Much like everything else this year, film festivals have changed. The Denver Film Festival is virtual, and while you may not have access to the red carpet or the interviews, you will have unprecedented access to the films. Here, I review four films playing at this year’s Festival. The Film Society and the Festival need support in these times just like everybody else does, and with the virtual format, you don’t have any excuses for missing a screening. All of the films reviewed here are available until Nov. 8, and all have a 48-hour unlock window and a 48-watch window once unlocked. See the complete schedule online at www.denverfilm.org. “See you” there.
This moody, atmospheric, and dynamic film from internationally acclaimed Chilean director Pablo Lorraín (Jackie, Neruda), is a visual and auditory treat. The titular character (Mariana Di Gíralamo) portrays a dense, tempestuous, and sensuous reggaeton dancer who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after a shocking accident that tears apart her family. Her husband, the temperamental dance troupe choreographer Gastón (Gael García Bernal), serves as her counterpoint in another great performance from Bernal.
Lorraín once said that “all art is political,” a sentiment that seems to come from another time and is one we do not hear very much in Hollywood. This film is true to Lorraín’s words, and Di Gíralamo’s electric performance and Lorraín’s stylish directing highlight Ema’s plight to be free of male dominance and societal pressures. The always slow-moving camera serves as the visual accompaniment to Ema’s spirit, and the breathless, sensual dance sequences serve as the energy that runs at her core. It is a political film, yes, but not one that dulls you with message. Ema is the message.
‘Til Kingdom Come (2020)
This fascinating documentary chronicles the strange and unlikely relationship between Israel and the American Evangelical community. The dynamic takes shape through several different stories, including Kentucky pastors and Evangelicals as well as the Trump and Netanyahu administrations. Many of the American donations are funneled into a philanthropic organization consisting of Jews and Christians—a group that has a strange amount of influence.
The film won’t win any awards for its cinematic prowess, but it wins for access and the sheer bizarro world it portrays. We see behind the curtain, the interviews are illuminative, and we leave with a better understanding of the dynamic as well as a bitter taste about some of the people and relationships. There many well-meaning people that walk through this world, but there are also snakes in the garden.
76 Days (2020)
It was inevitable that we would be flooded with documentaries about the pandemic, and this one from China is the first out of the gate. Following the lives of a disparate group of Wuhan residents and the hospital workers dealing with the first outbreak in the world, we get a rare look into the place where the pandemic began and at the people on the first front line. Most of us have seen the eerie images of an empty city, but seeing a lone ambulance speeding across a massive bridge—no other traffic in sight—brings the horror home. That could be any of us on the other end of the bridge.
This is a raw and intense film without frills or Hollywood trappings. It also works to demystify the pandemic for Americans who may believe this was foisted on us by the Chinese. To see the suffering, exhaustion, and sheer panic among everyone is to understand that this is a human problem.
Aging pot farmer Devi (Krisha Fairchild) lives off the grid, where she has been growing popular pot strains for years. Once marijuana is legalized, however, she finds herself in a struggle to survive in a world where you can now walk to the corner to get what you want. As the Festival notes, “Shot on actual off-the-grid pot farms during harvests,” the film is punctuated by wonderful performances and beautiful cinematography of the wilderness buttressed against the small towns and the large cities just beyond. It is a touching story and a beautiful film. The ticket price also includes a director Q & A that will play after the movie.
Vincent Piturro, PhD, is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at email@example.com. And you can follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook and @VincentPiturro on Twitter.