulder was reached, but filmmakers and directors Beret E. Strong and Katrina Miller say it was just a glimpse into Boulder’s long, racist past. In 77-minute long This is [Not] Who We Are, Strong and Miller explore Black history in Boulder—a city that’s branded as progressive and inclusive—through the use of characters aged 12 to 78. Buy tickets here.
Near Colorado’s southeastern corner lies Granada, a town with a population of just 445. While it’s a seemingly quiet borough today, the area saw more than 10,000 Japanese-Americans unjustly incarcerated from 1942 to 1945. With support from the Denver Botanic Gardens, director Billy Kanaly presents Amache Rose, a 29-minute-long documentary about the Japanese-American people at the Granada War Relocation Center (known as “Amache” to the imprisoned folks) who planted roses during their time at the concentration camp. Eighty years later, with no one having cared for them, the roses continue to bloom. Hear from Amache survivors, descendants, and historical and botanical experts in this touching yet powerful documentary. Buy tickets here.
When the Music Stops
The COVID-19 pandemic brought live music to a screeching halt, negatively affecting local musicians who already swim upstream in a ruthless industry. That’s why CEO Sam Krentzman of the Armory Denver, a music venue and a creative production space, directed and produced When the Music Stops. The flick is a peek into Denver’s music scene post-pandemic, where some of the city’s top local artists are interviewed, including Kid Astronaut, Wes Watkins, and Wildermiss. Plus, the 81-minute long documentary is the only way for you to catch exclusive live performances from the musicians featured. Buy tickets here.