And the winner is…”Liyana”

Festival Hub: The McNichols Building

DFF Festival Hub: McNichols Civic Center Building

The 40th Denver Film Festival wrapped on Sunday, Nov 12th. An Awards Brunch celebrated the filmmakers that won jury and audience awards. It was wonderful to see that one of my favorite films at the festival, Liyana, not only won the True Grit Award… the filmmaking team was also awarded Peoples Choice Award for Documentary feature (a tie with the documentary, Hondros).

Liyana is not really a documentary, nor would I call it an animated film (though there are a few moments of animation). Amanda and Aaron Kopp’s film could be classified as a  triumph in raising awareness. The 10-year-long project was a creative way for the filmmakers to give a voice to the many delightful young children that live in an orphanage in Africa. Like an extended therapy session: as the children create the story and drawings for the film, they work through the traumas they’ve suffered: abuse, loss, terrors of war. They tell their stories through this fictional brave girl, Liyana, who is illustrated by the amazing Nigerian artist, Shofela Coker.

This is no pity party. The film is an unusual amalgam combining footage of the children creating the story and the hero’s journey that their character makes. All the elements, the editing, the beautiful illustrations, the children’s voiceovers, an amazing soundtrack and the final dancing scene of the children celebrating…make this film a heart-warming experience. What a wonderful film and deserved win for the filmmaking team!

 

Drinks with films rating: 5 glasses of milk served at a communal table of cheerful, chaotic kids enjoying life. (out of 5)

People’s Choice Awards
After conclusion of the Festival on Sunday, November 12, the following films were recognized as the People’s Choice Award winners for the 40th Denver Film Festival by a tally of ballots.

Narrative Feature:
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Director: Martin McDonagh

Documentary Features (tie):
HONDROS
Director: Greg Campbell

LIYANA
Directors: Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp

Short Subject Film:
THE SUITCASE
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin

Music Video:
Polo & Pan – Coeur Croisé
Director: Pablo Maestres

True Grit Award
The following Colorado-made feature film was selected as the winner of the True Grit Award by a jury of members of the Denver Film Academy, which is comprised of dues-paying alumni board members.

LIYANA
Directors: Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp

The jury statement reads:
Liyana, directed by Aaron and Amanda Kopp, is a documentary that juror members called bold, amazing, enchanting, tender, compassionate, empowering, heart-breaking–a triumph of the human spirit. As one jury member said: I couldn’t help but want to give that wonderful storytelling coach a big hug and a kiss … and some funding!”

Special mentions:
THE OUTSIDER
Director: Scott Takeda

HONDROS
Director: Greg Campbell

“The jury also cited two films for Special Recognition: The short film The Outsider, directed by Scott Takeda, a touching film about the need to belong and the beauty of finding beauty in other family cultures, and the feature documentary Hondros, directed by Greg Campbell. Hondros is a powerful and eloquent documentary that pays tribute to the late photojournalist Chris Hondros’ courageous and compassionate career documenting the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan Liberia and Libya.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Narrative Feature Film
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award by a jury of international film industry members.

THE HAPPINESS OF THE WORLD
Director: Michał Rosa

The jury statement reads:
“Since the pre-selection was excellent, it gave us a hard task with the diversity of choices and with different values in each film. We unanimously agree to give the Krzystof Kieszłowski Award in 2017 to a film that tells a uniquely complex and layered story, created with artistic integrity and consistency in its cinematic language: The Happiness of the World (Szczęście Świata), written and directed by Mr. Michał Rosa. The filmmaking team created on screen a unique sensual cinematic experience including exceptionally good performances. The Happiness of the World treats painful historical themes, addressing the guilty consciousness of contemporary audiences in a non-didactic and tactile manner.”

Special mention:
UNDER THE TREE
Director: Haffstein Gunnar Sigurðsson

“The special jury award goes to Under the Tree (Undir trénu), directed by Haffstein Gunnar Sigurðsson. We were impressed by the portrayal of the dark sides of human behavior through powerful tragic farce. The combination of erratic conducts and suburbia absurdity melted into a delightfully complex cinematic language. We don’t really believe in competition between films, in our choices we were looking for inventiveness in storytelling. We believe that the awarded films merit the attention of broader audiences and the support of the Denver Film Festival.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award Jury: Gyula Gazdag, Christopher Kamyszew, Clémence Taillandier

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.

