Film Festival a trip around the world

Posted 11/3/09

Lights! Camera! Light rail! That’s festival programmer Brit Withey’s advice to south metro movie buffs who are inclined to attend the 32nd Starz …

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Film Festival a trip around the world


Lights! Camera! Light rail!

That’s festival programmer Brit Withey’s advice to south metro movie buffs who are inclined to attend the 32nd Starz Denver Film Festival, Nov. 12-22.

The parking lot at the Tivoli on the Auraria campus — home to the Starz Film Center — may be spacious enough during much of the Denver Film Society’s year-round programming. But there goes the neighborhood when a basketball or hockey game hits the Pepsi Center across the street.

When the alternate worlds of movie buffs and sports fans occupy the same space — specifically, the same parking spaces — it may not be a problem worthy of quantum physics, but it is at least akin to an uncomfortable seat at a bad movie.

Fade-in: A starring role for public transportation.

“It’s easy. You can get off at the Auraria stop or the Pepsi Center. If there’s anything going on at the Pepsi Center, light rail is highly encouraged,” Withey said, with the voice of experience.

Flashback: Traffic snarls, delayed screenings and irritated customers at the box office.

As Denver’s public transportation system has expanded, so has the metro area’s premiere film event, which also uses the light rail-accessible Denver Center for the Performing Arts as a venue.

The Denver Film Festival, sponsored by Douglas County-based Starz, attracts movie fans from across the Front Range and beyond every year when it unreels more than 200 movies in something close to a week and half.

The 2009 event begins Nov. 12 when the highly anticipated “Precious” makes its Colorado premiere as the festival’s opening night film at the DCPA’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Award-winning “Precious” is the disturbing story of a troubled and obese 16-year-old girl growing up in Harlem. The cast, largely playing against type, includes Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and comic Mo’Nique as the girl’s abusive mother.

Newcomer Gabourey Sibide plays Precious and the Oscar buzz has already begun.

“It’s one of the most affecting films I’ve seen in a really long time,” Withey said. “It’s a heavy film and there was some doubt about putting something on opening night that isn’t a happy-go-lucky film where you walk out and go to a big party.”

That’s exactly what will happen, though. When the last reel of “Precious” unspools, the audience will, perhaps awkwardly, regroup for a gala party a few blocks away — to discuss the film, escape its morbidity or maybe something in between.

“Everybody here felt so strong that that this is just one of the best films of the year by far,” Withey said of the decision to schedule “Precious” for the semi-formal opening night.

The 11-day festival’s other gala bookend will be closing night’s “Young Victoria” on Nov. 21 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The drama about the politics of power stars Emily Blunt playing England’s Victoria just as the young queen is ascending to the throne.

Among the special guests this year will be actor Ed Harris, who will receive the Mayor’s Career Achievement Award and Hal Holbrook who, according to Withey, turns in a tour-de-force performance in the new film, “That Evening Sun.”

“It’s pretty much just him in every scene,” Withey said of Holbrook. “He plays this old curmudgeon who leaves the rest home he’s been put in by his son and goes back to the farm he’d lived on his whole life only to find his son has rented it to some unseemly characters.”

After the screening, Holbrook will receive the festival’s Excellence in Acting award.

The city of Denver, itself, stars in several documentaries focusing on last year’s Democratic National Convention. South metro resident Glenn Spagnuolo, an organizer of the Recreate ’68 protests who was profiled by Colorado Community Newspapers last year, is among the locals who make cameos in the locally-produced movie.

Homegrown filmmakers also have a surprisingly strong showing in a program of Colorado shorts, says Withey.

“The package of local shorts is one of the best groupings of shorts I’ve seen in a really long time,” he said. “We always want to support local work as much as possible, but for it to be such a no-brainer where they’re as good as any short film in the festival is fantastic.”

Other festival programs will include a focus on Mexican cinema, a series of environmental documentaries and a panel discussion featuring many of the festival’s women filmmakers.

A Saturday at the Movies program will include two family-friendly features, for which the price of admission will be a toy donation to the Salvation Army.

So how does one navigate 11 days of panels, parties and films that number in the triple digits? Withey, a film festival veteran, has a few suggestions.

When circling options in the festival program, the programmer says it is a good idea is to begin with movies that have been nominated for the various competitive awards.

“That’s the programming team saying these are the top six films in these categories, don’t miss these films,” he said.

If you go

The 32nd Starz Denver Film Festival runs Nov. 12-22. Most films screen at the Starz Film Center in the Tivoli on the Auraria Campus. Gala events at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

For tickets and a full schedule, visit


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