With over 250 films playing over the next 10 days, the 34th year of the Starz Denver Film Festival is the biggest yet. The sheer crush of movies sounds insane enough in the abstract … and that feeling is exacerbated when perusing the festival schedule, your eyes glazing over in an attempt to make heads or tails of a festival program that is bursting at the seams. When your trusty neighborhood film nerd (a.k.a. yours truly) has trouble processing the volume of material this festival has to offer, you know that’s a whole lotta movies goin’ on. But have no fear, I powered through my initial vertigo to bring you three sure-bet picks for the weekend. The festival is in full swing now, and there’s no better time to go out on a limb with a new cinematic experience. Who knows, you may just walk away with a new favorite movie.
Director Deron Albright is in town promoting his existential Ghanaian police drama, The Destiny of Lesser Animals – playing the Starz Film Center at Tivoli tonight at 7:30pm. As much as “existential Ghanaian police drama” sounds like a bit of a contrivance, the film actually flows quite naturally. The story as conceived by lead actor Yao B. Nunoo was initially set in Philadelphia. Albright recalls, “Yao’s script was a fairly straightforward policier that absolutely sprung to life when he reset it in his homeland of Ghana.” Suddenly what could have been a by-the-numbers NYPD Blue-reject about cops tracking down a loose-cannon killer transforms into a meditative reflection on Ghanaian identity and the desire to relocate to the first world at the expense of developing a viable and prosperous Ghana for the future.
Such intrinsically nationalistic material must have been a tall order for an outsider like Albright, who hails from Chicago, to maneuver. It was important for the director to entrench himself in his adopted country, and he did everything in his power to make a genuine, respectful, and most importantly Ghanaian film. For some, Albright notes, he would always be an outsider, “but to others, they saw how committed I was to ‘doing it right’ and genuinely began to respect me as a peer filmmaker as opposed to a mercenary interloper.” The Destiny of Lesser Animals sits at a fascinating intersection between the first and third world, and will leave you with plenty to talk about later over drinks.
On the flip-side of the thought-provoking but admittedly heavy Lesser Animals, is the good old fashioned, no-holds-barred slapstick comedy, The Fairy, which screens at 2:15pm today at the Starz Filmcenter at Tivoli. Dead-ender Dom (Dominque Abel) is barely holding onto his job as graveyard clerk at a nondescript hotel. One fateful night Fiona (Fiona Gordon) checks in, which would be normal enough except that Fiona claims to be a fairy who will grant Dom three wishes. Her fairy status is called into question when she fulfills Dom’s wishes through practical and very illegal means, but the unpredictable twists and turns of the pair’s journey are a pleasure to behold. Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon have a Buster Keaton-esque control of their bodies and can often incite laughter with nothing more than a flick of the wrist or a shake of the hips. The plot is an avalanche of madness, rolling up a bizarre cast of supporting characters including a dog-loving free-loader, a blind bartender, three vagrants, two bike cops, and an entire women’s rugby team, one of whom has a beautiful singing voice. You have to see it to believe it. While a few of the jokes fall flat on American ears – this is French comedy after all – The Fairy boasts a laudable command of storytelling and an intoxicating sense of fun and wonder about the world.
You would do well to finish your weekend with a screening of wistful, beautiful Indian family drama Patang, screening today at 1pm at the Denver Film Center Colfax location and Sunday night at 9:45pm at the Starz Filmcenter at Tivoli. Set in Ahmedabad during the city’s annual kite festival, Patang follows an extended family reunited for the holiday. Though I would wager a bet that few 303 readers grew up in India celebrating the annual kite festival, the emotional gamut run during any holiday family gathering transcends nationality and tradition. Patang excels in communicating both the unique joys and heart sadness that family can cause with the gentlest touch. Extended sequences of the viscerally overwhelming kite festival itself awe with kaleidoscopic color.
If you feel uncertain about dipping a toe into the waters of the Starz Denver Film Festival, one of these three films is sure to whet your whistle. This festival is an oft-overlooked Denver treasure. The Queen City is lucky to have such robust and unique programming at our fingertips.