When asking friends which film they were excited to see this Thanksgiving weekend, there were lots of votes for Frozen 2, Ford v Ferrari and JoJo Rabbit and a majority vote for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Surprisingly few votes for the latest Charlie’s Angels directed by Elizabeth Banks. “Oh, I hear that film flopped”, was the response I received. In this crowded release weekend, I was saddened to think that this fun feminist film was not getting a fighting chance. It made me wonder if we’re measuring female-directed films with a more critical gaze or if this film should’ve been released in the summer instead?
True confessions; I didn’t carry a Charlie’s Angels lunch box or have a poster on my wall of the fighting females iconic silhouette. I didn’t grow up with the television series, but I’ve always been a fan. Who wouldn’t want a job that involved fabulous costumes, fast cars, exotic locales–while getting to work with clever women that got the job done but also made sure to have some fun while doing it? There may have been shots of slow-motion running, shiny lip gloss, lots of hair tossing and more cleavage shots than taking down the villain warranted, but there was plenty of girl power.
The latest remake opens with a scene that could’ve been in the TV series. Wearing bubble gum pink with lacquered lips, Kristen Stewart’s character is toying with a villain. Using her sex appeal, she’s got this guy wrapped around her finger. In seconds she’s got him wrapped in a long diaphanous drape as well, and at her mercy. As the camera tracks out, we see the rest of the team descend, Stewart’s spy sheds her chic dress and sex kitten demeanor and she’s dressed in commando gear and rappelling off the roof.
There’s a great article about the costumes and how the designer Kym Barrett experienced the job almost as an Angel on assignment; Charlie’s Angels Costume Designer dishes on Kristen Stewart’s “Barbie Look” Laurie Brookins, 11/22/19, The Hollywood Reporter. It’s clear that the costumes and personas of our spies are candy-coated shells cloaking the skilled intelligent women and their gadgets of espionage. That’s been true from the inception of the series but in the updates, there’s more focus on the women building their relationships between assignments. With Elizabeth Banks leading the charge; both literally as the director and figuratively, as a Bosley, the focus is less on gadgets and clothes and more on team building and witnessing how the women train, research and solve the case.
Could the story have more intriguing? Did Elizabeth Banks perhaps take on too much as the writer, director, actor and producer? Yes and yes. But Charlie’s Angels is a fun ride and a great time for women to get together and enjoy a good hoot and holler. My one minor complaint was to not be able to hear Kristen Stewart’s dialogue at times, but that may have been the theater sound system at the mall cineplex. So gather the gals, have a Cosmopolitan and share some good feminist fun. We need to support every female filmmaker and not let critics sway us from a good time at the movies.
This year’s Denver Film Festival had a particularly robust Women + Film program. 14 films, including the film series Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema directed by Mark Cousins. Four of those films won awards at the festival–Song Without a Name, The Conductor, Scheme Birds, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And though the Women Make Film series was uneven (Part One was a fascinating 3-hour tour w/hundreds of clips of women’s work to illustrate the first 7 of 40 topics of filmmaking & Part Three was a snooze fest with fewer extended clips), the rest of the selections showed the breadth of women’s films from documentaries to social justice to hilarious farce.
There was also a Women + Film luncheon featuring a discussion between Britta Erickson, DFF Festival Director and Svetlana Cvetko, writer/director/cinematographer and winner of the Grand Prix du Public in Films de Femmes in France. Cvetko has a long history with the Denver Film Festival. Starting as a photographer for the festival, her shorts and then documentaries screened at DFF. Her latest film, and first narrative feature, Show Me What You Got played after the luncheon. The beauty of this film, shot in evocative black and white, and the intimate portrayal of three talented young adults trying to find their place in the world is impressive. Sexy and tender, the relationships feel real and I was drawn into their embrace. Shot in LA, Italy and Paris with a multilingual cast and narrated in French, the actors become more beautiful the longer Cvetko’s camera lingers on them. The title doesn’t seem to represent the film and I didn’t feel it needed to be narrated in French yet I loved this film. I hope it will get distribution and receive the audience it deserves.
