Based on a true story–Films at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

43 films screened over 4 days for the 45th Telluride Film Festival. 10 of those 43 were excellent documentaries, but another 12 were films based on true stories. The most Hollywood of these, First Man is the star-spangled story of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by the talented Damien Chazelle (La La Land). It was very well-received. Trail by Fire, directed by Ed Zwick  and driven by amazing performances by Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, was absolutely riveting. I’m so glad I saw it before it starts being dismissively described as the anti-death-penalty film. It deserves a wide audience.

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, directed and shot most of his autobiographical film, Roma. Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as “writing his personal story with a camera”, which seems quite apt. It’s a lovely black & white period piece revealing an upper-middle class family’s daily struggles through the eyes of their caring maid. Each scene is populated with so many details of their lives — we get to visit a turbulent time in Mexico City and in this young woman’s life. There’s so much drama and tension that the 2 1/2 hours flies by. I’m thankful that it’s a Netflix film and I’ll be able to watch it again.

Standing in the rain for an hour sharing an umbrella with a stranger was worth it to see The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery). It was a treat to see Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in person. They have delightful chemistry in this sweet film about a bank robber and escape artist who can’t retire from the thrill of the chase. Redford stated that this is indeed his last acting role, though he’ll still produce and maybe direct. That gave the film a lovely sentimental feel as there are photos of a younger Redford used to illustrate his character’s past. Casey Affleck is particularly good as the detective trying to catch the bank robbers who develops a rapport with the gentleman criminal.

If you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll to get a kick out of The Favourite. Queen Anne rules the 18th Century English Court but it’s her consort who’s making the real decisions. Played with petulance, emotional neediness and disdain, Olivia Colman is a powerful and fickle Queen. Vying for a place in her bed and in her court are the penniless lady, Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin to the powerful Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Great roles for three powerful performers and I enjoyed the wicked banter and court intrigue. There are many extended close-ups of Olivia Colman’s face and it’s amazing to watch the emotional storms sinking her sanity. I could’ve done without the showy camera flourishes as it took me out of the story but the costumes (Sandy Powell) are sumptuous.

My final film of the festival was Boy Erased. This family drama is based on Garrard Conley‘s memoir brought to the screen by another multi-hyphenate talent, Joel Edgerton. He directs the screenplay he wrote; he also has a starring role as the director of a religious gay conversion center.  Lucas Hedges, portraying another damaged young man (Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) gives another emotionally revealing performance. When he’s forcibly outed at college after a traumatic incident, his Baptist preacher father (a solid Russell Crowe) convinces his mother (Nicole Kidman) to admit him to the conversion center. The loving relationship between mother and son is sorely tested when she learns what’s happening as staff try to sublimate the sexual urges of the clients. It’s an emotional journey with another great Nicole Kidman performance as she reconciles her love for her son with her love and duty as a Baptist wife. I’m looking forward to seeing The Miseducation of Cameron Post for the female viewpoint (directed by Desiree Akhavan) on conversion therapy set in an earlier time but still dealing with this shameful practice.

More Telluride reviews coming soon…

So you want to go to the SHOW…

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The 45th Telluride Film Festival, the cinema smorgasbord in the tiny Colorado mountain town, is a true labor of love. Hundreds of volunteers transform schools, a conference center and a skating rink into theaters. Volunteers come from all over Colorado and many from out of state. In exchange for 30 hours of work over the four days of Labor Day weekend, SHOWCorps volunteers enjoy swag (t-shirt, backpack, water bottle, snacks, treats) and most importantly, a Staff Badge.

Why dedicate your vacation time and make the trek up to the mountains to share a hotel room or sleep on a couch or camp in the cold? It’s a long weekend of working in theaters, at events, in the tents and information booths. A demanding job for those schlepping all the trappings of the SHOW! We do it because it’s a chance to reconnect with our friends that we may only see once a year. We do it for the joy of being around other film aficionados; discussing film, seeing film, experiencing film conversations with filmmakers and guests–up close and personal. Stars can walk the streets free of paparazzi and they can relax a little, shielded from requests for selfies and autographs.

Telluride Film Fest Swag

A Festival pass is your entry into the Passholder Line. There you stand with other film buffs waiting patiently for your Queue so you can rush off to grab another coffee or scarf a scone/a falafel/anything to keep from eating more popcorn. No pass and you’re doomed to join the Ticket Buyer line. Occasionally, after all the Passholders have gone in, there are seats that can be sold at a premium price ($35) to those with the fortitude to wait. This is your only choice if you didn’t shell out the big bucks for a Festival Pass or join the ShowCorps.

This year, there seemed to be an increase in complaints from everyone from all the ranks about the number of full screenings that they were turned away from…a crushing disappointment if you’ve waited in the rain or made it ALMOST to the front of the line. Has Telluride Film Festival become too popular? Is there space to add another venue or increase the size of any of the screening halls? What I do know is–the volunteers and staff that create this Cinema Heaven so close to the stars; they will keep coming every year. And so will I.

