Coming Attractions

Film fest an eclectic, inspiring showcase

Three of the best films at this year's Denver Film Festival

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When most people see red carpets, they’re on television and full of recognizable faces from the worlds of entertainment or sports. Most of us will never get to walk one, have our photos taken and answer questions from the press.

But thanks to the Denver Film Festival, which hosted its 41st iteration Oct. 31 through Nov. 11, local actors, directors, writers, producers and others in the industry based in the metro area had the chance to do just that outside of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Most, like producer Anthony Cross, used the opportunity to not only speak about their work, but champion the city and state’s film scene — a scene that has been growing in recent years.

“Film here in not just a stagnant art form. It is a living, breathing thing,” Cross explained. “It is important we make it something that is worthwhile and accessible to everybody.”

This year’s festival included more than 200 screenings, from three-to-five-minute short films to feature-length titles that will soon be mainstays during awards season in just a few months. There were documentaries, spotlights on the films of Hungary and the United Kingdom and even music videos.

“Our audiences have become really good at trying new things as part of the festival, which is pretty unique,” said Andrew Rodgers, Denver Film Society executive director.

The aim of such a wide variety of offerings is not only to entertain and enlighten, but to inspire filmmakers of all ages to tell their stories.

“It’s unbelievable to see how much the festival has grown over the past 41 years, and now we’re working on building up a younger audience,” said Ron Henderson, Denver Film Society and Festival founder.

I picked three movies from the eclectic lineup that I think you should make a point to spend time with when they come to a screen, large or small, near you.

‘The Front Runner’

For Coloradans and political junkies alike, director Jason Reitman’s latest film, “The Front Runner,” tackles a story many of us might think we know — the failed presidential bid of Colorado Sen. Gary Hart in 1988.

The film centers on Hart (a restrained, torn Hugh Jackman) as he navigates the pressures, lies and half-truths that come with running for the highest office in the land. The film brims over with fantastic performances from Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Molly Ephraim and many, many others.

Written by Reitman, Jay Carson and Matt Bai (based on his book, “All the Truth Is Out”) the film explores questions of what is interesting vs. important, the culpability of politicians and the media alike in turning politicians into celebrities and the standards to which we hold ourselves and our leaders. In other words, a film made for these fraught political times.

“When we’ve created a process where we make politicians into celebrities, eventually we were going to have celebrity candidates,” Bai said during a post-screening discussion that included Carson, Reitman and producer Helen Estabrook on Nov. 8 at Ellie Caulkins. “This campaign was really the moment when the world of politics and entertainment collided.”

With instantly quotable lines like “The world changes when young people give a damn,” and an exploration of what the American public will and won’t stand for when it comes to their leaders and the fourth estate, “The Front Runner” should not be missed.

‘The Invisibles’

In February 1943, the Nazi regime declared Berlin “free of Jews.” But that count was off by about 1,700 people. People who did everything they could to remain hidden and blend in. To become invisible.

Claus Räfle’s film, “The Invisibles,” is a fascinating and unique blending of documentary and historical drama, which tells the true story of four Jewish Berliners and the lengths they went through to avoid being deported into the Third Reich’s concentration camps. Some of the survivors actually worked in the underground resistance, undermining the Germans wherever they could, while others’ sole focus was staying a step ahead of the Gestapo.

The movie uses actual interviews from the four survivors as they remember traumatic events like, as one put it, “the day I became illegal.” That the film manages to be as uplifting and even funny as it is stands as a testament to Räfle’s craft and the ordinary heroes he celebrates.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the survivors who make the biggest impression — testaments to the power of the will to live and the regenerative grace of humanity.

‘Roma’

To me, there is a kind of otherworldly beauty that comes with a movie shot in black and white. The contrasts are deeper and the shadows and light become a more visceral part of the storytelling. All of which is to say, Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, “Roma,” takes Mexico City of the early 1970s and turns it into a world of everyday enchantment and poetry through black-and-white cinematography and personal storytelling.

Based on his own experiences growing up in the city, Cuarón (“Children of Men,” “Gravity” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) cast first-time and unknown actors in the role of a middle-class family at a time of personal and political change. The movie feels more like a documentary than a scripted drama, and Cuarón (who also wrote and shot it) uses a poet’s eye to tell extraordinarily moving stories to which everyone can relate.

The film is coming straight to Netflix, so you have no excuse to miss what is undoubtedly one of the year’s best films.

Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.

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