Down from the mountain: Telluride faves highlight a kinder, gentler Denver Film Festival


DENVER | Across a wide world of cinema to watch, the most important place for the creation of the Denver Film Festival’s schedule seems to be just a six-hour drive west to San Miguel County.

The programmers of the fest’s 39th installment again used their Labor Day sojourn to the Telluride Film Festival to pluck many of the standout films there to get another look by audiences on the Front Range. All told, six of Telluride’s 32 select shows are back in Colorado starting Nov. 4.

Director Damien Chazelle’s prestige musical “La La Land,” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, scores the opening night slot Nov. 4 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, while fellow Telluride picks “Toni Erdmann,” “California Typewriter” and “Things to Come” will be Denver festival special presentations.

But the biggest to-do for a Telluride alum goes to “Lost in Paris,” which is being honored with DFF’s Rare Pearl Award, with filmmakers Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon in attendance to be feted for a comedic body of work that’s regularly compared to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.

If musicals and physical comedy seem out of place at a festival traditionally known for having its finger on the pulse of the often serious awards season, you’re not alone.

“Joyous cinema is not my thing, but I love them,” said Brit Withey, artistic director of the Denver Film Society, about Abel and Gordon’s films. Withey said that he and other programmers have been trying to bring the filmmaking couple to Denver for almost a decade, and having them here amid a tumultuous election year is a welcome break from solemnity.

“There’s a lot of happy things in this year’s festival,” Withey told a crowd of film society VIPs assembled Friday night in the Sie FilmCenter’s Maglione Theater, many of whom let out a comical groan of disbelief. Withey assured them that even the lightest of this year’s fare was still “tinged” with tension or drama.

One such offering is “Mom and Me,” a documentary focused on some of the manliest men in Oklahoma waxing poetic about how their mothers played a key role in their lives. One VIP, after hearing about the maternally focused flick, quickly asked Withey if she could buy a copy of the movie on the spot.

“Not from me,” Withey quipped.

Recent years have seen the Denver fest veering into more eclectic territory – Michael Moore and the stop-motion “Anomalisa” come to mind – for its showcase films after a steady tradition of picking Oscar front-runners like “The Artist.” The 2016 lineup feels like a return to the Oscar-contender model, with “Jackie” (starring Natalie Portman) and director Garth Davis’ “Lion” (starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman) respectively tabbed with the centerpiece (Nov. 4) and closing night (Nov. 12) spots at the Ellie.

“From Damien Chazelle’s modern musical ‘La La Land’ … to Natalie Portman’s iconic portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s ‘Jackie,’ these films set the bar for the entire program,” said festival director Britta Erickson.

Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s much-hyped teen comedy “The Edge of Seventeen” (starring Hailee Steinfeld) also gets a red carpet matinee at the Ellie on Nov. 12.

Lest you think festival programmers have gone soft with the years, the festival still has its darker, late-night showcase films that push the thematic envelope. But Withey said this year’s lineup would be slightly less racy than last year’s inclusion of Gaspar Noe’s ultra-explicit “Love.”

“We did that 3D porn experience last year, and we’re not doing that again,” Withey said.

Instead, festival-goers can expect their flesh to come in the form of gore from horror movies such as Craig Anderson’s “Red Christmas,” Nicolas Pesce’s “The Eyes of My Mother” and Emiliano Rocha Minter’s post-apocalyptic thriller “We Are The Flesh.”

“Zombie movies are really tame compared to ‘We Are The Flesh,’” Withey cautioned a curious DFS donor.

All told, more than 200 titles will screen across the 12-day festival. Here’s what to keep on your cinematic radar:

Expanded footprint

DFF veterans are used to browsing Twist and Shout or grabbing a drink on the 16th Street Mall in between screenings at the Sie and the Denver Pavilions. This year, Denver Film Society has added the recently refurbished McNichols Civic Center as the “Festival Annex,” which will offer a public lounge, virtual reality exhibits and a series of panel discussions for patrons’ downtime.

World focus on Spain

Brush up on your Español – or rely on the subtitles – as Spanish cinema gets a special focus in the festival. Among the top titles to watch for are director Iciar Bollain’s family drama “The Olive Tree” and the experimental seafaring documentary “Dead Slow Ahead.”

Colorado connections

Only four feature-length films shot in state or by Colorado filmmakers make the cut this year. Half of them – “Growing Up Coy” and “Reengineering Sam” – are documentaries, while “Actor Martinez” blurs the line between documentary and fiction as aspiring actor (Arthur Martinez, a former festival volunteer) hires two indie directors to chronicle his life. If the offerings seem sparse, head to the festival annex at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 for a panel on the state of the Colorado film industry.


IF YOU GO: The 39th Denver Film Festival

  • Nov. 2 – 13 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave., Denver.
  • Full festival schedule at
  • Prices vary; tickets on sale at or at the Sie box office from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 30, noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 2. Ticketing also available one hour in advance of the first screening at all theater venues during the festival.