Denver Film Festival takes audiences to new places

Event also honors late artistic director

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At its core, film is an expression of people’s lives, and as such, it stands to reason film festivals would mirror this fact. And for more than two decades, the Denver Film Festival was at least partly an expression of Denver Film’s artistic director, Michael Brittin “Brit” Withey.

The 50-year-old was killed in a one-car accident on March 31 and so it’s fitting that the 42nd Denver Film Festival begins with a tribute to the man and just some of the movies he loved.

“Brit was a mentor to me, so I’ve been working with others in his stead on this year’s festival,” said Matthew Campbell, interim artistic director. “We spent the last year trying to put together something really special. Something to honor Brit’s legacy and something for everyone, regardless of what their tastes are.”

The festival kicks off on Wednesday, Oct. 30 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 14th and Curtis Street, UA Denver Pavilions, 500 16th St. and SIE Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. The Festival Annex will again be set up at the McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave.

During the festival’s run more than 250 films will be screened, including local, national and international works. There will also be industry panels, achievement awards, tributes, as well as an International Focus on Brazilian Cinema.

“We have some great red carpets with some movies that will be discussed well into award season,” said Festival Director and Interim Executive Director Britta Erickson. “The body of program is super strong, with films from more than 40 countries.”

Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” featuring a knock-out cast that includes Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield and Jamie Lee Curtis, is one of four red carpet special events, with Johnson in attendance to receive the 2019 John Cassavetes Award on Thursday, Oct. 31.

Other notable films that will be screened include Trey Edward Shults’ award-worthy “Waves,” Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” and Mark Cousins’ 14-hour documentary, “Women Make Film.”

As in previous years, the Festival Annex has become the place to be for people who want a more interactive experience. The annex will play host to panel discussions; virtual reality, interactive and immersive experiences; High School Day; community engagement; and a Festival Lounge for the public.

A popular returning feature is the 60-minute “Fire Escape,” which can include up to 15 people at a time. In the experience, eight building tenants are entangled in a murder and participants need to solve the case. And then there is “Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall,” a virtual reality experience that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where a young woman lives with her father in a lighthouse at the edge of an endless sea.

“Creatives are doing some really exciting things with VR experiences,” said Campbell. “We’re bringing these different types of storytelling and new technological forms to Denver audience. A lot of them are brand new, and there’s no other way to experience them.”

Creating an experience is really what makes attending a film festival a unique experience. For many of these films, particularly shorts and international films, this may be the only chance to see them on a big screen. Both Campbell and Erickson encourage attendees to be bold and adventurous when selecting films or themes to explore and then attend a panel or discuss the films you check out.

“What’s important in experiencing a film festival is taking chances. Read through the guide, pick things that feel heartfelt to you and things that connect with you,” Erickson said. “You may not love everything you see, but you have to dive in. We want you to have a dialogue about what you see, because you get more out of the experience when you interact with your fellow audience members.”

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