Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe extends his autobiographical homage to 70s rock —Risë Keller (DVD review...)

Patrick Fugit is Almost Famous

" It’s nice to talk to the world "
— Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies

MRQE Top Critic

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The Denver Film Festival turns 30 this year, and once again Movie Habit will be there. We asked the four of our writers who will be covering the fest to share their lore and insights.

What are you looking forward to?

Marty Mapes: An interview with David Ansen. I don’t have one lined up yet, but we’re a Newsweek household, so I already feel like I know him. He recently wrote about the movie journal he’s been keeping for 40 years. If you haven’t read the article, look it up.

Movie-wise, I suppose I’m most looking forward to the horror films Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door and The Orphanage in Boulder on Sunday. I know there will be a good crowd, and it looks like a decent double feature.

Risë Keller: I am looking forward to seeing Persepolis, and to taking my family to see Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. I’d like to see rhe mystery screening; I’m guessing here, but all the hints are there in the publicity that it’s the Coen Brothers’ latest, an adaptation of No Country for Old Men, a Cormac McCarthy novel. And although I could care less about the red carpet stuff, I’m also going to the opening night premiere, The Savages, starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman and directed by Tamara Jenkins (who made Slums of Beverly Hills a few years back, which I loved). I’ve also heard good things about the documentary The Iron Ladies of Liberia; it seems like something I would like since I was such a big fan of Sisters In Law, a documentary I saw a couple of years ago about women in Cameroon. And there are thirty more films I would love to see if I had more time.

Nick Reed: A film festival of this size will always bring a lot of surprises with it. It’s hard to say what I’m most excited about, but as far as films go, I am looking forward to the documentary about David Lynch the most. Directed by blackANDwhite, this film will provide a behind-the-curtain to such creations as Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, Wild At Heart, The Elephant Man and my favorite film of all time, Lost Highway.

Matt Anderson: It sounds like Marty’s got dibs on David Ansen, but I’m still looking forward to his session. I”m also looking forward to the Steven Goldblatt tribute. Goldblatt’s the cinematographer behind The Cotton Club, Angels in America, Closer, and Rent. It’ll also be fun to hear from Steven Bach, who headed up United Artist’s worldwide production back in its hey day, with movies like Manhattan and Apocalypse Now. Movie-wise, I’m hearing a lot of good things about Juno, and Keri Russell has my curiosity piqued for August Rush. Like Risë, I’m also curious about Persepolis and, like Nick, Lynch is lurking in the deep, dark shadows of my quirky list.

What’s your favorite movie from past years?

Matt Anderson: Ray. After that one, I wrote about how Jamie Foxx had a lock on the Best Actor Oscar. OK. A lot of people did. But that was a great movie and a great way to kick off the festival, with a healthy contingent, including Jamie Foxx and director Taylor Hackford, in attendance. I also got a big kick out of The World’s Fastest Indian.

Risë Keller: I was surprised at how Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering stayed with me, long after I had watched it. I love films that are about specific places and I love London; I liked how Minghella worked all these different aspects of the city into the story. I also loved the Colorado Filmmakers’ Showcase, a collection of shorts I saw a couple of years ago; I was thrilled to see such high-quality work from local folks—and to see that the sold-out show packed the screening theater. That said, I was disappointed to see that there isn’t a similar collection from the local filmmaking community this year.

Marty Mapes: Impossible to say. The big movies never seem to live up to all the hype. The ones I remember best are the ones that reveal some corner of the world I’ve never seen before. There was some Irish documentary, one of the first I’d seen shot on HD, and although I don’t remember the details of the subject matter (something about Bloody Sunday), I remember the scenery and the faces well. I loved the year they showed a bunch of East German films. There seemed to be a similar current running through all of the films. Together, they revealed the angst Germans (and Poles, too) felt about the post-collapse switch from communism to democracy. One of the German films I could not get tickets to was Schulze Gets the Blues. I finally saw it as few months after the festival and liked it a lot.

As a member of the press, I have access to DVD screeners, and I always remember the movies I saw in the theater better than the ones I saw at home. Let that be a lesson to myself—go down to the Tivoli more often!

