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October 11, 2018

Denver Film Festival: The Line-up


What a perilous time to be a film festival programmer. Closer examination is made regarding the proportion of female filmmakers, especially in the major festivals. There is also question of whether or not a filmmaker should be included based on past actions or statements. While no less than Guillermo del Toro has declared that next year's Venice Film Festival will feature an equal number of films from female directors, this year proved a bit awkward with only one film in the major competition, The Nightingale by Jennifer Kent, and the inclusion of a documentary celebrating female directors, from male filmmaker Mark Cousins. Film festivals will always reflect programmers' biases so the question of inclusion by female or minority filmmakers will constantly be debated, especially if the filmmaker has not been legitimized by film industry or festival award already.

At this point, Amazon Pictures has kept Woody Allen's newest film on the shelf, with re-hashed arguments about what he may or may not have done given new life with the #metoo movement. Roman Polanski's Based on a True Story has had no festival screenings in North America, much less distribution, due to the current climate. As he is not an English language filmmaker, less attention is paid to Korean Kim Ki-duk. I would have to question the remorse for past actions Kim displayed in his autobiographical documentary, Arirang. Based on last minute re-editing of The Predator prior to the Toronto International Film Festival screening, and Bradley Cooper's belated discovery of the history of Jon Peters, one of the producers of A Star is Born, it seems like more thorough vetting may be required of filmmakers and programmers.

It is also a perilous time to be a white male writing about film. I want to qualify my whiteness by pointing out that I am culturally Jewish, which for certain people is a disqualification. My photo is on this blog's masthead, so that aspect of my identity is no secret. And anybody who's read my stuff knows that I am an unapologetic auteurist, although I will note on occasion that the director is not always the dominant person on a given film. I have written about female filmmakers, including some who should be known better. That said, I'm not sure what to make of Dan Fogelman, who blames white male critics for the negative response to his newest film, Life Itself. I haven't seen it, but I did see Fogelman's previous film, the mawkish Danny Collins, so I'm not encouraged. Nor am I expecting filmmakers to make their film for "me" as some well-intended people will put it. Admittedly certain aspects of my life will inform how I may process and judge the film I've seen. In terms of film festival coverage, it's based on what films I've been able to see in screenings and screener links out of the films being presented. What I'll write will consist on a balancing act between those films I feel most enthusiastic about, and giving a fair representation of a fraction of the films shown at the Denver Film Festival.

One of this year's special Red Carpet presentations, The Front Runner is certain to be of local interest as Gary Hart was one of Colorado's senators at the time he made his ill-fated run to be president. In the interest of full disclosure, I've voted for the guy. And my heart sank when I saw that photo of Hart with Donna Rice. You would think that someone like Preston Sturges would make up a story about a married candidate seen with a pretty blonde who was not his wife on a boat called "Monkey Business". Director Jason Reitman is set to appear for what I expect will be a lively Q & A with the audience.

The other Red Carpet presentations will be Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite, Brady Corbet's Vox Lux, and Neil Burger's The Upside. That last film is the English language remake of the French film, The Intouchables from 2011.

Also scheduled among the films that will be jumping from the festival circuit to theatrical runs are Roma, The Green Book, Burning, Shoplifters, just to name a few.

The annual tribute to an "experimental" filmmaker will be to a personal favorite, Barbara Hammer. I was able to see several films and meet Ms. Hammer at the Miami Beach Cinematheque about ten years ago.

The featured country this year is Hungary. Among the titles is The Whiskey Bandit by Nimrod Antal, the Hungarian-American director following two good Hollywood action films, Predators and Armored. Also a new film by Marta Meszaros, Aurora Borealis, as well as Jupiter's Moon by Kornel Mundruczo, his follow-up to White God. Surprisingly missing is the newest film by Laslo Nemes, Sunset, Hungary's Oscar entry.

Of local interest are two documentaries. We are Columbine is a documentary looking back at the school shooting that took place in 1999 by Laura Farber, herself a freshman at the high school at the time, with interviews with four other former students. More personal for myself would be Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records as one who spent many hours and dollars at Denver's Wax Trax! record store when I was younger.

The full schedule can be reviewed with this link.

One bit of advice: I have been able to see the documentary about the real life Japanese cannibal, Caniba. It is admittedly a very unusual film both in its subject matter, and in the visual choices made by the filmmakers. But I would strongly advise not eating before seeing this film.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 11, 2018 08:01 AM