Writing about culture–is it just adding to the noise?

When you go to a concert, read a book, attend a poetry reading, take a trip to the theater or visit a museum, I like to think that you’re starting a conversation with an artist. They’ve created this outpouring of creativity to try to reach your heart, your mind, yes, even your soul. If they succeed, you’ve been moved and you want to share that experience with others.

That water cooler moment when you share your thoughts about it, transforms that passive experience of you taking something in, into a transformative experience where you can relive the joy or share that knowledge learned. It makes you feel good to share those feelings or to warn someone to skip a show that you know they’d find offensive or bland.

I’ve often compared writing about film as a process similar to discussing wine. You gain an understanding of films and wines by sampling many types and learning about the craft. You can discuss nuances and enjoy flavors and discerns smells that might be missed by others. But still, you bring your own palate, your own experience to the table. My top pick of an Orin Swift Cellars Mercury Head wine or the Polish masterpiece, the film Cold War may strike you as overwhelming or pretentious. And what does my opinion matter to you?

A.O.Scott, one of the top film critics at the New York Times wrote a marvelous piece about criticism, A Critic Reviews His Own Role. He argues that writing about culture is akin to news reporting though “inherently subjective”. “No reader will agree with a critic all the time, and no critic requires obedience or assent from readers. What we do hope for is trust*. We try to earn it through the quality of our writing and clarity of our thought, and by telling the truth. The truth, in this case, about what we thought about what we saw, read or heard.” (*my emphasis)

What critics hope to share is what moved us. We want you to be inspired and to seek out the gems that might not get the attention we feel they deserve. That’s why, though I enjoy “Best of” Lists, what I love is lists like The Most Under-Appreciated Films of 2018 from Indiewire. When critics I respect, like Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle write rapturous reviews of films I’ve heard might be disasters ( “Vox Lux” review) or I read on Twitter that Kate Erbland and Tomris Laffly mention a film I should see on Netflix (Happy as Lazzaro), I make time to sit in front of a tv or seek out a film screening. Even though I don’t always agree with David Ehlrich, I crack up reading his reviews on Letterboxd. Manohla Dargis wrote an insightful piece on Barry Jenkins’ new film If Beale Street Could Talk and it makes me want to see the film again.

Whether you’re trying to save yourself money by not purchasing a ticket to an event that you’re not sure about…or looking for something exciting and fresh…find a critic writing reviews you can trust. Whether it’s in a paper, on a website, a blog or an Instagram post, you can start a conversation. It will lead you to an experience that’ll be worth your time and money. And who knows, it might enrich your soul.

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