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

The Serendipity of Agnés Varda

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipədē/ noun

  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

Three film festivals. Three opportunities to celebrate Agnés Varda.

Telluride Film Festival (TFF46) dedicated their festival to her memory. Mill Valley (MVFF42) hosted Mind the Gap celebrating women in the industry and screened a film featuring Varda, Serendipity. Varda would applaud the festival’s (lead by the wonderful Zoe Elton) gender equity mission to have 50% of films feature women directors programmed by 2020. Denver (DFF42) also screened Varda by Agnés and has a great Women + Film program started 14 years ago by Tammy Brislin and supported, and now lead, by Barbara Bridges and her foundation.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Telluride tribute and screening of Varda by Agnés. What an incredible panel with her family and friends there to speak. Martin Scorsese spoke about her visit with JR to his The Irishmen set. She teased him about his lack of female characters. They seemed to have had a warm relationship and he considers her a great talent. Varda’s daughter and son discussed carrying on her vision and what it was like growing up with a mother who documented their lives wherever they lived. Tom Luddy, a founder of the festival, is actually featured in the documentary! He introduced Varda to her uncle in Sausalito and helped get her crew together to film their meeting–Uncle Yanco, in 1967. He was also instrumental in encouraging her to film the Black Panther movement in Oakland. It was a pleasure to hear him speak and then see a younger Tom Luddy on the big screen.

Those serendipitous moments continued. I traveled to Mill Valley to help manage the Outdoor Art Club for the festival and one of our events was a reception for Serendipity. Prune Nourry’s documentary is her story of how her work as a sculptor and her journey through breast cancer was incredibly intertwined; reflected and refracted. She is a French sculptor married to the art photographer JR. The film includes a sequence filmed by Varda when Prune Nourry shaves her head. During the Q & A after the screening, Nourry revealed that during that filming, Varda had breast cancer too. “She had the young woman’s version of cancer, aggressive and fast”, Nourry said shaking her head. “I had the old woman version, slow to spread and easier to stop.” Agnés would die of her breast cancer a few months later.

The documentary is powerful and beautiful and celebrates the transcendence of art. It was also incredibly personal to me having myself had a breast biopsy and a family that has suffered the ravages of breast cancer. The night of the screening, I had just received news of a new case of breast cancer in my own family. What a sad serendipity. Watching JR, in his sunglasses even at the evening film screening, supporting his wife as she travels with her film, I thought of the wonderful film, Faces, Places (Visages Villages). And again, there was the frission of synchronicity.

Now I’m the Denver Film Festival and the one film that fit into the schedule for my two busy film festival buddies…Varda by Agnés. As we had drinks post-film, I shared the story of Prune Nourry’s connection to Varda and my own relationship to her film, Serendipty. My life is full of serendipity and I’m grateful for my wonderful friends who share my journey. Now I want to get back to SF to visit JR’s photography exhibit at SFMOMA…on thru April 2020.

A big groan for “Genesis”

@DFF, J’Adore + CineQueer

Rarely do I leave a theater angry. And I can count on one hand the times I’ve left a theater before the film ends! Genesis (Genése) was infuriating. A French Canadian film directed by Philippe Lesage (Les Démons (2015) & The Heart That Beats (2010)); this coming-of-age film features a sister and brother and a soundtrack the repeats the same pop song multiple times.

Almost an hour of random daily activities as each character attempts to find love or express love and there’s a rape and an expulsion from school. A brief tender moment between the siblings with no dialogue relating the tragic events they’ve experienced and then the film leaves them behind. A band is performing the same randy folk song from earlier and we have another musical interlude with teens dancing…and suddenly, the focus is on two NEW teens. Only later did I read that the young man is actually a character from Les Démons — an earlier autobiographical film. It’s one thing to make a film for your fans, but to expect filmgoers to have seen your previous film seems arrogant and unrealistic.

There’s rumbling from the screening next door (an action film? a war movie?) and vibrations that make me worry it’s an earthquake. What’s happening at the UA Pavilion Theaters? My fellow theater mate at the end of the recliners looked at me with alarm and we both gave the universal shrug 🤷‍♂️ and tried to get back into this disjointed film.

My level of irritation rose when the same French pop song began playing again. I wasn’t willing to wait out another side story to find the resolution to the first set of troubled teens. The first two hours had moments of interest, mainly the brother’s attempt to explain his love for his best friend to his entire class. There is a clear male gaze in the film with long shots of the young woman’s breasts. The casual misogynistic attitude of the characters…which seems to reflect the director’s sensibility, was maddening. One male teacher struts in front of his class of male teen students pontificating that while now the boys may be infatuated with breasts, when they mature–they’ll learn the joy of women’s vaginas!

One empty wine glass (out of 5 full ones) for this tragedy that tries to explore loss without presenting any closure or enlightenment.

