Denver Film Festival 2015: Take One

Six days into the Denver Film Festival 2015, six more to go. It’s the moment somewhere between visual stimulation and blurry-eyed, where pacing one’s self is key. I’ve seen twelve […]

November 9, 2015 // Tracy Shaffer // No Comments //

Six days into the Denver Film Festival 2015, six more to go. It’s the moment somewhere between visual stimulation and blurry-eyed, where pacing one’s self is key. I’ve seen twelve films thus far, here’s my take on a few of them:
Opening night brought director Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animation feature Anomalisa to a red carpet screening the Ellie Caulkins. Festival Director, Britta Erickson, admitted it had been called a “brave choice” to open with a darkly quirky tale about a lonely, paranoid puppet. I’d say ice skating naked is brave, this was risky; a great choice for a festival opener as it got them all talking. A story of loneliness and alienation, banality drums Michael to the brink of crazy until Lisa appears, bringing him a life-saving illusion. Duke Johnson’s animated characters allow us the distance to emotionally connect with Michael’s situation, or shield ourselves from it. This film would be brilliant at 45 minutes.
UK/ Ireland/Canada offering, Brooklyn, tells a young woman’s journey from the home of her birth to the landscape of her heart. A well-constructed story, exquisite acting and sumptuous color palette make director John Crowley’s film thoroughly engaging.
Michael Moore took the Centerpiece spot with his Where to Invade Next, a humorous and poignant look into how the other half lives. “Invading” seven European countries, Moore exposes the lifestyle differences available to a culture when wealth and war are not the primary drivers of society. This one made me laugh, made me cry and made me think.
Kilo Two Bravo was hard for me to watch: intense, bloody, and based on a true story. This war drama tells a graphic and personal tale of a platoon of British soldiers trapped in an active mine field, with a dramatic, high-stakes rescue. It is a powerful film which (under the name KAJAKI) just picked up two nominations at the British Independent Film Awards—Debut Director and Producer of the Year. Kilo Two Bravo opens theatrically on November 13th.
“A good hoax promises a good story and visuals”, says trickster Joey Skaggs and he should know. Documentary film, The Art of the Prank follows this fine artist-turned-performance prankster from 60s radical to master media buster. He’s made headlines for decades with his Cathouse for Dogs stunt (the ABC News cover piece on it It’s a Dog’s Life, even won an Emmy) and playing Father Anthony, a Dominican priest who rode his portable confession booth down Eighth Avenue, making confession convenient. Unlike being “punked”, Skaggs’ artistry lies in his keen focus on society and his ability to craft provocative pranks that challenge our perception of the truth. Timely as the election cycle rolls out the propaganda, The Art of the Prank reveals how gullible we really are.
She’s the Best Thing in It is another doc, about Tony-winning New York actress Mary Louise Wilson ruminating on her life on the boards and her first foray into teaching the art form. This one strikes quite close to home and as I was watched, I wondered about the audience for this film? Is it for people like me who’ve lived it, or does the subject have a broader appeal to the less dramatic types? Revealing the clarity & confusion, the hopes & heartache of a life in the theatre, it is ultimately a story of resilience.
The Stan Brakhage Award was presented to filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky at a screening of four of his short films. They are silent, visual poetry, creative plays of image, shadow and light. They are also not for everyone. Like a cinematic meditation, the journey is an inner one as you let go of linear expectations, allowing yourself to quiet the mind, stay present, and follow the artist’s path. Celluloid Zen.
And sometimes… from way out in the cinemasphere— between the Ben Hurs and The Breakfast Clubs— comes a movie that reminds you what a truly great film can do. This year’s celestial offering is called Youth, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, directed by Italian writer/director, Paolo Sorrentino. It is a magical rendering that revives the feeling you had the first hit the art house cinema to be thrilled by the genius of Fellini. To quote lifetime Denver Film Society Member, Chris Dyer, “I haven’t felt that way since the first time I saw Wings of Desire” (Wim Wenders). I would agree.

The 38th Denver Film Festival 2015 runs through November 15 at various locations throughout the city. Visit for tickets, schedules or information.