 

 

Motherhood at the Movies

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Women are making headlines. We’re standing up for our rights and saying #Metoo, #TimesUp and #EqualityNow.  And our voices are being heard. _101312188_hi046747529

An amazing 82 women commanded the red carpet this week at the Cannes Film Festival. They stood in solidarity to show how few women filmmakers have had films in competition in comparison to the 1600 male filmmakers in Cannes’ history. Rallied by the International activist group 5050X2020, their voices were heard and they got results in a pledge to work toward gender parity at this prestigious festival!

There are a wide range of films featuring mothers at your local cineplex. This Mother’s Day, you could see a drama, a rom-com, a thriller and a comedy!  What are the messages these films portray?  It’s clear that women need support in Tully and Overboard:  Charlize Theron gives an extraordinary performance in Tully as a mother pushed to the breaking point by exhaustion and postpartum depression. The writer/director team of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have crafted an intimate portrait of motherhood and a rare look at one woman’s overwhelming challenges.

Anna Faris is literally Overboard as a working class mother who gets revenge on the pompous millionaire who dumps her off his yacht…by claiming him as her husband. This gender-switch to the Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell romantic comedy gives this film a needed update. In this film, the mother has supportive friends and family and her children are in on the joke. The message seems to be that even a playboy can be saved by hard work and the love of a good woman.

Women become warriors if their children are threatened in Breaking In and A Quiet Place:  Gabrielle Union is the Mom-on-a-mission as she rescues her children from the home invaders. The thriller has the tagline: “Payback is a Mother”.  Childbirth never looked so horrific as the scene in A Quiet Place when Emily Blunt is trying to remain silent while giving birth…and she knows that aliens are hunting her family!

If you were looking for a more cheerful look at motherhood, we learn that Moms want to have fun. Melissa McCarthy plays a newly-divorced mother who decides to join her daughter at college. Life of the Party makes it seem like college is a series of fun hi-jinks. The daughter seems chagrined but accepting…and the awkward scenes between the two are played for broad laughs.

Women need support. We can be warriors. And we want to have fun. It’s wonderful to see so many films showcasing the complexities of what it is to be a woman. If you live in a major city, you could celebrate how far we’ve come with Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary, RGB. This intimate look at Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is touching, inspiring and a lot of fun. This is a woman who made her mark with the awesome support of her husband, has lead the charge on gender equality and clearly knows how to have fun!

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Read this nice review from The Economist about how the Notorious RGB is a “trailblazer for gender equality”.  It’s the movie all women deserve to see! Let’s all stand for gender equality by supporting films made by women, films starring women and showcasing our stories. Our voices need to be heard!

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.

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)

ACT at Odell Brewery…or Do you want VR with your beer?

 

ACT Human Rights Film Festival

Awaken Connect Transform

ACT Human Rights Film Festival held a Kick-Off Screening at the SIE Film Center in Denver.

Filmmaker Beth Murphy was there for the Q & A for What Tomorrow Brings.

The festival is put on by the Communication Studies Department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

I was there, hot toddy in hand…to support the festival!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odell Brewing Company hosted the Schedule Release Party on Thursday, March 28th, 2017. Odell is brewing a special beer for the ACT Film Festival called Screening Sessions IPA!

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The 2nd Annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival will bring 16 films to the CSU campus and the Lincoln Center Theater in Fort Collins, many with filmmakers in attendance. Stay tuned for a Very Important Guest Appearance…to be announced Monday!

The program covers both national and international human rights issues, and includes humor and beauty to sweeten your educational experience. Topics range from the first South Indian female taxi driver (Driving with Selvi) to Tehran’s underground techno scene (Raving Iran), from solitary confinement in American prisons (Solitary) to a flamboyant drag queen in Ireland who fought for marriage equality (Queen of Ireland).

Two documentaries that I recommend are Jackson, a stirring tale of staff and patients in the only abortion clinic in Jackson, MI and What Tomorrow Brings, highlighting how education can change communities in the first all-girls school in a remote Afghan village.

The lively event at Odell brewery was packed on a rainy Spring evening. There were program listings to read through, tickets to be purchased on iPads and live music by the lead singer of The Seers, Brian Collins. There were announcements and trailers and a moving virtual reality short film.

Who Am I  was produced by Blueshoe Media — Kyle Rasmussen (CSU alumni) and Amy Hoeven. The short film immerses you into the encounters of first-generation CSU college students with immigrant high school students from Fort Morgan, CO. I was amazed to learn that there’s been Somalian refugees coming to this conservative town for a decade. It’s a bit of a sweaty (and occasionally, nauseous-inducing) experience once you’ve got the VR headset and headphones on but the VR film is both memorable and thought-provoking. Check it out during the Opening and Closing Night programs.odell-poster2.jpg

Purchase your Festival tickets now! And stay tuned for an exciting announcement on Monday, April 3, 2017! There’s an actor/singer/activist coming to Fort Collins!