Daddy Issues in Space

Brad Pitt, looking weary in Ad Astra

It’s been awhile seen we’ve seen Brad Pitt on the big screen and then, like an unexpected gift, he’s starring in two major films. There has been Oscar buzz about his hyper-masculine stunt man, Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Pitt’s character has a laid-back vibe and his charm and beauty still burn bright. He and co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio have a great chemistry together. When his character takes off his shirt to fix a rooftop tv antenna, it calls to mind his first major role as the charming thief and one-night stand for Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise.

Brad Pitt showing good form in Thelma & Louise

In contrast to the his role in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Brad Pitt is the astronaut Roy McBride in Ad Astra. Once again playing a hyper-masculine character but in this role, we see the toll his career following in his father’s footsteps has taken on family life. Estranged from his partner, presenting a cool facade and barely registering a heart beat…this character is starting to question the orders bestowed on him by the military complex.

Ad Astra, directed, co-written and produced by ‎James Gray is a meditation on the father/son relationship. This intimate film is science fiction that treats a spacesuit-clad traveler hopping a spaceship to the moon like it’s a daily commute. He might as well be wearing a suit and tie…and indeed in one scene, Brad Pitt’s character is carrying what looks like a briefcase. Roy McBride may be living in our distant future but he’s traveling across space dealing with similar 20th century problems: an unsuccessful romantic relationship, a stressful career and a distant father. That father is played by ‎Tommy Lee Jones and he’s floating around Neptune and may be responsible for earth-shattering power surges. This makes McBride’s mission to reunite with his father a rather urgent affair.

There are beautiful space interludes and the race across the moon is a tense and exciting scene. Occasionally obscured by their fishbowl helmets, who is shooting at whom can be difficult to discern. But beyond a few confrontations in space and the novel mode of travel, Ad Astra is a contemplative film that could be set anywhere. Brad Pitt communicates the inner monologue of our conflicted astronaut with reserve; he seems weighed down by his mission and his angst. As he makes his journey, his companions fall away. Donald Sutherland, once a trusted comrade of his father’s, suffers more than a change of heart. Some are killed by pirates; some by McBride himself. He’s alone to face his father issues and eventually, his father.

The first half of the film is driven by the urgency to complete this mission and the need to make contact with the space station McBride’s father commands. Whether this is a rescue mission or an assassination is the final mystery. There are women in the film: Liv Tyler as the abandoned love interest and ‎Ruth Negga‘s Administrator — who provides McBride with crucial information but isn’t even given a name. They provide warmth and emotion and are sorely missed when not on the screen. Our conflicted hero must travel to the moon and then to Neptune and yet, once his mission is complete, his journey seems to skip through time and space as he hurtles back to earth.

Ad Astra ends on a triumphant note and it’s good to see films that are dealing, even in oblique ways, with our fears about Climate Change. What’s missing in the film is a deeper connection to our closed-off astronaut. His issues with his father are like our issues with the planet, they seem too big to overcome. Brad Pitt may be opening up the conversation about what it means to be a man, a father and a lover but it’s difficult to separate his roles from his public falling out with Angelina Jolie. In his movie roles, he seems to be exploring how to navigate his public and private personas.

Drinks with Films Rating: 2 International Space Station squeeze bottles of H2O (out of 5)

The Boss Inspiring Lives Across the Pond

The effects of music on our lives is hard to put into words but Sarfraz Manzoor, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Thatcher-era England, did just that. He can tell you exactly what kind of impact one musician — Bruce Sprinsteen — had on his once wayward life.

Do you love films inspired by true stories? Do you fancy a sweet teen romance with great production values and an inspirational plot? Blinded by the Light, is set in a small British town in 1987. Rebellious teens are shown sporting crazy hairstyles and listening to New Wave music. One young Pakistani teen is struggling with his identity under a strict Muslim father in a neighborhood vandalized by white nationalists.

Enter The Boss. When a high school friend gives our young hero two tapes of Bruce Springsteen music for his Walkman, the lyrics become the anthem that changes his life. Viveik Kalra stars as Javed; lip-syncing lyrics and shifting between rage and the joy of young love — smiling from ear to ear. He’s been writing poetry to express himself but is navigating two worlds. How to honor his father, face up to the racist bullies and pursue his dream of being a writer? Inspired by Springsteen’s lyrics about working class heroes, he begins to understand that the class warfare and racial intolerance are something worth fighting for. Gurinder Chadha, who also directed Bend it like Beckham, is a great fit for this material.

Based on the book, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll; by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film uses Springsteen’s lyrics in a wonderful way. They become alive when the words are superimposed on the neighborhood buildings as Javed listens to them. The lyrics even swirl about his head as he absorbs them. By showcasing the lyrics this way, the meaning of the words and how they resonate for this conflicted young man are made real for the audience as well.

