Although the Denver Film Festival (DFF) has been around for more than 40 years, Colorado still isn’t known as one of the drivers of cinema culture in the US. However, in the last few years alone, Colorado films and filmmakers have started making waves and their inclusion in the DFF is now its own category — the Colorado Spotlight.
This year, the focus on Colorado filmmakers is especially great because we can almost call famed director Rian Johnson one of our own. Johnson’s film Knives Out will open the festival on October 31 with a Red Carpet screening at Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Johnson was raised in Denver during his childhood before moving to San Clemente, California. His rise to fame in the film world was gradual, punctuated by indie films like Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2008), which screened as the first film at the 31st DFF over a decade ago. Now, he’s known for directing such blockbusters as Looper (2012) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). It will be the second time Johnson opens the festival with one of his movies — a first for DFF.
Aside from the intrigue of Johnson, the Colorado Spotlight for DFF has secured five feature-length films and enough short films to curate a Colorado Narrative Shorts program. The feature-length films are 3 Days 2 Nights, Man Camp, The Right to Rest, A Towering Task and Classic. Topics range from harrowing documentaries to slapstick comedies, although all of them share a penchant for glorious scenery.
Of particular interest to Denver is the documentary The Right to Rest. In this film, directors Sarah Megyesy and Guillermo Roqués examine the homeless-rights movement in the city, including the criminalization of homelessness, the tiny-house project and the affordable housing crisis. This comes after an initiative to reverse the urban camping ban failed in this year’s elections — a move that may have happened due to its extreme wording. Cameras capture the urgent issue through advocacy groups Denver Homeless Out Loud and Colorado Village Collaborative as they try to construct the Beloved Community Village.
Another sobering documentary included in the Colorado Spotlight is 3 Days 2 Nights, directed by John Breen. In this film, brothers Mark and Andy Godfrey revisit, for the first time, the traumatizing experience of a plane crash in Aspen that killed their parents. After 40 years of silence, Andy penned a story for the Aspen Times Weekly about the incident, which led to the filming of the documentary while the two brothers road-tripped to retrace the path. 3 Days 2 Nights will not be a movie to take lightly — the depths of emotion expressed will surely have most people reaching for tissues.
It seems that Colorado filmmakers are a fan of documentaries since two other feature-length films fall into that category. In A Towering Task, director Alana De Joseph takes on chronicling the history of the Peace Corps while asking whether the agency still remains relevant today. This is the first feature documentary of the Peace Corps. In Classic, directed by Tim Kaminksi, viewers watch as townspeople of Nenana, Alaska prepare for and celebrate the Ice Classic — an annual betting of when the ice will melt. It might not sound interesting, but the way Kaminski frames and captures the weeks, days and minutes leading up to the Ice Classic symbolizes so much more than meets the eye.
Man Camp, directed by Nate James Bakke, is an indie movie for those who love slapstick bro comedies like I Love You Man, Stepbrothers and The Hangover. It follows three brothers who spend an annual weekend at their family’s cabin in a tradition they call Man Camp, in honor of dead father. But this year, things are different when they show up to find their mom spending the weekend with her fiancé. Ridiculous situations, including a lot of drinking and pranking, ensue.
The Colorado Narrative Shorts will be even more varied than the feature-length films. From surrealist snapshots to loving portraits to horrible situations, these short films give you a tantalizing taste of what Colorado filmmakers have to offer the indie movie scene. Nine films, ranging from six to 16 minutes, run back-to-back, which is perfect for new film festival participants. It’s like the tapas of film, where each course stands on its own and leaves room for the others. The filmmakers will all be in attendance for the screenings of these shorts, which is a huge added bonus for those interested in asking questions.
With such a fascinating selection of films from Colorado, local cinephiles should rejoice. It’s not every day that we see films on the big screen that reflect a true Colorado spirit.
The Denver Film Festival runs October 31 through November 10 with various screenings occurring at various cinemas. For more detailed information about the full schedule and other events, go here.