The Denver Film Festival is here, and this year’s lineup is a great one. The best news: the in-person shows, the filmmaker and star visits, and the parties are back this year. The festival runs from November 2–13, and you can find the entire program and ticket information on its website: www.denverfilm.org/denverfilmfestival/dff45.
I preview several of the films, and while I can’t give full reviews ahead of the screenings, I have seen most of the films here. Get your tickets soon, and I hope to see you there! Note: All screenings below are at the AMC 9+ CO 10 unless otherwise specified.
Set during the Russian invasion of the Donetsk region in 2014, a couple (Irka and Tolik) refuse to leave as their house is (literally) being blown away and as chaos surrounds them: a plane crashes nearby strewing bodies around the landscape; news crews and families descend on the area; the brutal Russian invaders search for Ukrainian fighters hiding in the region; and Irka is about to give birth at any moment. Irka’s brother then arrives, trying to enlist Tolik to fight for Ukraine—Tolik resists, but we are unsure of his allegiance. Unspeakable horrors surround, yet all Irka wishes for is to have her baby in relative peace. This is a powerful, important, and timely film that speaks to the Ukrainian fight against the Russians, the powerful and fierce will of the people, and how women and mothers are overlooked, abused, and forgotten in the mud of war. It takes on extrapolated urgency as this current phase of the ugly Russian slaughter ensues.
A personal note: I see hundreds of films per year, and my job is to stay objective so I can relate reviews that are unclouded by personal feelings. I shatter that now: this is a wonderful, disturbing, devastating, and excruciatingly honest and difficult film. It blew me away the first time I saw it. I’m sure the film will have a similar effect on you, and I urge you to see it at the festival.
Monday, Nov. 7 at 7pm and Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 5pm.
Alcarràs (Spain, Italy—2022)
A family in the Catalan region of Spain refuses to give up their peach farm when the landowner wishes to convert it into a solar farm. The family, portrayed by all non-professional actors in remarkable performances, attempts to hang on until the last moment. This is a touching and endearing film with everything we want: humor, tenderness, familial strife, grittiness, and love. The struggle of progress plays out as we see the issue from several sides. The subjects are complicated, but the emotions and the visuals are raw and real and decisive. Directed by Carla Simón, it won the Golden Bear (top prize) at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. It is another gem that you may never get another chance to see on the big screen.
Sunday, Nov. 6 at 6:45pm and Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 7:30pm.
The Cave of Adullam (US—2022)
“When I started The Cave, I thought black boys needed discipline,” says Jason Wilson, the subject of The Cave of Adullam. “I realized quickly they didn’t need more discipline; they needed more love.” Such is the ethos of the dojo that Wilson runs in Detroit, documented by Laura Checkoway in this wonderful and touching film. The boys find solace and mental rejuvenation while also finding themselves and their place in the world.
The title of the film is fascinating: it is a reference to the Old Testament and a place where King David was lying in wait instead of fighting King Saul, which David believed was unethical. God finally rewarded David and he became king. The reference thus refers to a place where the disaffected may work out some personal distress before returning a better person. In other words, it is a place of mental healing. The boys of this film will hopefully do such a thing after their time in the cave. At the very least, we are rooting for them.
Friday, Nov. 11 at 4pm and Saturday, Nov. 12 at 6:15pm
Lakota Nation vs. The United States (US—2022)
Some may know the general outline of the story/history: how Americans pushed the Lakota off their land, immediately reneged on treaties with them, and tried to exterminate them. But few may know the extent of the actual events and atrocities inflicted upon the once proud people of the plains. Many of these events remain hidden in our history: for example, days after the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the execution (by hanging) of 38 men because of their actions in the “Dakota Uprising.” It was the largest legal execution in American history. Why? Because they were fighting for their land. And honor.
This is no history lesson, however, and it is not a simple presentation of facts. The documentary is vivid and dynamic, and the narration is suffused with beautiful poetry that rises above the sordid history. The film is a work of art, one that attempts to make us feel the pain of American actions and the blithe venality of those on the long end of the stick. Throw away the history books. Watch this.
Saturday, Nov. 12 at 2:30pm and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 1pm.
Holy Spider (2022—Denmark)
Another story that certain nations do not want us to hear, and another story about mass murder (I know, I know, but just walk through your day for some comedy). As the Denver Film Society notes: “Inspired by true events, a female journalist travels to the Iranian holy city of Mashhad to investigate a serial killer targeting sex workers. As she draws closer to exposing his crimes, the opportunity for justice grows harder to attain when the murderer is embraced by many as a hero.” This is the only film of the group I have not screened, but one that I have been anticipating as it tops many lists for best international feature. I will sit alongside you for this one.
Friday, Nov. 4 at 6:30pm and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 6:15pm.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D. is a Film and Media Studies Professor at MSU Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter. For more reviews, search The Indie Prof at FrontPorchNE.com.