Nick Reed: There have been so many memorable films, but I think the one that stands out the most would be Laura Smiles. It was like an indie-version of American Beauty, with an outstanding cast and unique direction—it didn’t see the light of day in theaters, but it was a fantastic film and to this day I recommend it to people who have netflix.

What’s your favorite non-movie event from past years?

Matt Anderson: Ah. Picking only one isn’t easy. “Evening With” sessions have been like mini-film school classes with past participants including Kevin Bacon, Ang Lee, Scott Wilson, Morgan Freeman, and Claude Lelouch. Other formats where visiting talent interact with festival attendees, including panel discussions like Brokeback Mountain: Page to Screen and “Coffee Talk” sessions about the challenges of documentary filmmaking come to mind. But, while I still fondly recall the moment when Soleil Moon Frye kiddingly told me to “get it together” when I told her scheduling conflicts prevented me from making it to either screening of her documentary about her dad and Alzheimer’s (a subject my family is painfully close to), and even though I am now officially a “player” in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the coolest event was the Evening with Vilmos Zsigmond. Wow. That became a pleasurable marathon session as the man shared lots of great experiences and stories.

Marty Mapes: I’ve never done the Red Carpet and am not particularly interested in the fame, the celebrity, the glitz. I find that has little to do with how interesting a movie is. But I’ve gotten the chance to meet some great actors and directors over the years in more informal settings. Again, the relative fame has little to do with how interesting the people are.

I haven’t done any of the workshops or panels, either, so perhaps I’m the wrong guy to ask. I suppose the best non-film moments (I know, you asked about events, but still…) are the unexpected ones. When a filmmaker does a great Q&A, it can be better than the movie. Talking to friends who are passionate about film—even if they hate it—is a natural high.

Risë Keller: I’m with you on the Q&A sessions—often they alone are worth the trip to Denver and the time spent. But I have never done any of the workshops or panels at a Starz fest. This year, however, I’d like to attend the Trendy Screenwriter Workshop.

Nick Reed: The magic of seeing and meeting the people that are involved behind the scenes. Either at a reception or an after-party, meeting different actors, directors or producers, it’s always interesting to hear about what they went through to be at the festival.

What’s your best specific advice to someone thinking about attending?

Marty Mapes: First, don’t pick a movie based on whether the subject matter interests you. Be willing to try something you wouldn’t otherwise pick, especially if you hear some good buzz from critics, friends, or even strangers wandering the halls.

Second, you can’t see it all, so don’t let that bug you. There will be 200 movies, and you don’t want to be the kind of person who feels you have to see them all. Don’t burn yourself out. Just see what you can.

Third, stick around after the movie and talk about it. There may be a Q&A with the director. If not, hang around the auditorium, the hallways, or the cafe. Listen in on other people’s conversations, or strike one up with someone who seems to have the same reaction as you. The best thing about movies is often the afterglow. Even if it isn’t, you’re likely to learn something about why you reacted the way you did. You’ll get more out of it if you digest it than if you simply walk from one movie to the next.

Risë Keller: I first thought that the Starz’ organizers didn’t know which of the filmmakers and cast would be attending when they printed their schedule. I later discovered that a little circle with a star in it indicated a guest appearance. Fortunately, it’s easier to look at the program online than it has been in past years, but I still need to spread out the paper guide and look at each listing when I decide what I want to see most. I’m not sure how I’d advise someone else to pick films, but with 200 films there is certainly something for everyone.

Matt Anderson: It’s a film festival, which means it’s a terrific opportunity to see things that in many cases you won’t have another opportunity to see on the big screen. Explore. Get out of the comfort zone and discover different cultures and filmmaking styles by checking out the foreign movies. Remember: Subtitles are good for you! (And, if you need some incentive, as a reward for taking on something challenging, you can also treat yourself to something mainstream, like Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show.)

Nick Reed: Make sure you see as much as you can; what ever you think looks good or bad, you will always be surprised. And no matter what you do: TALK. No matter who it is, just talk to different people around the festival. You’ll get to hear the buzz on different films, what they’ve seen, what they want to see… you’ll always discover something new if you socialize around other film lovers.