Top Films in 2019

I like to say that film appreciation is akin to wine appreciation. I can’t tell YOU what your favorite wine will be as it’s a matter of so much more than just palate. You judge things by bringing your experiences, your emotions, your predilection for what’s new as opposed to tried and true.

My favorite films are the ones released this year that I managed to see, either at theaters or festivals. That leaves out many smaller films that are getting a 2020 release and many films that I didn’t find warranted a long drive. Living in the mountains limits what films I can get to…especially since we no longer have a movie theater in Telluride, Colorado while it’s under construction. I also don’t consider terror or violence to be entertainment. So if you’re looking for accolades for war movies, mobster films or Horror…look elsewhere. Yes, I know US was amazing. I’m sure 1917 and Midsommar were too, but I won’t be seeing them or making time to watch The Irishman. You all enjoy.

The Film that made me Swoon

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE EN FEU)
Director: Céline Sciamma, limited release Dec 6, US release Feb 14th (how perfect!)

At once moving and mysterious, Portrait of a Lady on Fire has a wonderful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and an unusual love story. An 18th century French portrait painter must paint a young woman’s image without her knowledge. When romance blossoms, she must use her talent knowing she will lose her lover to another. A sublime romance; French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. This is a gorgeous romantic film and the chanting of the women gathered around the fire will linger in your mind. This is one film to seek out.

The Funny Sad Film that will make you hug your Grandma

The Farewell, Director: Lulu Wang, now re-released in certain cities to take advantage of award season

Director and Writer, Lulu Wang won accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell won Audience Favorite at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The emotional story follows a Chinese American family traveling from America for a fake wedding. The immediate family have decided to hide the truth about their matriarch’s diagnosis and the wedding is an excuse for everyone to say goodbye. Awkwafina is perfectly cast as the American daughter straddling two cultures; her character is a fictionalized Wang. The Farewell is based on a true story about Wang’s family which the director first shared as a story in a 2016 episode of This American Life. It was released early in 2019 and now re-released and I’m glad that some audiences will get to discover this gem of a film.

The Stand Out Rock Film of the Year

Rocketman, Director: Dexter Fletcher

Yesterday, Blinded By the Light and many great rock documentaries and movies about music were made this year. What sets Rocketman apart is the amazing performances and costumes that make you want to dig out your platform shoes and join the fun. Both the young boy, Matthew Illesley and Taron Egerton are outstanding. One weak supporting role is Bryce Dallas Howard. Undone by her reputation as a sweet person, she comes off as a caricature and isn’t helped by poor old-age makeup. There are some dark moments in this Elton John biopic and there’s no sugar-coating depression and suicide. Having the story unfold thru flashbacks from a counseling session at an addition facility is brilliant. It’s nice to see a tale of triumph as opposed to a rock star biography that ends in death. Taron Egerton does all his own singing and Elton John has applauded his performance. I hope Egerton gets an Oscar nomination.

The Quietly Profound Film

Queen & Slim, Director: Melina Matsoukas, in theaters now

An amazing directorial debut from Grammy award winner, Melina Matsoukas. Her skill directing music videos like Beyonce’s Formation, was likely good training for this powerful film of a couple on the run. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Jodie Turner-Smith navigate an awkward first date that ends tragically and forces them to flee the country. Days spent on the lam create an intimacy to their relationship, and Matsoukas use of voice-over to share their thoughts reveals another level of nuance. This is not a violent film (save for the key scene and ending) and as the couple travels across the country, they encounter a need for urban heroes and a reckoning of the awful toll of American racism. This is a drama that feels like a documentary. This is an important film.

The Film I’m seeing more than once

Little Women, Director: Greta Gerwig, in theaters now

There have been many versions–both stage and screen adaptations–of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel. This is the definitive version. A perfect melding of superb cast, a screenplay that does justice to Alcott’s intention (she never wanted her lead, Jo March to marry) and intimate cinematography that brings the audience right into the family fray. A period drama both funny and touching, that allows each of the March girls a voice. Little Women is charming, beautifully realized and a feminist retelling.

The Most Fun Film

Captain Marvel, Directors: Anna BodenRyan Fleck

Not all film-going experiences have to be about changing the world. Sometimes you just want to go cheer on a hero! I like my heroes to be women in women-directed films if I have a choice and thankfully, this year we had Captain Marvel. I enjoyed Brie Larson‘s performance and the otherworldly nature of the story. Her chemistry with Samuel Jackson was hilarious and it was a fun ride.

The Charming Animated Film we didn’t know we needed

Klaus, Director: Sergio Pablos, on Netflix

An Animated Christmas film that has a refreshing sensibility, Klaus is a retelling of the Santa legend. This time we’re on an island where a postman must prove his worth amid warring clans. The Klaus of this tale is a woodsman in a beautiful snowy retreat. The animation is gorgeous, the dialogue equal measures witty and snarky and the resolution is delightful. A new classic for families to share.

