After twelve days of sensational cinema, the 34th Annual Starz Denver Film Festival came to a close on Sunday. But not before breaking last year’s records in attendance (+50,000), number of films screened (250), and number of countries represented (47). One of the region’s leading film events, the SDFF entertained thousands of cinephiles and welcomed over 150 distinguished filmmakers in less than a fortnight.

In a year that saw temperatures in the teens on Opening Night to slightly above freezing on Closing Night, the festival, much like the weather, delivered plenty of disparate drama. From the many moods of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia to the tropical punch of The Descendants.

Still, even the most divergent changes and temperatures couldn’t keep the heartiest of festival goers away as Saturday’s red carpet gave way to a pack of bow tied, Jack Russell terriers, screenwriter and director of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, Excellence in Acting recipient Alan Cumming (X-Men, Spy Kids) and Mayor’s Career Achievement Award winner, James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential, Babe). Said Cromwell:

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been able to do work that has moved people and may have made a difference in lives while also giving me an opportunity to do things outside of my acting, in terms of being a citizen and a human being, that make a difference. I survived with my integrity intact. And I think you always get a lifetime achievement award for survival (laughs).”

A fitting end to the festival was a screening of The Artist, French director Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to cinema that features James Cromwell. In the film, a silent movie star must quickly adapt to the advent of talking pictures. Said Hazanavicius, “I hope they (audiences) will understand that it’s a small and modest movie. It’s a charming love story, so I don’t want them to expect anything else. If they like it, that will be perfect.”

Perfect it was. As for expectations? The Artist is currently considered a front runner for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards (February 2012).

After the closing ceremonies, the SDFF presented the following juried awards:

The Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for Best Feature FilmVolcano. Directed by Runar Runarsson, Volcano is a coming-of-age tale about a 67 year old custodian and volcanic survivor who becomes estranged from his family and friends upon retirement. In an About Schmidt kind of way, he must make dramatic changes, including coming to terms with love and loss, to reinvent himself and find meaning in life.

New Directors Award – Sophia Takal for Green – an intriguing depiction of jealousy at play as a young, intellectual couple leave the hustle and bustle of New York for the backwoods of the South to conduct research for a new book. However, their relationship is soon put to the test as new friendships help fuel anxiety and paranoia in this edgy, psychological thriller.

The Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary – In You’ve Been Trumped, filmmaker Anthony Baxter documents the attempt by Donald Trump to strong arm the Scottish people by building a mega resort on their precious wilderness. A highly entertaining, yet shockingly real case of corporate greed that speaks directly to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the exploitation of the working class.

Also recognized, Patrick Doyon’s Sunday won Best Animated Short. Huay-Bing Law took home The Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award (Benny) and Ariel Kleiman (Deeper Than Yesterday) was awarded The Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award.

-Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”

Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film journalist and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles). In addition to his blog on 303, you can follow The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest entertainment news, reviews, and interviews.

Sells is a nationally syndicated film journalist for The Reel Deal and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (LA). Based out of Denver, CO, he co-owns a production company, HFMedia, and is currently developing a handful of screenplays for the large and small screens. In addition to The Reel Deal and MovieMaker, Sells’ work can be seen in Film International as well as 303 and Denver Life Magazines and blogs.