Category Archives: 35th Starz Denver Film Festival

The Results are in….35th Denver Starz Film Festival

The 35th Starz Denver Film Festival featured 232 films from 36 countries; SDFF screened 121 features and 111 shorts, with 16 titles being local Colorado productions. Recognized as the Rocky Mountain Region’s largest film event, SDFF attracted over 50,000 filmgoers during the eleven-day Festival.


 Narative Feature:

The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair

A pre-credits prologue sets the scene in 1960s Australia, where indigenous people-still called Aborigines-suffer abuse, persecution, and racial prejudice. Enter two sisters on their way to a small-town singing contest that they should win ably, but don’t. Social upheaval is sweeping the planet, and the young women, inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement, believe things can change for them.

Documentary Feature:

Rising from Ashes, directed by T.C. Johnstone

Rising from Ashes tells the moving story of a team of passionate Rwandan cyclists who survived their country’s genocide, and of cycling legend Jock Boyer, who became their coach.

Short Film:

ASAD, directed by Bryan Buckley

A young Somali boy wrestles with the attraction of his village’s ocean-bound pirates against the needs of his family and war-torn community.


The Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for Best Foreign Feature Film

Winner: Sister, directed by Ursela Meier

Growing up in the shadow of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland, where skiing was a normal part of daily living for the middle and upper classes, the story pits Simon, a 12-year-old from the industrial valley below, against the wealthy culture of the ski resort at the top of the mountain.

In bestowing Ursula Meierwith the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for Best Feature Film Award, the Jury stated: “A well crafted narrative that explores the highs and lows of a complicated familial relationship with authentic performances, supported by grand cinematography, pulls you into the unfamiliar world of a childhood thief whose only constant is the love shared between him and his “sister”.

The jury was comprised of Whitney Kimmel – Film Publicist, IDPR; Adam Roffman – Program Director, Independent Film Festival Boston; and Irena Kovarova – Programmer, Czech Film Center.

The Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film

Winner: Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, directed by Ben Shapiro

Photographer Gregory Crewdson’s artwork has been called daring, complex, inventive, and rare. The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art collect his stunning images. Yet his creative process remained a mystery until he agreed to allow director Ben Shapiro to film him on location. For a decade, Shapiro followed Crewdson through the small towns of Massachusetts, capturing both the lighthearted and darker sides of this creative genius.

In bestowing Ben Shapiro with the Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film, the jury stated: “A film that at first seems like a simple portrait of an artist, but actually touches on deep and complex issues facing suburban America today through provocative photographs.”

The jury was comprised of Danielle Renfrew Behrens – producer (Double Dare, Queen of Versailles); Paula DuPre Pesman – producer (The Cove, Chasing Ice); Mitch Dickman – director/producer (DNC Mediamockracy, Hanna Ranch).

The New Directors Award

Winner: Pincus directed by David Fenster

After becoming sole caretaker for his Parkinson’s-patient dad, slacker Pincus learns some life lessons despite himself. With a cast of mostly family and friends-including Fenster’s dad-Pincus is part fiction, part documentary and wholly authentic.

In bestowing David Fenster with the New Directors Award, the jury stated: “For its artful mix of fictional and documentary elements, its unsentimental depiction of terminal illness and thirtysomething underachievement, and its playfully deadpan look at alternative medicine and the quest for human connection, the New Directors Award goes to David Fenster’s Pincus.”

The jury was comprised of James Francis Flynn – Actor/Producer (Miss Ohio); Rob Nelson – Film Critic; Paul Zimmerman – Film Critic/Author (Virgin Noir).

 The Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award

Winner: Crossing directed by Gina Atwater

In 1960s Georgia, a black teenager defies the rules of segregation and his conservative father when he walks through the front door of his white employer’s home.

In bestowing Gina Atwater with the Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award, the jury stated: “For it’s subtle, yet powerful, story of racial injustice and overall excellence in all aspects of its filmmaking, the jury awards The Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award goes to Crossing, written and directed by Gina Atwater”

The jury also stated: “For his dynamic portrayal of a troubled Hasidic youth searching for his own identity in the film Where is Joel Baum, the jury would like to give a special prize for acting to Luzer Twersky.”

The jury was comprised of Jenny Chikes – Producer (The Foot Fist Way, Dead Man’s Burden); Tim Harms – Producer (The Vicious Kind, Sexting, BFF); Garret Savage – Editor (Ready, Set, Bag!, My Perestroika) / Director (various shorts).

The ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award

Winner: MacPherson, directed by Martine Chartrand

Inspired by a real-life friendship and featuring a first-rate musical soundtrack, MacPherson is the story of the relationship between Québec poet Felix Leclerc and Jamaican-born chemical engineer Frank Randolph MacPherson.