ALPHAGO
Director: Greg Kohs

The jury statement reads:
“The documentary jury awards the top prize to Greg Kohs’ AlphaGo for its riveting and thought-provoking account of a programming team’s attempt to master the ancient Chinese board game Go. The film chronicles the week-long tournament between the A.I. program AlphaGo and the game’s world champion Lee Sedol as a sporting event with global-historical significance. It does so with the vigor, suspense, and emotional stakes of a great sports film while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of the genre. In the end, AlphaGochallenges our allegiances and our assumptions, demonstrating that the measure of technology is not just whether it can outperform us, but whether it can deepen our humanity and expand human possibility.”

Special mention:
STRAD STYLE
Director: Stefan Avalos

“The jury awards special mention to Stefan Avalos’ Strad Style, a film as singular and charming as its subject, a young Ohio man who promises to build a world-class violin for a renowned European concert violinist but who encounters countless obstacles in his quest to fulfill his promise. The film is a sincere and loving tribute to anyone who has ever known commitment in isolation or passion against the clock.”

Maysles Brothers Award Jury: Shane Boris, Justine Nagan, John Van Wyck

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.

THIRST STREET
Director: Nathan Silver

The jury statement reads:
“For us, this film was a unique vision and one that is informed by the story consistently. Despite its dark themes, it maintains levity and a prism of complex portraits of each character. Bold editing, cinematography and sound design, coupled with an endlessly believable performance from Lindsay Burdge show that this is an impressive leap forward for director, Nathan Silver.”

American Independent Award Jury: Meredith Alloway, Matt Grady, Will Morris

Short Film Awards
The following short films were selected by a jury of national film industry members.

Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award

WHILE I WAS GONE
Director: Daniel F. Pfeffer

The jury statement reads:
“The Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award goes to While I Was Gone, written by Lucas Monroe and directed by Daniel Pfeffer. From the start, this emerging voice struck an unmistakably compelling tone. A first film that is all the more impressive for its subtleties.”

Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award

ANIMAL
Directors: Bahram Ark and Bahman Ark

The jury statement reads:
“The Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award goes to Animal, by Bahram and Bahman Ark, for its raw and violent depiction of the struggle for freedom. The spirit of accomplishment is met with the ultimate sacrifice in the devastating and surprising resolution of this film.”

Best Animated Short

MANIVALD
Director: Chintis Lundgren

The jury statement reads:
“The best animated short goes to a film that whimsically evokes many emotions because it touches on such themes as the loss of a male figure in the lives of a mother and son, the self discovery of a sexually repressed boy, and the reconciliation of unmet fantasies.”

Special mention:
THE BURDEN
Director: Niki Lindroth von Bahr

“We are giving a jury special mention to The Burden, directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr. As a jury, we cannot believe this film exists because of its craft, its pure vision, and its ability to usher the audience into a dark, animalistic, and wildly mystical realm.”

Best Documentary Short

FISH STORY
Director: Charlie Lyne

The jury statement reads:
“As a jury, this film unanimously struck us as not only a beautiful exercise in craftsmanship, but also hilarious and compelling. The original voice of the director speaks to the core of documentary filmmaking in a refreshing and genuine tone – turning a simple memory into a fascinating story.”

Shorts Jury: Christine Davila, Mallory Martin, Adam J. Minnick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March on over to the Lyric!

1510251593592_Openingday-coverphotoYes, my days and nights have been spent in Denver for the last two weeks, and while I was away, my favorite local Cinema opened it’s doors for business! The Lyric, once crammed into an old laundromat with two tiny screening rooms and great programming, has now moved into their new digs.

This Tuesday night, Nov 14th @ 6pm, you can join the Guerilla Fanfare Marching Band and make the one mile journey from Old Town to the new location on College Avenue. There’s now parking, a restaurant & expanded bar, plus THREE screening rooms. This light-filled building is like a big blue and silver cruise liner ready to sail you into your next cinematic adventure.

Free admission to the Grand Opening party. There will be live bands, a DJ and even live video streaming. Come play pinball, enjoy some crazy delicious Porky Pop (bacon AND caramel?!) popcorn and other culinary treats and celebrate your new local art house cinema. Sign up for Space Camp, the Lyric rewards program, and you’ll get to come to select screenings for free.

