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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

static1.squarespace

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

images

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?

20171103_092158-1

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!

humor-me-poster1

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

 

 

 

If you’re going to see just 1 Oscar-nominated film…see 5!

So here we are, almost Academy Awards time…Have you seen all the films? Have you heard the scores? And what’s the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing anyway?

This is an unusual year for me as I haven’t seen all the films but if you asked me which one of the nominated films to see—what would I recommend? My answer may surprise you. I would tell you to go see the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts!

20170225_150002-1.jpg

Seeking out shorts!

This doesn’t mean that I think the Best Picture nominations aren’t deserving! I’ll give you a quick run-down of how I’d rate them another time, perhaps. What makes this collection of five films from five countries so remarkable? These gems of great storytelling will move you, inspire you, and make you cry or laugh. They represent a distillation of what makes movies amazing: the craft of storytelling at it’s most focused and assured!  So please, go seek out the Shorts Programs. Many big cities are screening the Oscar-nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts and the Documentary Shorts are also brilliant–though that is a 3-hour program.

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

  • Ennemis Intérieurs — my least favorite

    Sélim Azzazi

    La Femme et le TGV –what a brilliant poster!

    Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff

    Silent Nights — just brilliant and Kim Magnusson’s 6th nominated film!

    Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson

    Sing — great film for the whole family

    Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy

    Timecode — when you gotta dance!

    Juanjo Giménez

    trailer

Fall Film Festival Favorites

wp-image-455211428jpg.jpeg

Four Fall Festivals in three months!

Fall is a grand time to be a cinephile. Studios release their “important films”; the ones they hope the Oscar voters will remember. There are independent films that have landed distribution deals at film festivals and these gems are making their way to local art-house cinemas. A few films with festival buzz are about to hit a theater near you. Often these films don’t stick around long if they don’t find their audience…so here’s what I’d recommend.

Moonlight: Barry Jenkins has created a film of exceptional power. A slow-burning film essay on growing up poor, black and feeling hopeless…facing bullies, family addiction and a daily trail just to make it to school. Using three different talented young actors, the story feels both personal and universal and there’s not a false note or preachy moment. Great support from Naomie Harris as the mother helpless in her addiction spiral and Janelle Monáe as the mother figure who nurtures the boy. An amazing look at one boy’s arduous journey to manhood. I’d rate this film 4 shots of spiced rum for it’s Florida setting.

Eagle Huntress: We need stories of female empowerment now more than ever, and Otto Bell’s documentary of the first girl to become an eagle hunter in the Mongolian Steppes is both beautiful and exciting. Otto Bell’s note about filming  This is a film to take your daughters and sons to and I hope that it gets the wide release it deserves. 4 shots of whiskey to drive away the winter chill.

Lion: A Hollywood film that certainly doesn’t need my endorsement, it’s the amazing true story that makes this film stand out. Directed by Garth Davis and heralded by the Weinstein Company, Lion will have enjoy wide release. Dev Patel is gorgeous in this film even if his character is a moody, restless young man. Nicole Kidman adds considerable warmth as the caring adoptive mother…but it’s the young actor, Sunny Pawar, who steals your heart and the film! As the 5 year old Indian boy who is lost and then rescued into a new life, Saroo is torn from his home and his land. Sunny plays Saroo as a determined young man; full of hope and not looking for pity. I liked that the film doesn’t sugar coat the life of an orphan and the conditions in the orphanage. 4 cups of good Indian tea served with an Aussie biscuit.

My other favorite films: Una, a grueling, mesmerizing film with Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn playing broken individuals trying to regain their lives after an underage affair. L’Avenir, a very French film starring Isabelle Huppert as a woman who’s life is unraveling but she keeps her cool and creates herself anew.

Films I’m looking forward to seeing: A Man Called OveCertain Women  and 20th Century Women

What a ride…Telluride!

There are as many ways to enjoy Telluride as there are reasons to go to this glorious mountain town: festivals, skiing, and nature!  For some visitors, it’s the stars…you feel so close to the star-filled sky in this village with it’s Dark Sky policy.  And then, there are the other Stars; the Film Stars that descend on this tiny town for the Telluride Film Festival every year.

Just like any other festival I’ve ever attended, film-goers flock to the screenings with the most glamorous guests.  Even in this rarified atmosphere of film as fine art and a welcome respite from the paparazzi, the screenings that fill up are the ones with the Big Names.  This makes seeing the really good films more difficult.  The bigger budget (and often, more mediocre) Hollywood films, screen multiple times and in all the big venues. When the true gems of the festival create a buzz, there’s little chance to see them in the remaining day or two, especially when those films are screening in the smaller houses!

Pablo Larrain, Joseph Cedar, Isabelle Huppert moderator: Annette Insdorf and Mia Hansen-Love

 

 

2016 was no different, but what a fabulous line-up of films!  The Arrival with Amy Adams was the one film that seemed to always have to turn away the crowds.  Three films that I really wanted to see, I didn’t make it to: Graduation, Toni Erdmann and Through The Wall.  I didn’t attempt to see some of the bigger films that will soon be released but I did enjoy the hot mess that is La La Land.   Amusing, romantic, and fanciful, it’s a fun Hollywood musical.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have great chemistry.   The score and choreography are wonderful. Sadly, it’s suffers from poor editing and the last third of the film is a muddled mess.  Still, it was a delight and I’d give it 4 coupe glasses of champagne (out of a possible 5).

My favorite film of the Fest: Inner Workings, the new short from Disney directed by Leo Matsuda!  Delightful, heartwarming and a complete story in it’s short running time. I’d rate it 5 margaritas (not during work) out of 5!

vqtmtpjy

In the features category, my heart belongs to Frantz! François Ozon has crafted an indelible film full of grief, loss and longing all set in a small German village shattered by the loss of life during WW2.  Using black and white cinematography to bring you into this period; the costumes, setting and acting seem so attuned to the time that it creates a documentary feel…and then when love and vitality touch the lives of the anguished young lovers (played with such sensitivity by Paula Beer and Pierre Niney), color brightens the screen and warms the mood.  I was swept away and found the story to be so rich that I wanted to see it again immediately.  5 German beers!

One film that I did end up seeing twice, and would rather have not seen at all…Bleed For This.  Aaron Eckhart gives a great supporting performance as the trainer to Miles Tiller’s underdog boxer in a soap opera of a tale that’s so loopy — it has to be true.  Ben Younger directs a cast of gum-snapping, beer-drinking stereotypes where alcoholism is cured with a short stay in the pokey.  Did we need another boxing movie?  Really?  1 can of Budweiser.

Una is an emotional roller coaster based on the play, Blackbird.  Almost a one-woman show, Rooney Mara is emotional-wrenching in her role as the young woman left frayed and broken by an encounter she still doesn’t fully comprehend.  As the small cast reveals the shocking details, the audience is along for the intimate, anguished reveal.  Master work by director Benedict Andrews.  5 shots of vodka…no chaser.  You’ll be shaken and stirred!

In the just-for-the-joy-of-it category: Lost in Paris.  Two physical comedians, Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, writer/directors, play characters named Fiona and Dom that keep careening into one another in Paris.  The French actress, Emmanuelle Riva, adds grace and depth to a film of childlike wonder. 3 bottles of French bubbly washed ashore.

Not a fan of the film Wakefield, I felt the character was a caricature of a man losing his grip on reality and Bryan Cranston gave a one-note performance in this unlikeable portrait. For a much more in-depth and believable parent and human being, there’s the soulful Isabelle Hubbert, radiant in her role of a woman who’s life is unraveling in Things To Come, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve.  Her performance has so many layers that you believe that her journey out of chaos will yield only stronger bounds with her family and an affirmation that she deserves a good life. 4 glasses of a good Bourdeaux!

All in all, a stellar year for the Telluride Film Festival.  So many films I wish I could’ve seen that I left with a feeling of yearning.  I look forward to seeing Manchester by the Sea when It’s released as I hear Casey Affleck’s performance is a revelation.

See you at the movies!