My favorite film at DFF42 is an award-winner from the Sundance Film Festival. Saint Frances is hilarious, rude, and incredibly astute. I described it as — if Brie Larson starred in a dramedy with the young actress (Quvenzhané Wallis) from Beasts of the Southern Wild and the plot was reminiscent of Obvious Child (director Gillian Robespierre with star Jenny Slate). Writer and star Kelly O’Sullivan has crafted a charming film about a young woman whose considerable talents have not yet resulted in a satisfying career or relationship. The young woman takes a position as a nanny and begins an affair with a younger man that results in a pregnancy. Her life and choices resonated with me on a deeply personal level.
Director Alex Thompson, who met O’Sullivan when making her sizzle reel, handles the material with finesse. Though there are a few under-developed characters, the central relationships are awkward and fraught and real. I love this quote from Thompson that refers to the surprisingly well-handled appearances of blood in the film. “The movie is all about the ways that women are made to feel ashamed of their bodies, their choices and inherent parts of womanhood,” says O’Sullivan. “It’s annoyed me that [menstrual blood] has never made its way believably on screen — even in TV commercials for tampons, the liquid is blue! Knowing that we would be tackling this subject matter in a realistic and authentic way, the only way to do that is show it the way it is. Saint Frances is a feminist film, and I wanted to approach it so that these inherent parts of womanhood would take place on screen, not off.” 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2019, Filmmaker Magazine
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Truth (La Verité). There had been little buzz about this film at other festivals even though it has such an amazing cast. After I was telling friends how much I loved the film, I heard the sad news about Catherine Deneauve having been in the hospital for a minor stroke. The Truth, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (last year’s Indie hit, Shoplifters) is very meta. It’s about a famous actress and her fraught relationship with her daughter, played by Juliette Binoche. The daughter has traveled with her daughter and her sitcom-actor husband (a nice turn by Ethan Hawk) to celebrate the publication of the famous mother’s biography. There’s a film within the film and both actresses give very nuanced performances. There’s even a woman acting as Deneave’s character’s mother in the film played by the wonderful Ludivine Sagnier. It’s a film about mothers and daughters, jealousy, memory and forgiveness. How a Korean director making his first English language (and French) film got so much right show a great talent. This film is a real delight. Take your mom!
Overall, a stellar year for women in film at the Denver Film Festival and a wonderful slate of films! The Truth (La Verité) has distribution with Wild Bunch so look for it an arthouse cinema near you. Saint Frances is still traveling the festival circuit (in Cork this week!) but it doesn’t look they’ve announced a distributor yet. Show Me What You Gotis also still on the circuit and was being shopped at the American Film Market last weekend. Follow the films on social media for release dates.
Awards are an important part of most film festivals. Filmmakers can use their awards as a way to promote their films and draw more eyes to their work. This year the Denver Film Festival handed out a LOT of awards and oddly, out of all the featured films, music videos and shorts, I had only seen ONE of the films! This is pretty rare for me. The films that I choose as my favorites received no mention from the juries!
I did only see 11 films over the 13 days though I’d managed to enjoy a few others at other festivals. My favorite films screened at DFF42 were: Saint Frances, Show Me What You Got and The Truth (La Vérité). My favorite films screened at DFF42 that I’d seen previously: Two Popes, 17 Blocks and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (the only one of my selections awarded a jury prize at DFF42); the Rare Pearl Award. My take-away from this? The festival program was incredibly diverse, films sometimes screened only once and then, only during a week day (when few people could see them), and the juries seemed to have been looking for the smaller films. More power to them! It makes me want to search these smaller gems out.
DFF42 Audience Awards After conclusion of the Festival on Sunday, November 10, the following films were recognized as the Audience Award winners for the 42nd Denver Film Festival by a tally of ballots.