In bestowing Martine Chartrand with the ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award, the jury stated: “This year was extremely difficult for the ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award jury. The animations were all very well crafted and containing delicate stories that were handled wonderfully.  However, the judges found that the vibrant images and interwoven poetry and music bringing to life an uncommon story using an uncommon animation technique of painted glass gave them the ability to claim the ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award for the film MacPherson, directed by Martine Chartrand.” The competition was sponsored by Mighty Fudge Studios.

The jury was comprised of Pat Mallek – Animator / Partner, Mighty Fudge Studios; Kim Mallek – Creative Director / Partner, Mighty Fudge Studios; Evert Brown – Animation Director; Ed Desroches – Media Arts Specialist; Wes Price – Illustrator.

To become a a film society member:

Liberty Global International Student Short Award

Winner: Of Dogs and Horses (Germany), directed by Thomas Stuber

In a last-ditch effort to pay for his beloved dog’s surgery, Rolf bets everything he owns at the horse track. Of Dogs and Horses is a film about luck, courage, and the blind magic of desperate hope.

The jury stated: “For it’s inspired performances – both human and animal – its fatalistic humor, & the immersive world it creates, the jury gives the Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award to Of Dogs and Horses.”

The jury also stated: “For it’s stylish cinematography and its unflinching & nuanced portrait of a complicated man in a tense situation, we give a special jury prize to The Tobacco King (Zambia)“. Directed by Daniel Koehler, the provocative documentary explores race, history, and work in postcolonial southern Africa.

The jury was comprised of Penelope Rose Bartlett – Shorts Programmer, Chicago International Film Festival; John Korn – Shorts Programmer, Frameline/Sundance; Robert Leighton – SVP Programming, Liberty Global.

Screenplay Awards

Feature Screenplay Winner: OJ’s Eleven, written by Lawrence Riggens

The jury stated: “A well crafted insight into a “conspiracy of dunces.” The unfolding of this story in all it’s absurd twists and turns is unthinkably based on true events. A look into the contagion of celebrity and the Faustian ordeals that come with it. The jury gives the inaugural Feature Screenplay Award to OJ’s Eleven.”

Shorts Screenplay Winner: Becoming Lana Liu, written by David Schroeder

The jury stated: “We love the collision of the East and West, traditional and popular culture. This script is economical and disciplined with wonderful snapshots and imagery. The title character is precisely articulated in an unpredictable way. The jury gives the inaugural Shorts Screenplay Award to Becoming Lana Liu.”

The jury was comprised of Terry Dodd – Stage Director/Playwright (Goodnight Texas) / Screenwriter (Closer to Heaven), Amy Redford – Director (The Guitar, Delivery) / Actress (Sunshine Cleaning), Guinvere Turner – Screenwriter (The Notorious Bette Page) / Actress (American Psycho).

The screenplay competition is sponsored by The Program of Film and Television ­ CU-Denver.

To become a member of the Denver Film Society: 

The Sapphires was the most delightful movie I’ve seen in months. If you can get a copy or see it at your local Independent Film Theaters – run don’t walk. You’ll leave with a grin on your face singing Motown tunes with the name Chris O’Dowd in mind. He was lovable, funny, and pretty darn cute in this movie about an all-girl, all-Aboriginal singing group. Jan

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4 Movies Reviewed


This little foreign film was heavy. Heavy because the dialogue was slow and for one not familiar with the German language or its behind-the-iron-curtain brutalities in the 1980s, it was unsettling. I didn’t realize where the movie was set or going until close to the end. I watched with hopeful eyes thinking I’d understand Barbara’s secret and piece it all together.

Directed by Christian Petzold, Barbara was worth the 105 minutes it took to run through it, but, I wasn’t sure how I felt when it ended. In the opening scene, her fellow doctors view her from a window in the clinic as she smokes a cig before walking through the door to her first day on the job.  Her associates state with little emotion that she had been incarcerated and thus, lost all her friends and associates in Berlin. The movie focuses on Barbara’s aloof yet skillful life as a doctor in the provinces and how she will cope, stay or flee. The viewer wonders from the start, what is her story?  As the story progresses, the viewer sees her silently dealing with a staff who resent her sophisticated Berlin advantages. Thus, at her every command they seek to sabotage her efforts that prove to be superior.

I liked Barbara, the doctor. Characteristically she was stoic and secretive, beautiful in a sad, emotionally ravaged manner. Rarely is language an obstacle in a foreign film but Barbara may have been a first for me, or, it could have been my lack of knowledge of German history that stumped me.

28 Hotel Rooms

Filmed in hotel rooms all over the country, this movie is a gem. Boy meets girl in hotel dining room, sex follows, phone numbers exchanged, in last parting words, she resounds there will never be another time together.