The Most Audacious Film

JoJo Rabbit, Director: Taika Waititi, still playing in some theaters

Who makes a dramedy about a little boy who’s imaginary friend is Hitler? Who can walk that fine line between slapstick and pathos? Taika Waititi created this film of wild emotional swings and exuberant performances. The children are amazing actors and Sam Rockwell seems dropped in from a Wes Anderson film but also perfectly cast. This film is astonishing.

The Film I thought would bore me but was intriguing

The Two Popes, Director: Fernando Meirelles, Netflix

The performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are mesmerizing but it’s the fascinating look at the politics and intrigue of the Vatican that make this film thought-provoking. I expected pomp and politics, instead it’s a warm humane look at two public figures and their unexpected friendship.

Two Films that I’d have liked much more without their last 15 minutes

Parasite, Director: Bong Joon-ho — Brilliant film with crazy twists but the violence left me reeling.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Director: Quentin Tarantino — Awash in nostalgia (and close-ups of feet), I loved the central performances by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. If I’d left the film 15 minutes before credit roll…

Over the River and Through the Woods…Is It Worth the Trip?

Would you make the drive to Montrose (an hour and 15 min on mountain roads) on Christmas Day to see a movie? What if you didn’t have a way to pre-purchase tickets and you knew there was a good chance your film was going to sell out? What if there was snow in the forecast? If you’re crazy about the movies like I am…the answer is YES!

Arriving 30 minutes prior to show time, the line snakes out the door at the San Juan movie theater. There are two small theaters in Montrose, Colorado. The Fox Cinema has three screens and was playing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, and Spies in Disguise (an animated film voiced by Will Smith & Tom Holland). The San Juan Cinema was screening Jumanji: The Next Level and Little Women. As I approached the 20-deep line full of families and older couples, I heard a Mom say, “I can’t believe it’s sold out! And so is Star Wars!” My heart sank. Was it MY screening that was Sold Out? No, it was Jumanji. Turns out, if you only have two screening times on Christmas, both in the evening, there’s a good chance that you’re going to disappoint some people.

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters

On the plus side, even some of the families with kids decided to forgo Jumanji to see Little Women. Good choice. Skip the sequel and see the film that may very well become the new Classic. THIS Little Women will now be the definitive version of the Louisa May Alcott novel. Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), referred back to an older version of the novel to create the two plot streams following the sisters from adults back to their impoverished but loving upbringing as young girls. Shooting the childhood scenes in golden tones with the talented young actresses in long tresses and colorful dresses, then cooler tones and more muted costume choices for the young women helps the audience navigate the time shifts. Already a feminist manifesto, subtle changes to the dialogue have allowed Greta Gerwig to align the film to reflect what Alcott could not change in her time. As Jo March (the luminous Saoirse Ronan) is told by her editor (played by Tracy Letts), “if you write anything with a young woman, have her married by the end…or dead” and “If insist on ending your delightful novel with a spinster, it will never sell”. There wasn’t an audience for entertainment that featured single successful women.

Little Women begs for multiple viewings. I love this discussion of one scene, “Notes on a Scene” by Vanity Fair. The scenes are staged with overlapping dialogue as the girls act like typical siblings. They roll about on the floor, squabble and act like tomboys; racing around each other with the camera following to capture every poignant moment. The casting is brilliant. Laura Dern as Marmee, the mother of this brood of very different young ladies, is warm and wise but the camera follows her to show her sadness and anger that she hides from her girls. Meryl Streep is the perfect fussy older Aunt, lording her influence over the family but also trying in her way to bring financial stability to a family of women who keep falling in love with impoverished men.

The casting of Timothee Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan as Laurie and Jo is perfect as they already have such a comfort level with each other from their previous film (Lady Bird) and they’re both well-suited to their roles. All the Marsh women are well-cast. It’s great to see Emma Watson as the sister who marries for love. She gives Meg’s journey from giddy debutante to mother and wife an honesty and believability. Florence Pugh as the spoiled outspoken Amy is a standout as she realizes that her beauty is her only true talent but knows she must utilize it to land a wealthy husband. I hope this film introduces her to audiences who don’t know her other outstanding work (Midsommar, Lady Macbeth). It was also wonderful to see Chris Cooper in a wonderful role as Mr Laurence.

I’m not the only one swooning over this film. NYTimes’ AO Scott gave it a rave review and there’s a great critical look at Gerwig’s adaption that I love by Alissa Wilkinson of Vox. One of my favorite exchanges in the film is between Amy (Pugh) and Jo (Ronan) and reflects a continuing struggle today to get men to value stories that feature women. Jo is trivializing her little stories of “domestic struggles and triumphs” saying that writing about it doesn’t elevate it.