Narrative Feature: THE CONDUCTOR Director: Maria Peters
Documentary Feature: 3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS Director: John Breen
Short Subject Film: PALLIATIVE Director: John Beder
Music Video: SALVATORE GANACCI – HORSE Director: Vedran Rupic
Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Narrative Feature Film The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award. This year’s jury included Producer Lee Broda, writer/director Mary-Lyn Chambers, and Caleb Ward, Freestyle Digital Media.
SONG WITHOUT A NAME (CANCION SIN NOMBRE) Director: Melina León
The jury statement reads: “The jurors selected a film that embodied ‘uniqueness of vision’ coupled with a confident storytelling voice. It is a visually stunning and haunting expression of cinema with a formidable lead performance. It gives us great pleasure to award Melina Leon’s SONG WITHOUT A NAME (CANCION SIN NOMBRE); a story that follows Geo, a Peruvian Indigenous woman living in poverty on the fringes of Lima, Peru, whose baby is stolen from her minutes after giving birth.”
Special mention: INVISIBLE LIFE (A VIDA INVISÍVEL DE EURÍDICE GUSMÃO) Director: Karim Aïnouz — “Additionally, the jurors award a special mention to Karim Aïnouz’s INVISIBLE LIFE (A VIDA INVISÍVEL DE EURÍDICE GUSMÃO). A moving and thought provoking film, dealing with the patriarchy, shame, family dynamics, and buried dreams. The story and wonderful performances kept us engaged and invested in each of the leading characters. The way the writing and directing built and kept the tension throughout, took us on a roller coaster of emotions and had us cheering for the reunion of the two sisters that never arrived.”
Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Feature Film The following documentary feature film was selected as the winner of the Maysles Brothers Award by a jury of national film industry members. This year’s jury included producer/director, Melissa Haizlip, Austin Kennedy, Cargo Film & Releasing, and Lucas Verga, Film Sales Company.
SCHEME BIRDS Directors: Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin
The jury statement reads: “A deeply personal film with national implications, this story presents the struggle of Scotland’s least fortunate, with dignity and grace. Beautifully shot with intimacy and honesty, this coming-of-age film follows Gemma, growing up in a world of violence in a fading Scottish steel town. The filmmakers have invited the audience into an authentic world, as poetic as it is heartbreaking. Seamlessly edited to unspool several years of events into one character arc, this well-crafted film benefits from the camera’s attentive but non-invasive presence, allowing us to better understand the main character, and perhaps even ourselves. We are beyond honored to present the Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary to SCHEME BIRDS, directed by Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin.”
Special mention: MIDNIGHT FAMILY Director: Luke Lorentzen — “For the Special Mention Jury Prize, we want to recognize the profound and heartbreaking story in Luke Lorentzen’s MIDNIGHT FAMILY which shows us the failed health care system in Mexico City with only 45 government ambulances for an estimated 9 million people. An intense and immersive experience, Luke visually captures this story not only as its director but specifically as its cinematographer in this exceptionally well-crafted film.”
American Independent Award The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the American Independent Award by a jury of national film industry members. This year’s jury included Frank Jaffe, Altered Innocence, Aimee Schoof Intrinsic Value Films, and Barbara Twist, Twist Films SWALLOW Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
The jury statement reads: “We award the American Independent jury prize to SWALLOW for its singular vision and impressive feature directorial debut of Carlo Mirabella-Davis. Masterfully crafted, its bold use of color and dynamic pacing left us wanting to spend as much time as we could with its lead character, Hunter, no matter how viscerally affecting the film was for some of us. We look forward to the next film from Carlo and his collaborators.”
Special mention: OLYMPIC DREAMS Director: Jeremy Teicher — “OLYMPIC DREAMS is an innovative and heartwarming film, especially impressive as its small team of filmmakers, create a large yet intimate film taking place in and around the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.”
Short Film Awards The following short films were selected by a jury including Kevin Harman, Netflix, Laura Goldhamer, Spiral Bound Studio’s and Karla Rodriguez, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Marilyn Marsh Saint-Veltri Award for Best Student Animated Short Film: DAUGHTER Director: Daria Kashcheeva
The jury statement reads: “With elegant and tactile handmade stop-motion animation aesthetics, DAUGHTER has it all: spaciousness and a highly approachable angle on the life of a girl becoming a woman, on family, on fatherhood, and on the confrontation of mortality. This film stopped us in our tracks, encouraging us to make space in our own lives to be present for its most important moments.”
Special mention: ROADKILL Director: Leszek Mozga — “The jury would also like to give an honorable mention to the short called ROADKILL, with rawness in both technique and message, as well as providing a poignant satire on society with levity to the grotesque realities of our existence.”
Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award
SHE-PACK Director: Fanny Ovesen — The jury statement reads: “The International category was particularly powerful across the board, however, SHE-PACK takes the cake as it navigates the familiar, wild & alien landscapes of the pre-teen human girl psyche.”
Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award
THE CLINIC Director: Elivia Shaw — The jury statement reads: “This deeply relevant piece intimately humanizes members of our society who we very often avoid, ignore, or even deemed irrelevant. Both beautiful & cringeworthy, THE CLINIC short film opens a direct window and human connection into the most raw, vulnerable & resilient parts of reality & survival.”
Special mention: DUNYA’S DAY Director: Raed Alsemari — “An honorable mention goes to the bombastic beauty and potent production that comes in the form of DUNYA’S DAY.”
Project NEXT High School Student Awards
Best High School Short Subject Film
DETOUR Director: Grant Kaufman Denver School of the Arts
Best High School KINDness Short Subject Film
KINDESS LEADS TO KINDESS Directors: Omri Dayan Fairview High School
Music on Film—Film On Music In 2019, Denver Film is once again honored to present the Music on Film—Film on Music (MOFFOM) Grant to outstanding independent documentaries to support costs associated with music licensing, composition, and scoring. The MOFFOM jury was thoroughly impressed with the many applications they reviewed, and would like to congratulate all applicants on their excellent projects.
The Music On Film Film on Music grant is made possible by the generous support of John Caulkins, without whom the MOFFOM project would never have been possible. Due to Mr. Caulkins’s vision and support, independent documentary cinema has received funding for music licensing, scoring, and composition for many years.
Denver Film and the MOFFOM jurors (Jonathan Palmer, BMG, Heather Guibert, Francium Enterprises, Loretta Muñoz, ASCAP, Writer/Director, Dava Whisenant, and Dan Wilcox, Deep End Music) are proud to announce two recipients for 2019’s MOFFOM grant:
THE LETTER Directors: Maia Lekow, Chris King — THE LETTER tells the story of Karisa, a young man who must return to his hometown of Mombasa to clear his Grandmother’s name.
SWEETHEART DEAL Directors: Elisa Levine, Gabriel Miller — SWEETHEART DEAL follows four women on Seattle’s prostitution track who befriend a self-proclaimed healer offering to shelter and nurse them through the horrors of heroin withdrawal. Denver Film and the MOFFOM jury are excited to support these projects in their progress towards a bright future.
Awards previously given or announced:
Rare Pearl Award — PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE EN FEU) Director: Céline Sciamma
Maria and Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award — THE INVISIBLE WITNESS (IL TESTIMONE INVISIBILE) Director: Stefano Mordini
John Cassavetes Award Recipient:RIAN JOHNSON
Stan Brakhage Vision Award Recipient: VINCENT GRENIER
Brit Withey Artistic Director Fund Recipient:GYÖRGY PÁLFI
There are certain filmmakers whose upcoming work fills me anticipation. Then there’s filmmakers like Noah Baumbach. He has a large body of work as a writer, director and producer with films such as Frances Ha, Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale. On the one hand, I admire how he features strong women as characters in his film. I want to like his films. His work features fraught family relationships and people on the verge of emotional breakdowns. It feels like watching a car crash. For someone like me, who feels great empathy for the characters on the screen, it can feel like BEING in a car crash.