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Here is the schedule of events for the GRAND OPENING on November 14th:

          6:00pm – Parade Starts in Old Town Square lead by Guerrilla Fanfare
          7:00pm – Parade Arrives at The Lyric/The Alcapones, HYZENBORG, Live Video Art
          9:30pm(ish) – Wes Watkins & Grumpy Uncle begin playing
Make sure to put this event on your calendar and get ready for the same great programming of art house cinema, festival favorites, and live events here in Fort Collins.

Not all films are fabulous…some can be flawed or pretentious or downright irritating!

Bravo to the Denver Film Festival programming team for being adventurous in their programming. There are so many wonderful films and undiscovered gems in this year’s programs. There are also some that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on…

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Yes, this cabin was parked in front to SIE for the Premiere of “Walden”

Walden…oh Walden.  How much did I want to love you?! A Colorado narrative feature with a big name actor and lots of local crew and local supporters (including DFF!), Walden, Life In The Woods is an amazing short film. Trapped in a feature.

Three narrative threads attempt to illustrate three lost souls struggling through one day.  A man working at a senior center, played by Demian Bichir (Academy-nominated) is trapped in a spiral of financial woe. Will he have a nervous breakdown over the endless choices of bbq grills at the massive warehouse store? An egocentric young man is troubled by his boyfriend’s lack of support in his work. Is he losing his soul to corporate America? Or will he join his lover in the wilderness in a poorly-constructed cabin? Yes, I’m trivializing their plights but they are are the weak links in this saga.

While the two men struggle along on their literal paths thru the stores and streets and over rivers and rocks…the heart of the film is unfolding in the beautiful portrayal of an elderly woman (Lynn Cohan) overwhelmed by her dementia. Using drawings, stop motion animation and intricate camera work, the audience is shown a window into her world. Laura Goldhammer, also a producer on the film, created the wonderful animation. If only the rest of the film matched the vibrancy and uniqueness of this section…really wonderful.

Drinks with Films rating: 2 slugs out of a whiskey flask while sitting by a Colorado lake (out of 5)

A team of Colorado filmmakers, including director Alex Harvey, producers Mitch Dickman (Hanna Ranch, DFF37; Rolling Papers) and Shane Boris, writer Adam Chanzit, and musician-animator Laura Goldhamer, shot Walden on location. T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Cloverfield, Silicon Valley), Chris Sullivan (This Is Us) and Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight; Alien: Covenant; Weeds; Un Cuento de Circo & a Love Song, DFF39) co-star.  They even brought the cabin to the World Premiere!

A Chiambra is Italy’s submission for next year’s Academy Award for Foreign Film. If you like gritty, down-on-their-luck tales of familial love, despair and crime; this is the film for you. There are no beautiful vistas of scenic Italy. This is car-jacking, children-smoking slice of ghetto life captured with too much handheld camerawork. Co-executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, there isn’t a lot of violence but there’s a lot of shouting and table pounding.

Rating: 1 glass of cheap Italian red, sipped from an unclean glass in a cluttered kitchen

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Sometimes it’s my own anticipation that does me in…I was so thrilled to get to see Sally Potter’s new film, The PartyWhat a cast! Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Timothy Spall. I’m thinking witty bon mots, sparkling British dialogue, something of a farce but brutally funny…

Instead, it’s a black-n-white bore with stilted dialogue, frenetic acting, and a plot that even your dottiest aunt would never believe. Patricia Clarkson is the only one who seemed to have made friends with the cinematographer; she looks glamourous. Emily Mortimer wandered in from another movie in her overalls…she’s the only one who isn’t speaking the dialogue as if reading from a cue card. This was one Party I was glad to leave.

Rating: 1 glass of champagne tossed right out the balcony of the well-appointed London flat!

DFF40-Day 2 and is it too late to buy tickets?

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Day Two of Denver Film Festival was an evening of Sold Out screenings at the Sie Film Center.  Many of the Film Society members have grown used to strolling into their films here as it’s managed by DFS year-round. There was a lot of grumbles from folks having to stand in long lines that snacked thru the lobby. Wait till they hear that my recommendation: put those patrons OUTSIDE! It was utter chaos for the seating of “The Party” as it was at RUSH and the only screening! Granted, this was the only night that there weren’t other screenings at the Pavilion movie theater to thin the crowd.

