When Hollywood’s actors joined the industry’s writers on strike in July to fight for better pay, royalties, and protections against artificial intelligence, an unnamed studio executive told Variety that “fall festivals are fucked.” But what the foul-mouthed C-suiter really meant was that, with striking actors barred from promoting studio-backed films, big-budget gatherings like the Toronto International Film Festival lost one of their biggest draws—celebrities. Events focused on independently produced movies, such as the Denver Film Festival (DFF), however, were mostly unaffected. Not only are indie films largely exempt from the strikes against major studios, but DFF attendees also don’t come for star sightings. “They’re looking for the hard-hitting, esoteric fare that they’re not going to be able to see otherwise,” says DFF artistic director Matthew Campbell. So while he can’t promise any selfies with Emma Stone at this year’s event (from $60; November 3 to 12), Campbell can still recommend a trio of films with strong Colorado ties.

Hard Miles

This drama is inspired by the true story of Greg Townsend (played by Stranger Things’ Matthew Modine), a Colorado social worker who led a group of boys ordered to attend Ridge View Academy, a medium-security correctional school that opened in 2001 in Watkins, on a cycling trip from Denver to the Grand Canyon. “It’s about trying to get them to turn their lives around,” Campbell says. The filmmakers were so committed to authenticity that the actors rode the students’ real bikes.

The Space Race

In this documentary, Denverite, engineer, and retired Air Force pilot Ed Dwight discusses the racism he encountered while attempting to become the first Black man in space in the early 1960s. Featured alongside famous Black astronauts like Leland Melvin, Dwight doesn’t just appear in the film; he will also make an appearance at DFF’s screening at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science—a venue Campbell says is perfect for a film about the early, turbulent years of America’s space program.

Ileana’s Smile

After his band, Dispatch, first broke up in 2004, Denver-born multi-instrumentalist Brad Corrigan traveled to Nicaragua, where he befriended a community of trash sifters. Corrigan’s documentary debut follows the life of Ileana, the young girl who inspired him to found Love, Light, and Melody, a Denver nonprofit that funds schools and art programs for children across Nicaragua. “We’re going to be the world premiere of the film,” Campbell says. “And Brad’s going to perform an acoustic set.”