Marriage Story is getting great critical acclaim for the performances of Scarlett Johanssan and Adam Driver. Both the trailers and the opening scenes of the film use a wonderful story technique of introducing the characters describing their partners good qualities. Opening the film with the warm glow of the character’s love before dropping the audience into the divorce already in progeess gives the film a strong start. What begins as an agreement for an amicable separation, becomes a strident battle of lawyers and devastating emotional drama.
Laura Dern, played with calculation and phony warmth, is the barracuda divorce lawyer going for the jugular. Most of the characters rang false to me. Johansson’s mother in her bad haircut rewards her son for defecating and spending time with his father, and displays a childlike gesture to beg for hugs. Every character trait is exaggerated. She’s shown cutting everyone’s hair and yet, their hair seems the same. I found myself disliking all of the characters, even the little boy who seems to be manipulating his parents with requests for toys.
Yes, Adam Driver is great in his emotional moments and portrayal of a clueless theatrical “genius”. Did we need to sit through an entire song to understand his loss? I think that uncomfortable moments that some people find amusing, I find painful. The film felt too long, too caustic and too unrealistic.
Drinks With Films rating: 2 strong bourbons to blunt the emotional pain (out of 5)
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”
Three film festivals. Three opportunities to celebrate Agnés Varda.
Telluride Film Festival (TFF46) dedicated their festival to her memory. Mill Valley (MVFF42) hosted Mind the Gap celebrating women in the industry and screened a film featuring Varda, Serendipity. Varda would applaud the festival’s (lead by the wonderful Zoe Elton) gender equity mission to have 50% of films feature women directors programmed by 2020. Denver (DFF42) also screened Varda byAgnés and has a great Women + Film program started 14 years ago by Tammy Brislin and supported, and now lead, by Barbara Bridges and her foundation.
I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Telluride tribute and screening of Varda byAgnés. What an incredible panel with her family and friends there to speak. Martin Scorsese spoke about her visit with JR to his The Irishmen set. She teased him about his lack of female characters. They seemed to have had a warm relationship and he considers her a great talent. Varda’s daughter and son discussed carrying on her vision and what it was like growing up with a mother who documented their lives wherever they lived. Tom Luddy, a founder of the festival, is actually featured in the documentary! He introduced Varda to her uncle in Sausalito and helped get her crew together to film their meeting–Uncle Yanco, in 1967. He was also instrumental in encouraging her to film the Black Panther movement in Oakland. It was a pleasure to hear him speak and then see a younger Tom Luddy on the big screen.
Those serendipitous moments continued. I traveled to Mill Valley to help manage the Outdoor Art Club for the festival and one of our events was a reception for Serendipity. Prune Nourry’s documentary is her story of how her work as a sculptor and her journey through breast cancer was incredibly intertwined; reflected and refracted. She is a French sculptor married to the art photographer JR. The film includes a sequence filmed by Varda when Prune Nourry shaves her head. During the Q & A after the screening, Nourry revealed that during that filming, Varda had breast cancer too. “She had the young woman’s version of cancer, aggressive and fast”, Nourry said shaking her head. “I had the old woman version, slow to spread and easier to stop.” Agnés would die of her breast cancer a few months later.
The documentary is powerful and beautiful and celebrates the transcendence of art. It was also incredibly personal to me having myself had a breast biopsy and a family that has suffered the ravages of breast cancer. The night of the screening, I had just received news of a new case of breast cancer in my own family. What a sad serendipity. Watching JR, in his sunglasses even at the evening film screening, supporting his wife as she travels with her film, I thought of the wonderful film, Faces, Places (Visages Villages). And again, there was the frission of synchronicity.
Now I’m the Denver Film Festival and the one film that fit into the schedule for my two busy film festival buddies…Varda by Agnés. As we had drinks post-film, I shared the story of Prune Nourry’s connection to Varda and my own relationship to her film, Serendipty. My life is full of serendipity and I’m grateful for my wonderful friends who share my journey. Now I want to get back to SF to visit JR’s photography exhibit at SFMOMA…on thru April 2020.