Humor Me — Starting off with an odd soundtrack (who puts clapping in the mix) and what seemed like a very worn premise, this tale of one man’s redemption had to work hard to win me over. I quickly grew weary of the corny stories pretending to be jokes told by Elliott Gould‘s character. And haven’t we seen a grown-up having to retreat to a parent’s home in a Senior Community? Why yes, and it starred Cameron Diaz and Shirley Mclaine!

Once our long-suffering dad (his only redeeming quality at first), Jermaine Clement learns some humility and begins to direct a local production at the Senior Center, the story had become more endearing. His character becomes less obnoxious and more-likeable and a near-tragedy finally redeems him. It may be a story you’ve seen many times but the warts-and-all performances and the delightful older actresses will make you want to cheer!

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Drinks With Films rating: 3 glasses of sake while wearing a revealing kimono (out of 5)

Tickets, get your tickets! There are still plenty of delightful films waiting for you at the Denver Film Festival. Buy them here. The Festival runs from Nov 1-12, 2017

And remember, films at RUSH can often be seen if you’re willing to wait in line!

I witnessed two film tickets being gifted to folks waiting to purchase them–one of them was me!

#DFF40

 

 

 

Denver Film Festival 40 — Day One, “Lady Bird”

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Opening Night is an exciting, exhilirating time at a Film Festival. The program has launched, guests are arriving, everyone’s getting on their party shoes…and the scene is set. SThere may still be a hundred thousand details for the staff to check and double check, but there’s a feeling of pride…and relief…once the first feature is one the screen.

Opening Night Video of the Fun

One terrific thing that Denver Film Festival does is to give filmmakers and talent from the entire program the chance to walk the Red Carpet on this big night…and many others. Whether you’ve made a short film, a student work or it’s your masterpiece documentary, everyone can share this moment to strut their stuff for the cameras.

I was fortunate to see Ladybird at the Telluride Film Festival with both the director, Greta Gerwig and her talented stars, Laurie Metcalf and Tracie Letts in attendance. The question and answer session was warm and lively.  The three of them seemed relaxed and enjoyed teasing each other.  All of them praised Saoirse Ronan.  She is so natural in the role and gives another intriguing, nuanced performance as the main character.  This journey from adolescent angst to eager college freshman feels distinctly personal.  Based on Greta Gerwigs’s own upbringing in Sacramento, there are so many moments that ring true and make you cringe or cry.

Each character is infuriating real.  I loved that the Mom is so emotionally distant and the Dad is helpless to heal the fractured relationship between the daughter and mother. The costumes, settings and language brought me right back to high school.  I identified with this stubborn, ballsy gal with a yearning for a future that seems so out of her reach. A wonderful directorial debut by Greta Gerwig, Ladybird  is a film I highly recommend.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 glasses of pretentious wine while trying to act sophisticated out of 5

#DFF40 #feminist #comingofage

UPDATE: November 16, 2017 (DENVER) – The Denver Film Society (DFS) is excited to announce a collection of films from the 40th Denver Film Festival (DFF40) to open for special engagements at the Sie FilmCenter. Among those slated to open is the recently wrapped DFF’s Opening Night Red Carpet Premiere
title, LADY BIRD.

“Lady Bird – a film for the ages – explores all that is weird and wonderful about growing up,” says Festival Director, Britta Erickson. “Greta Gerwig, who we have long admired for her acting and writing, proves she’s a triple threat with a directorial debut as sure-handed and genuine as any we’ve come across. Featuring stellar performances from Saoirse Ronan, as the feisty angst-ridden eponymous teen, and Laurie Metcalf as her loving but opinionated mother, Lady Bird earns its awards buzz. For only the second time in history, Denver Film Festival was proud to open the Festival with a film helmed by a female director. We believe it is important to continue to showcase voices underrepresented in cinema, not only at the Festival, but at our year-round home, the Sie FilmCenter.”

LADY BIRD opens at the Sie FilmCenter on November 22, with an early preview on November 21.

