For the love of movies, this has been a spectacular film festival. As someone who attends a lot of these shindigs, I have been amazed at the high ratio of great movies to bad at this year’s Starz Denver Film Festival. You could throw a rock in Denver and hit a great film this week. The Denver Film Society rolls up their red carpets for storage after Sunday. If you haven’t been to the festival yet, or if you’re just looking to catch another couple screenings before the fabulousness fades, here are a few films you would do well to check out this weekend.
Kumare, which plays at 1pm on Saturday at the Starz Film Center at Tivoli and 4:15pm on Sunday at the Denver Film Center on Colfax, follows young filmmaker Vikram Gandhi, who sets out to expose new age gurus and other so-called spiritual leaders by becoming a fake guru yogi himself. Growing out his hair and beard, donning scarlet robes, and putting on a phony accent he admits is just an impression of his Hindi grandmother, Gandhi transforms into the guru Kumare. He quickly attracts a flock of devoted followers in Arizona. As Kumare begins to empathize and identify with their struggles, the film blossoms into gentle, heartfelt exploration of why and how we seek meaning in our lives. It’s far from the sort of muck-raking expose one might expect. “I always knew it wouldn’t be just a comedy,” Gandhi recalls. “We knew things would get trickier simply due to the subject matter.”
For the length of the shoot, Gandhi lived the Kumare persona completely. “I asked myself, what would Kumare think, when would he wake up, where would he sleep, how would he meditate? It wasn’t a huge stretch, but maybe Kumare just pushed things a little farther than I would have normally gone.” The production-wide, director-imposed vegetarian diet, however, was quite a stretch for some of the crew. “There were definitely some late night runs to Dairy Queen,” the director says with a chuckle. “Every once in a while I would find a Burger King wrapper in the house.”
Of course regardless of how much Vikram/Kumare began to connect with his followers, the entire film hinges on the moment when he must reveal himself as a fake, and the outcome does not disappoint. Kumare walks a fine line between humor and enlightenment with confidence. Vikram’s adventure as Kumare is so charming and unexpected, I have no problem recommending it as one of the surest bets of the festival, and one of the best films of the year.
Don’t be surprised if Kumare leaves you feeling refreshed and reinvigorated for one final weekend of intensive movie watching. You’ll be high on film, and the final two weekend picks will help you ride that buzz all the way to Sunday night. First up, one of the final Watching Hour midnight movie selections, Haunters, plays Friday night at 11:45pm at the Denver Film Center on Colfax and Saturday at 9pm at the Starz FilmCenter at Tivoli. The film’s title sounds like an East Asian horror head-trip a la Ringu or The Eye, but in fact it’s nothing of the sort. The story of a corrupt and damaged youth who can control people with his mind and the one man who is immune to his power, Haunters is an action and suspense-packed roller coaster ride through the backstreets and side alleys of Seoul, South Korea. The film is reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s Scanners or M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, but with the subtext removed and replaced with twice as much action and fun. In a year where most summer blockbusters disappointed, Haunters fills the void.
What better way to close out your experience at a festival whose slogan is “roll out the red” than by doing just that? If you’ve spent the festival pinching pennies and attending smaller screenings, Saturday night is your chance to throw caution to the wind and embrace your glamorous self at the festival’s final Red Carpet screening, Michel Hazanavicius’ much buzzed about The Artist. French comic actor Jean Dujardin leads an impressive multinational cast including John Goodman and James Cromwell in a story about the death of silent films and the dawn of the talkies in the late 1920s. Dujardin is a Valentino-esque silent heartthrob who struggles with the transition to sound. If this sounds a little familiar to those of us who spent our childhoods watching beat up VHS copies of Singin’ in the Rain, know that The Artist is itself a silent film, a meta-commentary and love letter to a nearly forgotten era of classic cinema. The red carpet will be positively crowded with the likes of James Cromwell, Alan Cumming, We Need to Talk About Kevin director Lynn Ramsey, and approximately 1 zillion more filmmakers and celebrities. Celebrating the heritage of movies surrounded by the filmmaking elite, feasting your eyes on a send-up to the medium of film itself promises to be a sublime way to say farewell to the most successful festival the Denver Film Society has hosted in years.