The 42nd Denver Film Festival is halfway over. What if you’re just realizing it’s happening? You put it on your calendar and didn’t manage to purchase any tickets yet. Is it too late? Of course not! The Festival is on till Sunday, November 10th. You can still take advantage of some excellent programming even TODAY!
Here’s where to start: head on down to the Festival Annex at the McNichols Building. Yes, yes, parking can be tough in the Civic Center area but there are garages nearby or take an Uber/Lift. Once you walk through the doors, head to the ticketing counter and ask what special $5 tickets might be available. Yes, that’s right, $5! Weekdays between 11am and 5pm there are a selection of tickets available and even prizes and giveaways!
Now grab a program and enjoy a libation in the cafe. Look at all the exciting activities available right there at the Annex. There’s more to this festival than films! You could check out some of the Free Virtual Reality in the Arcade. There are conversations and panels, art exhibits and parties. Ask other festival goers for their recommendations on films or experiences at the Festival. Escape from Godot is an exciting escape room experience based on “Waiting for Godot” or maybe you’d prefer “Star Wars Shakespeare”?
If you want to check out some of the excellent film programming, there’s still time. It’s a very diverse slate of comedies, dramas, animation, shorts and everything in between. There’s been a lot of buzz about The Conductor, Zumriki and the CO feature, 3 Days, 2 Nights. I can recommend the feminist adventure The Aeronauts and the wonderful documentary on Agnès Varda, Varda by Agnès.
There’s a steamy romance that’s beautiful and has a gorgeous lush soundtrack, Show Me What You Got. My favorite documentary 17 Blocks, has one more screening. If you’re interested in film making, there’s a comprehensive 14-hour documentary series called Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Now don’t worry, you don’t have to see ALL 5 parts! Nor do you have to see them in order. Tonight is Part Two and it’s a 3-hour look at different aspects of film making using women’s films as examples. Prepare for some enlightening cinema and expose yourself to directors you may have never heard of, and images you’ve likely never seen.
Rarely do I leave a theater angry. And I can count on one hand the times I’ve left a theater before the film ends! Genesis (Genése) was infuriating. A French Canadian film directed by Philippe Lesage (Les Démons (2015) & The Heart That Beats (2010)); this coming-of-age film features a sister and brother and a soundtrack the repeats the same pop song multiple times.
Almost an hour of random daily activities as each character attempts to find love or express love and there’s a rape and an expulsion from school. A brief tender moment between the siblings with no dialogue relating the tragic events they’ve experienced and then the film leaves them behind. A band is performing the same randy folk song from earlier and we have another musical interlude with teens dancing…and suddenly, the focus is on two NEW teens. Only later did I read that the young man is actually a character from Les Démons — an earlier autobiographical film. It’s one thing to make a film for your fans, but to expect filmgoers to have seen your previous film seems arrogant and unrealistic.
There’s rumbling from the screening next door (an action film? a war movie?) and vibrations that make me worry it’s an earthquake. What’s happening at the UA Pavilion Theaters? My fellow theater mate at the end of the recliners looked at me with alarm and we both gave the universal shrug 🤷♂️ and tried to get back into this disjointed film.
My level of irritation rose when the same French pop song began playing again. I wasn’t willing to wait out another side story to find the resolution to the first set of troubled teens. The first two hours had moments of interest, mainly the brother’s attempt to explain his love for his best friend to his entire class. There is a clear male gaze in the film with long shots of the young woman’s breasts. The casual misogynistic attitude of the characters…which seems to reflect the director’s sensibility, was maddening. One male teacher struts in front of his class of male teen students pontificating that while now the boys may be infatuated with breasts, when they mature–they’ll learn the joy of women’s vaginas!
One empty wine glass (out of 5 full ones) for this tragedy that tries to explore loss without presenting any closure or enlightenment.