Click to purchase LADY BIRD tickets

 

I Am Not Your Negro (obviously)

James Baldwin, The Last Interview.jpgUnsparing as history and enthralling as biography. It’s an evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era. —Joel Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

There was something so odd, yet so fitting in watching the Oscar-nominated documentary,  I Am Not Your Negro, on a rainy weekend at the Masonic Temple. Sitting in a meeting hall on mismatched padded chairs with Masonic tapestries and a domed ceiling around us, the crowd included mostly couples, (many over 50) and one family with pre-teen boys. All of us white. Many of us, likely unfamiliar with any of James Baldwin’s writings. The screening had the feel of a town hall meeting where we’d all come together to get political.

Sadly, the sound was rather muffled in this temporary screening hall. It was hard to distinguish between James Baldwin’s voice and the narration by Samuel L Jackson. It’s a powerful film, in part because his words are still so relevant today. Sadly. Pairing his narrative about the lives and deaths of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr with contemporary video of the sad state of affairs in race relations in America today creates such a resonance that I heard members of the audience actually gasp out loud.

As the crowd quietly filed out of the hall and down the stairs, there was a shared silence and many people were glancing at strangers to see their reactions. It was a thoughtful silence and I didn’t see the usual rush to turn on cellphones. The idea of crowds of mainly white folks gathering to hear a lecture on why we need to stop thinking Black Lives Matter and start thinking how to heal our country as preached by a gay black activist that died in 1987…what a remarkable achievement.

If you’re like me, and you’ve only read James Baldwin’s poems and a few essays, you may be inspired to go pick up a few of his books. Here’s a few suggestions: Four books by James Baldwin. I’ll be headed to the library to find The Last Interview.

Rating: PG-13 for violence and a few swear words

Drinks With Films: 5 glasses of French wine out of 5 — a toast to Baldwin’s time in Paris

Release date: February 3, 2017 (USA)

Day-o, day-ay-ay-o Daylight come and me wan’ go home

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1st African American man to win an Emmy, 6 Gold Records including, “Calypso”

I’ve always looked at the world and thought what can I do next? Where do we go from here? How can we fix it? And that’s still how I look at the world, because there is so much to be done. The whole world is caught in human suffering. And those who professed about making change have not come up with answers. We have failed in terms of the moral side. We have to do more. —Harry Belafonte

What if you could choose to see a film at a local movie theater OR go see the same film at a Film Festival?  Hmmm…you don’t need to purchase advance tickets for a film at the multiplex…unless, of course, it’s Opening Weekend. Festival screenings are a different matter altogether. First, you need to know about the festival. Then, generally you need to purchase tickets in advance. Finally, you must arrive early and perhaps venture to a venue you’ve never been to…and if you don’t show-up 15 minutes before screen time, guess what? They can give your seat to someone standing in line. So, why bother?

What makes a film festival such a unique experience is the chance to hear from filmmakers and actors who travel to the festival representing the film. This week, you could go see the remarkable, Oscar-nominated documentary about writer James Baldwin,  I Am Not Your Negro at the temporary home of the Lyric Cinema Cafe (The Masonic Temple) in Fort Collins, and other art house cinemas in the area. OR you could purchase a ticket for the Closing Night of the ACT Human Rights Film Festival.  So, why wait till April 21st???

Why bother? Why wait? Because if you don’t, you’ll miss a great opportunity!  Your festival ticket for I Am Not Your Negro is your chance to see and hear from someone who knew James Baldwin personally, a remarkable humanitarian who also happens to be a famous movie star…someone you may never get the chance to see again…Harry Belafonte!

At the Second Annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival April 21st, there’s a screening of a biopic about this singer, actor and activist. Sing Your Song uses archival footage to celebrate the man who worked with Martin Luther King Jr, led civil rights marches, and fought against apartheid in South Africa. Harry Belafonte was an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement, and he continues to champion social justice. Colorado State University students can see Susan Rostock’s 2011 documentary for free at 4:30pm at the Lory Student Center Theater.

After the screening of Sing Your Song, the final film of the festival, I Am Not Your Negro will be presented in the same theater. The Sing Your Song star, Mr. Belafonte, will be there for the Question and Answer session post-screening. There will also be a Closing Night party in the Lory Student Center Ballroom.

Put this film festival on your calendar: April 14-21, 2017.  Purchase your tickets now!

Don’t let this opportunity come and go…Day-o Day-ay-ay-o