In many ways, there’s never been a better time to be a cinephile.
The combination of a rainbow of streaming services that cater to practically every interest and the return of in-theater screening means that it is almost scientifically impossible for you to not find something to watch. And in its 45th year, the Denver Film Festival highlighted its unerring ability to offer something for every taste.
From shorts and animation to searing dramas and eye-popping documentaries, the festival provided as diverse a swath of films as ever, all from top-notch facilities like the SIE FilmCenter and Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
“This festival is about bringing the very best in the filmmaking world and makers both behind and in front of the camera together,” said Kevin Smith, Denver Film CEO, on the festival’s opening night. “We know how important it is to experience these stories together because these are the stories that stick with us.”
During this year’s festival, I saw 7 films over 12 days — and as usual the festival’s selections all have things to recommend them. They all connect with the viewer, and all reflect the passions of their makers. Of those movies, here are my favorites:
Second annual protecting what’s important award -`All That Breathes’
Release date: 2023 on HBO
Once again, it is a nature documentary that takes my personal top prize for cinematography at the festival, and that film is “All That Breathes.”
Set in the smog-draped and rubbish-covered streets of New Delhi, the film follows a trio of healers dedicated to saving the kite birds of prey who are suffering mightily as a result of humans’ pollution. You can’t help but be moved by the subjects’ dedication, but the images captured by cinematographers Ben Bernhard, Riju Das and Saumyananda Sahi are absolutely breathtaking.
The way they spotlight how nature adapts amidst humankind’s detritus is stunning and surprisingly affecting. It’s a true treat for the eyes.
Biggest revival of faith in humanity - `Butterfly in the Sky’
Release date: TBA
If you see the title “Butterfly in the sky…” and your mind doesn’t finish with, “I can go twice as high,” then we are not the same.
As someone who has made a life (and at least part of a career) out of reading, there was almost no chance I wouldn’t dig Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s love letter of a documentary to the landmark children’s program, “Reading Rainbow.” What I wasn’t expecting was the full depth of emotion I’d feel watching the film.
BUTTERFLY IN THE SKY (Documentary Clip) - LeVar Burton from Bryan Storkel on Vimeo.
Much like the show itself, that is largely due to Levar Burton. His thoughtfulness, warmth and passion is impossible to deny. And you can see that same love in everyone who contributed to the show, from the creators and producers to former book reviewers and composers (a scene where original musician Steve Horelick recreates the opening notes of the theme is an all-timer). And special recognition to author Jason Reynolds, who nearly breaks your heart towards the film’s conclusion.
Those who are firm believers in the importance and power of reading or just need something to make them feel good will find so much to love in this film. It’s a true can’t-miss. But don’t take my word for it…
Most provocative film - `How to Blow Up a Pipeline’
Release date: TBA
Those who enjoy some substance with their excitement will find lots to love in the white-knuckle eco-thriller, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”
The film artfully blends the elements of classic heist films like “Thief” and “Ocean’s 11” with a searing indictment of the corporations who exploit the planet’s natural resources even though it is actively ruining the environment. A crew of young people gather in the desolate Texas desert to protest the destruction of the natural world by destroying an oil pipeline. The film cannily unspools its secrets and the character’s backstories as it races to its powerful conclusion.
The cast is exceptional and full of talented performers to keep an eye on (Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasah Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner and Jakey Weary).
After the screening, director Daniel Goldhaber, co-writer Jordan Sjol and producer Isa Mazzei spoke about the film and the importance of telling relevant, subversive stories. We definitely need more of this kind of storytelling and the film is a great example of why.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.