Many scenes are set inside Javed’s room as he writes away his frustrations or tries to style himself in The Boss’s image. Keeping the focus of the film on his home life and his interactions with his family gives this film an intimate feel — you are brought into the family dynamic. There’s a fun scene where the boys sneak a Bruce Springsteen record unto the turntable at the high school music station and that soundtrack follows the friends as they travel through town. As they travel past striking Union workers, a dance crew in the town square and their fellow students, everyone starts to dance to the music. This is a sweet teen film that tells the hero’s journey in a unique way. Blinded by the Light celebrates family and hard work and though it’s set in 1987 England, it’s sadly relevant for today’s America with our class division and intolerance.

Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura appear in Blinded by the Light by Gurinder Chadha, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

Drinks with Films Rating: 3 cups of Marsala Chai (out of 5)

One of my favorite films from 2016 is a messier version of this film — set in Ireland and also featuring a protagonist inspired by music and bullied by white nationalists — Sing Street was nominated for a Golden Globe but not seen by many people. If Blinded by the Light makes you smile but you’re more of an 80’s New Wave music fan…check out Sing Street. Not as much smiling, lower production values and more eye make-up — but also a lot of heart.

Telluride Film Festival — ranking the festival films I was able to catch

Every festival is a crap shoot. Even with an All Access Pass, you’re never going to see or hear everything you want to attend…unless the festival runs for weeks and you don’t eat or sleep. This year’s 46th Telluride Film Festival featured numerous programs that ran over 2 hours, Tributes that ran 3 hours and a 5-hour screening of 2 parts of Mark Cousin’s epic 14-hour documentary Women Make Film. With just four days to squeeze in 33 films plus shorts programs, filmmaker talks and outdoor screenings, there’s no way you could see it all.

I love the way the film program is kept secret till the day before the Festival and the unusual screening lottery that allows popular films to fill the TBA slots on the final days. However, the program isn’t staggered in a way that allows festival goers to see a different film if they’re shut out of their first selection. If say, you’d been waiting to get into the 9am screening of Ford v Ferrari at The Palm Theater (at the far end of town), you’d have been in line by 8am to collect your “Q” card. If you didn’t make it in, there’d be no way you could make it to any other first screening at any other theater and your next chance to see a film isn’t till 1pm.

Another programming glitch was to have one of the bigger films playing simultaneously in more than one theater. If you didn’t make it to the Adam Driver Tribute, you only had two other chances to see A Marriage Story because the other screenings were happening at the same time; 5 screenings in 3 days. As opposed to Judy, starring Renée Zellweger, which played 5 different times in 4 days. Similarly, The Assistant only screened in the smaller theaters and one screening was packed with crew, publicists and filmmakers.

It’s part of the fun of the festival to try to strategize which film to see where and to discuss with other film fans what they’ve seen and loved (or hated) and talk film, see film, listen to filmmakers talk. If only I could enjoy the festival without working it one year!

TFF 2019 Films ranked (1 being lowest, 5 being highest)

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (5) — I was spellbound by the beauty, the acting, the soundtrack, and it was such an unusual story
  • Varda by Agnès (5) — more on this wonderful film and her tribute here
  • The Two Popes (5) — what a fascinating film with great performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathon Pyrce, I would not have suspected I would love it so much!
  • Lyrebird (3 1/2) — I loved Guy Pearce in this film and it was a fun who-done-it based on a true story
  • Parasite (3 1/2) — an amazing story, a dark fantasy about social strata, but I’m not a fan of gore and though the violence was played for laughs, it made me super uncomfortable
  • Waves (4) — didn’t like it for a full 30 minutes, warmed to the filmmaker’s unusual techniques and ultimately was won over, needed a good 10-15 minute trim
  • The Aeronauts (3) — an adventure film that’s both breathtaking and lacking much character development, Felicity Jones is great in it
  • Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria) (3) — I’m a huge Almodovar fan, great acting if the story is a little slow; a muted retrospective film
  • Unbearable Lightness of Being (2 1/2) — I remember loving this film, I liked seeing the restored version but found it left me a little cold
  • The Kingmaker (2) — Lauren Greenfield is a good documentarian, this one about Imelda Marcos seemed to ramble on and on
  • Uncut Gems (1/2) — would have walked out if I could’ve (stuck in the center of the theater), I applaud the audacity, hated the soundtrack and the stereotypes, never want to see a film that takes me inside Adam Sandler’s colon…or blood. Thanks, but no thanks to the Safdie brothers

Films I was sad to miss–I hope to catch these at other festivals or next year when they finally screen in theaters:

Judy, Marriage Story, The Climb, Tell Me Who I Am, A Hidden Life, First Cow, Family Romance LLC, Motherless Brooklyn, Ford v Ferrari, The Assistant and the whole 14 hours of Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema