With films coming up on Gary Hart, Columbine and more, the Opening Night spotlight was on local filmmakers
The 41st Denver Film Festival opened Wednesday with a star-studded lineup of major films on the schedule, including Emma Stone in The Favourite; Joel Edgerton’s writing and directing debut with Boy Erased starring Lucas Hedges; and Hedges (again!) with Julia Roberts in Ben Is Back. Perhaps the biggest-buzz film of the entire festival is The Front Runner, featuring Oscar winner Hugh Jackman. That’s director Jason Reitman’s recounting of Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s catastrophic 1988 presidential bid.
The Denver Film Festival has been on a roll in recent years, getting a plethora of Oscar-worthy films in front of Denver eyes months before most of the country, including La La Land, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Lady Bird and Molly’s Game.
But then there are the films that put the Denver in the Denver Film Festival. Each year there are dozens of short films, documentaries and music videos made by local creative teams, along with handful of full-length films with Colorado connections.
Wednesday’s opening Red Carpet walk was mostly a nod to Colorado filmmakers. The first one down the path was Marty Lindsey, who is perhaps the most prolific local actor in Denver Film Festival history. The 2018 short film Daydreams of Dennis Baker is Lindsey’s seventh film to play in the 41-year history of the festival.
“It’s the true story of a 1970s Alabama sheriff recounting a case about a girl who was raped,” Lindsey said. “The film is a monologue told from my character’s perspective, which was challenging, because I am sitting at a desk the whole time. It felt like a piece of theatre to me in that way. But I approached it the same way I would approach any role for TV or film or theatre – and that’s to just dig into the nuts and bolts of it.”
Among the other local artists who were on hand Wednesday were Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mezzei, director and writer of Cam, starring Madeline Brewer of The Handmaid’s Tale. “We both grew up in Boulder, so it’s kind of amazing for us to be here,” said Goldhaber, who went to Boulder High School while Mezzei attended Fairview. They made Cam at age 24, and they were stopped on the red carpet and asked for advice by a group of teen filmmakers.
“It’s always better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, especially when you are young,” said Goldhaber. “You can mess up and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know the rules’ – even if you did know the rules. You can say, ‘I am just a dumb kid.’ That is a really useful tool. So if people think you are an idiot, don’t be afraid to use that against them.”
There was a moment of generational sentiment when young director Branson Laszlo walked the red carpet tossing candy corns and turning the tables on the gathered media by filming them using a hand-held 16-millimeter camera. Laszlo is the nephew of celebrity photographer Larry Laszlo, who for 30 years was the official photographer of the Denver Film Festival. “My parents actually met at the Denver Film Festival,” said Branson Laszlo, whose entry in this year’s fest, TIME CAPSULE, is dedicated to his father, Winston “F.W.” Laszlo. “I am really pleased as punch to be here. This is my first film festival, and hopefully not the last.”
Liindsey and others praised Denver Film Society Festival Director Britta Erickson (also a producer on a local short called Help Wanted), Artistic Director Brit Withey and Executive Director Andrew Rodgers “for always keeping both eyes on what is going on in town, and for fostering good relationships with local artists,” Lindsey said. That’s a sentiment echoed by Sheila Ivy Traister, President of Colorado SAG-AFTRA, the local film union.
“Living in a market where we don’t have a lot of TV and film production, the Denver Film Festival affords us opportunities to meet with filmmakers from other states,” she said. “And it gives us a venue where our local talent can have their creative content seen and appreciated.”
Here is a complete list of homegrown feature-length films and shorts being shown at the 2018 Denver Film Festival, which runs through Nov. 11 at the Sie FilmCenter, Ellie Caulkins Opera House and United Artists’ Denver Pavilions. The festival offers 250 films and attracts about 40,000 audience members each year.
- Directed by Florence Müller and Goran Vejvoda
- 96 minutes
This experimental documentary, or “freecumentary,” explores the states of sound and silence without dogmas or preconceived theories. Produced and directed by sound artist Goran Vejvoda and curator Florence Müller, the idea is to lend an open ear while bearing witness to a multiplicity of innovative postures and creations, unfolding in modular, nonchronological fashion. Artworks, books, exhibitions, performances, interviews, instruments, and machines help us discover the world of contemporary sonic media, as built by researchers, inventors, and visionaries of all kinds. When it goes off the beaten track, Vejvoda and Müller’s voyage into the realm of audio perspectives and their iterations can disconcert as much as it can profoundly seduce. With English subtitles.
- Monday, November 5, 7 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Tuesday, November 6, 7:15 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
- 94 minutes
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Janine is at once the most volatile and vulnerable of the handmaids, a combination that gets her in regular trouble with the patriarchal powers that be. Actor Madeline Brewer shines in the role — as she does here playing Alice, an ambitious camgirl who finds herself in over her head. Alice has her own channel on a porn website; it’s popular with the subscribers, but not as popular as she’d like it to be — which is why she’s willing to stage ever-more shocking stunts on air and even fraternize with her fans off air. Whatever it takes to increase those page views and tips.But one day, her show shocks even her—not least because it isn’t her. Inexplicably locked out of her account as a doppelgänger assumes her identity, Alice must embark on a dangerous search to find out who’s hacking into her life and why. This timely psychological thriller — directed and written by Boulder natives Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei (a former real-life camgirl) — is at once twisted, wickedly funny and sobering. Also in the cast: Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid and Imani Hakim.
- Friday, November 2, 9:45 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Saturday, November 3, 9 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Directed by Jason Reitman
- 113 minutes
From acclaimed director Jason Reitman (Juno), the 2018 Cassavetes Award winner, comes a sharply etched portrait of one of the headiest scandals of our time, foreshadowing our current predicament in political journalism: News of the affair that brought Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential bid to an ignominious end. Adapted from journalist Matt Bai’s All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, this biopic stars Hugh Jackman as the charismatic Hart, who was considered the overwhelming front runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when his campaign was broadsided by reports of an extramarital affair. Hart’s Shakespearean demise was brought on by his own hubris, infamously taunting the media to “follow me,” which led to almost comical revelation of his infidelity aboard a boat called Monkey Business. All of which seems positively quaint in the context of today’s toxic political environment. The supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons and Alfred Molina.
- Thursday, November 8, 8 p.m., Ellie Caulkins Opera House
- Directed by Julia Nash
- 95 minutes
In 1975, Jim Nash and his partner, Dannie Flesher, opened a tiny record shop in Denver called Wax Trax! Three years later, they relocated to Chicago — and by 1980, when they launched an indie label by the same name, the legend of Wax Trax! was being written not on vinyl but in stone. Well before iTunes, Nash and Flesher helped shaped the musical tastes of a generation as their store became a mecca for aspiring artists, novelty seekers, and misfits alike, the recordings they released serving as the nucleus of a counterculture that reverberates in clubs nationwide to this day in the form of industrial dance music.Nash and Flesher have both since passed, but director Julia Nash explores their legacy with the same fearlessness — and unflinching humor — that her father showed in building his brand. With unprecedented access to not only his artifacts but also the musicians he championed, she interweaves interviews with key members of bands such as My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Throbbing Gristle, Front 242 and more through her love letter to Wax Trax!, capturing its hard fall as well as its wild rise.
- Friday, November 9, 6:45 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Saturday, November 10, 9 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Directed by Morgan Capps and Jilann Spitzmiller
- 88 minutes
There’s a thin line between creation and destruction, vision and delusion, collaboration and infighting — and the eponymous group of artists behind Santa Fe’s groundbreaking interactive extravaganza Meow Wolf walks it with aplomb. Except when they don’t. In advance of Meow Wolf’s Denver exhibition, set to open in 2020, here’s the compelling inside story of the rebels and dreamers who went from a shoestring basement operation to a multimillion-dollar company in 10 years—sometimes scratching and clawing their way to the top, sometimes dragged there kicking and screaming. Mixing loads of behind-the-scenes footage with interviews and animated sequences, directors Jilann Spitzmiller and Morgan Capps (herself a member of Meow Wolf) show viewers how installations like The Due Return and the House of Eternal Return came together — the latter with the patronage of Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin — even as the collective itself threatened to break apart at every turn. So it continues, more or less happily, to do.
- Saturday, November 3, 6:30 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Monday, November 5, 4:45 p.m.
- Wednesday, November 7, 1:15 p.m.
- Directed by Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink
- 81 minutes
When construction of the Akosombo Dam was completed in 1965, it created a major source of hydroelectric power for Ghana and an expanded fishing industry on the resulting manmade lake, Volta—which has spawned a network of child slaves living and working on the water in horrifyingly dangerous conditions. While their exact number is unknown, estimates put it anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000. Colorado filmmakers Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink set out to document the efforts by a group of social workers to liberate and rehabilitate children caught (sometimes literally) in the net of Lake Volta’s fisheries. The result is this engrossing exposé, which follows two boys, Peter and Edem, from their rescue to a safe house—where they acclimate to freedom, attend school for the first time, and prepare to reunite with the biological families who sold them into slavery and their chosen families alike. As their individual stories transcend the trope of victimhood to illustrate what it means to love and to survive, a collective tale of bravery, resilience, and the true meaning of family emerges.
- Friday, November 2, 9:15 p.m., UA Pavilions
- Saturday, November 3, 11:15 a.m., UA Pavilions
- Wednesday, November 7, 4 p.m., UA Pavilions
- Directed by Laura Farber
- 78 minutes
The images that emerged from Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, are as indelible as any in modern history: grainy, black-and-white security-camera footage, helicopters circling overhead, children running frantically across a parking lot. After 20 years, the story of the Columbine massacre is as timely as ever — and for some of the former students who lived it, the pain as fresh. Director Laura Farber, who was a freshman at the time of the shooting, gathers four of her classmates and returns to the school, walking through empty hallways, classrooms, and gyms as they recall their memories of that tragic day and discuss the lasting effect of the trauma in their lives. Farber’s first feature documentary sensitively examines their search for closure as well as the related issues today’s teens face.
- Saturday, November 3, 1:30 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Sunday, November 4, 1:30 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Directed by Michael Brown
- 79 minutes
When the going get tough, the tough get going. Erik Weihenmayer went blind at age 14, but that didn’t stop from him reaching for the stars, almost literally: He discovered rock climbing and eventually became the first blind person to summit Mount Everest. Nor did it stop his team leader from pushing him further: “Don’t make climbing Mount Everest the greatest thing you ever do,” he urged.In response to this challenge, Weihenmayer learned to whitewater kayak. Director Michael Brown documented the young man’s efforts to achieve his ultimate goal: paddling the entire length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The result is a sensitive documentary that explores what it truly means to look fear square in the eye. This cinematic journey of a brave soul who readily admits that limitations are real and formidable doubles as a meditation on our own capacity for navigating the turbulence of life.
- Friday, November 9, 6:30 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Saturday, November 10, 1:30 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
- Sunday, November 11, 4:30 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
COLORADO SHORT FILMS
The following films all screen together at these times:
- Sunday, Nov. 4, 11:30 a.m., UA Pavilions
- Wednesday, Nov. 7, 8:45 p.m., UA Pavilions
After a long night of partying, famous rapper Rubin Starr calls a Carrier to take him home, only to find out his driver has different plans for the ride.
- Directed by Shawna Schultz
- Cast: Deanna Amacker, Rion Evans | Editor: Patrick Behan | Cinematographer: Matt Schultz | Screenwriters: Stephen Beer, Adam Nettesheim
- 6 minutes
A sheriff recounts a case that tests his constitution.
- Directed by Kevin Hu
- Cast: Marty Lindsey | Cinematographer: Waylon Kane | Screenwriter: Richard Corso
- 8 minutes
A disappointed father struggles to accept his son.
- Written and directed by Fox Helms
- Cast: Choyce Wellington | Producer: Amy McGrath | Editor: Fox Helms | Cinematographer: Cindy Helms
- 10 minutes
Including more than 33,000 individual drawings of ink on paper, Everything Changes is an ever-changing animated doodle that meanders through 15 years of form and content.
- Directed and edited by Geoff Marslett
- 6 minutes
Roger is a 67-year-old retiree who becomes increasingly more desperate to land a job as his bills and boredom mount. The answer to his monetary problems sits in the garage under a tarp: His 1957 Thunderbird. But it’s the last relic of the olden days, and selling it would be the final goodbye to his past. The man is played by actor Jim O’Heir, best known for his role as Jerry Gergich on Parks and Recreation.
- Written and directed by Patrick Hackett
- Cast: Jim O’Heir, Dutch Bultema, Daniel Castine, Michael Haskins, Christy Kruzick, Bill LeVasseur, Connor Long, Diego A. Rodriguez, Alec Sarche, Rodman Schley | Producers: Britta Erickson, Alison Greenberg Millice, Mitch Dickman, Patrick Hackett | Editor: Fabiola Caraza | Cinematographer: Adam J. Minnick
- 16 minutes
A fast-flying tale of greed, gold, and family that takes place in the small Colorado mountain town of Cripple Creek.
- Directed and edited by Stephen Morgan
- Cast: Zack Rush, Sarah Johanna, Kyle Bradell | Cinematographer: Stephen Morgan | Screenwriter: Isaac Walsh
- 4 minutes
An old robot has seen better days as better automation has taken his job opportunities. While the world seems to constantly reject him, he tries to find a place in society.
- Written and directed by Dario Ortega
- Producers: Dario Ortega, Anthony Cross, Augusta Statz | Cast: Shayn Herndon, Maya Ortega, Betsey Cassell, Jesse Nyander | Editor: Dario Ortega | Cinematographer: Dario Ortega
- 23 minutes
Strawberry Milk explores the complexity of gender stereotypes puzzling the relationship between a single father and a young girl understanding her first period.
- Directed by Kimberly Greenwell
- Cast: Macy Friday, Bobby Lee Black| Producer: Susana Ortega | Editor: Kimberly Greenwell | Cinematographer: Ben Roland | Screenwriter: Kimberly Greenwell
- 6 minutes
An intergenerational collaboration across — and against — linear time dedicated to the director’s father, Winston “F.W.” Laszlo.
- Directed by Branson Laszlo
- 11 minutes
COLORADO SHORT DOCUMENTARIES
The following documentaries all screen together at these times:
- Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:45 p.m., UA Pavilions
- Sunday, Nov. 11, 10:45 a.m., UA Pavilions
When Vietnam veteran Debbie began her transition, she lost her job, her home and her life’s savings. Undaunted, she pursued her dream and is now living happily as a pink-haired activist.
- Directed and written by Jane Wells
- Editor: Francesco Portinari | Cinematographer: Emmanuel Bastien
- 9 minutes
Jim Bishop has dedicated his life to building a castle all by himself in the mountains of Colorado. Known for his tendency to speak his mind as well as his inspiring work ethic, Jim—and his castle—attract thousands of visitors every year.
- Directed by Evan Falbaum
- Producer: Landon Miller, Kemerton Hargrove | Editor: Evan Falbaum | Cinematographer: Evan Falbaum
- 18 minutes
In the mist-shrouded mountains of Nepal’s Hongu River valley, the Kulung people carve their lives out of the land while practicing an ancient form of animism. With English subtitles.
- Directed and edited by Ben Knight
- Cast: Maule Dhan | Producers: Ben Ayers, Renan Ozturk, Travis Rummel | Cinematographers: Ben Knight and Renan Ozturk
- 35 minutes
A glimpse into the unique world of Tom Hicks, a veteran ski patrolman and luthier – a maker of stringed instruments such as violins or guitars – whose life is as unconventional as his craft.
- Written, produced and edited by Thomas Stevenson and Timothy Stevenson
- Cast: Tom Hicks | Cinematographer: Thomas Stevenson, Timothy Stevenson
- 9 minutes
This Spanish documentary follows the struggles of a dauntless Hispanic single mother and their effect on her daughter. With English subtitles.
- Directed and edited by Briana Burciaga
- Cast: Maria Burciaga | Cinematographer: Briana Burciaga
- 11 minutes
The Ute Mountain Tribal Park consists of 125,000 acres of majestic canyon country and desert landscapes dotted with cliff dwellings, artifacts, and pictographs. A new generation of Utes must find a balance between the challenges of a rapidly changing world and the preservation of cultural identity.
- Directed, written and produced by Leland Collins, Serenity Ham, Kerwin Tom, Charles Lehi, Kasity Porambo and Destiny Whiteman
- Cast: Betty Howe, Ricky Hayes
- 9 minutes
COLORADO SHORT FILMS PLAYING AT OTHER TIMES:
An animated, experimental fillm. Ease the pain of past physical and mental distress.
- Directed by Kelly Sears
- 6 minutes
- Playing as part of Shorts: 4 Avante-Garde on Friday, November 2, 9:30 p.m., at UA Pavilions; Saturday, November 3, 3:45 p.m., UA Pavilions, and Tuesday, November 6, 2 p.m., UA Pavilions
- Created by Jake D. Williamson and Britt Chandler Johnson
- Directed by: Everett Glovier and Zach Myers
- Cast: Jake D. Williamson, Britt Chandler Johnson and Katie Wieland
- 23 minutes
- Playing as part of a special screening of four 2018 SeriesFest audience favorites at 7:45 p.m. Saturday November 3 at the Sie Film Center
PLAYING AS PART OF MUSIC VIDEO MIXTAPE:
The following music videos screen together with other shorts at these times:
- Thursday, November 8, 6:45 p.m., UA Pavilions
- Friday, November 9, 9:15 p.m., Sie FilmCenter
Briffaut, a Colorado local band, seeks the source of pleasure as its members embark on a cinematic journey through an alien landscape. Cast: Spica Stolfis, Briffaut
- Directed by J.D. Gonzales
- 4 minutes
A woman not in trouble. A woman in complete control. Cast: Alyssa Maunders
- Created by Down Time
- 5 minutes
Spread the word. The whole world needs a Raygun!
- Cast: Indigenous Robot
- Directed by Elyse South and Kyle South
- 5 minutes
Three studies of Sympathetic Psykho-Magic.
- Directed by Will Kingston and AJ Koch
- 4 minutes