“Writing doesn’t confer importance,” Jo says. “It reflects it.”

But Amy disagrees. “Writing things,” she says, “is what makes them important.”

I would say that is the same with regards to filming that story. So bring your whole family, and especially the men folk. This is not just a story of domestic struggles. This is a great family film about finding and trusting your voice…and telling your story.

Drinks With Films rating: 5 glasses of Civil War Era wine (out of 5)

Christmas Nostalgia

An oldie but a goodie to share this time of year!
Happy Holidays!
Warmly, Jill

Drinks with films

The Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Some people get in the holiday spirit by decorating a tree, polishing the menorah or baking something from an old family recipe…I pull out the movies!

For me, nothing says Christmas like the old stop-motion animated cartoons from the early 70’s. TheLittle Drummer Boy (1968), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) come to mind.Even though I couldn’t remember the title of one of my favorite cartoons from childhood, I could hum the theme “Put One Foot In Front of the Other” — finally I had to go search the interwebs. The film is Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.

There’s a charm and simplicity to theseRankin/Bass Productions. They’re endearing. There are catchy songs, And they feature a hero’s journey….sometimes all the way to the Island of Misfit Toys! All of them are…

View original post 205 more words

When One Door Closes…Pull Up A Couch — how streaming saved my sanity

Still from the beautifully animated Klaus

The only movie theater in Telluride is under construction. So am I.

When I decided to have bilateral knee surgery (total joint replacement of both knees), there wasn’t much choice for timing. I HAD to get it done as I’d put if off for 5 years and they were reminding me with constant pain. So when one job ended and I didn’t have another lined up, I checked myself in for surgery. Two weeks later, I’m happy to report that it’s actually easier and less painful to stand than it was prior to surgery! I’m doing my recuperating in the tiny mountain town of Norwood, Colorado. Sadly, that’s an hour and 15 minutes from the nearest movie theater. How frustrating is it to not be able to drive…but to know that even if I could, going to a movie is a long, sometimes-harrowing trip on mountain roads.

I’m doing my PT and hoping to be able to drive sometime this month but it’s a shame that this is happening during prime Oscar-contender film releases. I’m not blessed to have access to screeners from The Academy. I was never a tv girl. My limited experience has been binge-watching a series with friends. Now streaming is saving my sanity. With the advent of two new screening services, Disney+ and Apple TV+, and some Oscar-contender films screening on Netflix (The Irishman and Marriage Story for instance), I can watch some of the movies safe on my couch.

One such film that received a very limited theatrical release, Klaus, is a gorgeous Spanish film and the first original animated feature for Netflix. Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, the style of animation nods toward hand-drawn animation from the early days of Disney; the forest is reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty crossed with a Charlie Harper drawing. With gorgeous animation and a comic heart-warming story, the only misstep was casting Jason Schwartzman as the voice of the petulant postman. A small quibble and a personal one at that, I don’t enjoy a whiny voice. Joan Cusack as one of the head baddies is spot on. I believe this movie has a good chance to be a family’s Go-To Christmas movie; an instant Classic.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 hot cocoas graced with peppermint candy canes (out of 5)

There have been so many wonderful films directed by women this year. Once such film, Atlantics (Atlantique) is written and directed by Mati Diop and is also streaming on Netflix. I noticed a very different twist in the way it’s marketed on Netflix as it was at film festivals. The programs at festivals featured the romantic image of the lead couple embracing and noted the supernatural element but also played up the immigrant angle. The more spooky image is used on Netflix; supernatural is the lure. Whichever subtext appeals to you, this is one unusual film. Diop wanted her Senegalese film to focus not on the construction workers who go to sea to seek a better life but on the women left behind. It’s moody, dramatic and a triumph of a first film. Atlantics won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Festival and the lead actress, Mame Bineta Sane, as our lovelorn Ada, is luminous.

Drinks With Films rating: 3 1/2 tropical cocktails at a seaside bar (out of 5)

This week, whether you’re headed to the movies…or headed to your couch, there’s a lot of wonderful movies to choose from. Happy screening!

In Defense of “Angels”

Fresh crop of Angels: Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart, and Ella Balinska w/director (and Bosley), Elizabeth Banks

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.

Drinks with Films rating: 2 Cosmos (out of five)

Women in Film at Denver Film Festival 42 – 3 Films You Need To Experience

Saint Frances, my favorite film at DFF42
Show Me What You Got – a sexy film reminiscent of Jules et Jim
The Truth (La Verité)

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 Got is 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.

Denver Film Festival Award-Winning Films, 2019

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 AwardPORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE EN FEU)
Director: Céline Sciamma

Maria and Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker AwardTHE 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