After years of covert hotel room escapades, the relationship is certifiably stressed yet their rabid attraction for each other can’t be broken even through marriages, babies, jobs, relocations. Lovers Marin Ireland and Chris Messina continue their star-crossed attraction through many years. Fortunately, they don’t age on screen so I like to think the affair went on for no more than ten years.

It’s a sad glimpse into anyone’s love/relationship nightmare – being with the wrong person and trying to make it work. My heart went out to Messina’s character because he could not convince Ireland’s woman to recognize the love they shared even on opposite sides of the country. The lovers spent years trapped by timed bliss inside a hotel room in anywhere USA. The credits said the hotels were all over the world but who can pick out Philly or Portland or Paris through a small window on the 11th floor?

Directorial debut by Matt Ross, USA, (2012)

Free Samples

If you liked Knocked Up, possibly you’ll like this generational genre movie. Directed by Jay Gammil, this Hollywood filmmaker didn’t travel far for script nor locale. Jillian, played by the pretty looking, L.A. type, Jess Weixler. She is a mess. Especially the day the movie happens. So hung-over you can almost smell her foul breath and loose, rancid , blonde of course, hair.

Jillian, sleeps at her best friend’s apartment after her night of debauchery. She has dropped out of law school to pursue what she believes are her artistic talents, which prove to be zilch. Jillian is semi-engaged but finding herself by sleeping with surf boys. Her best friend needs a favor the next morning. She asks Jillian to man the ice cream truck she runs and give out free samples (get it?) all day.

Feeling like crap, Jillian is forced by duty to help her friend and spend the day in a bleak parking lot in West L.A., in an un-air-conditioned panel truck handing out vanilla and chocolate samples to passers-by.

Jesse Eisenberg and Tippi Hedren (yes, of the Birds and Melanie Griffin’s mom), stops in for a long winded sad old actress who never really made in Hollywood spiel and is now alone. I liked Hedren and Eisenberg but they should have known better. Maybe Gammil is a best friend.

The only bright and encouraging scenes were with Jason Ritter. He reminded me of a young Brat Pitt in Thelma & Louise:  cute, sexy, slightly dumb and goofy, and oblivious  of tomorrow. Oh, he slept on the couch at friend’s house and peed on her couch. He left a $20 bill for clean-up. Ugh.  After Ritter’s decent performance, I’d say it’s a movie that moves along aimlessly with recognizable actors who will bribe someone in the future to never mention this film again.

If you’re twenty-five, you might get a kick out of this film.

Chinese Take Away

Out of the four screeners I brought home this was the one that made me laugh. The Argentinian film, written and directed by Sebastian Borensztein, is a movie that stays with you forever because it is, in every artistic, profound way, well conceived with intelligent dialogue, characters, timing and storyline.

How does a Chinaman get to Argentina? The first scene shows a Chinese couple in a boat on a lazy afternoon. Just as the male is about to present the ring and propose, a cow falls from the sky, killing his never to be finance.

The story line is taken from an actual news story about Russians who once stole cows, herded them into the back of an airplane and due to turbulence, fall out of the back of the plane killing a fisherman. This story line is clever, it intertwines two most unlikely men, into one of the nicest, most brilliantly constructed indie films to date.

Roberto, ( Ricardo Darin) a grouchy, fifty-something year old, in Buenos Aires, owns a hardware store. A loner and collector of weird stories cut of the newspapers around the world, is watching airplanes land  while sitting in his lawn chair, drinking beer and snacking, when he sees Jun (Ignacio Huang) thrown out of a passing cab. Curiosity gets the better of him and before he knows it he is sharing his house with the young Chinese man who cannot speak a word of spanish. Roberto tries in vain to help Jun find his lost uncle. Through a few twists and much kindness, the hardware man comes to find out that life is waiting for him after all these years alone, counting screws.

There are many elements to this film. The actors are excellent. The scenes are dramatically bare, or, emotion driven. The characters are fully developed for two men who have little personalities nor speak the same language. What you discover about this film you the viewer, truly likes Roberto and Jun. It’s a movie worth seeing.

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The 35th Starz Denver Film Festival



The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, previewed at the Film Center two days before the festival officially opened, was written and directed by Edward Burns, the Queens native known for his breakout movie, The Brothers McMullen, 1995, and his marriage to Christy Turlington, the model.  Today he’s Spencer Tracey reincarnated.

The Family Christmas felt like an autobiographical film so it was  not surprising to learn Burns’s middle name is Fitzgerald.  That’s how deeply he understands the ferociously loyal Irish-Catholic family dynamics. If he didn’t live it daily growing up, his friends did and he took it all in.  In fact, he believes he was preordained to lay bare the innards of New York’s working class families who live by one Irish-Italian-Catholic rule:  family is everything.

In Burns’s new movie, The Fitzgerald’s are a family torn when Dad (Ed Lauter) left seven children and a wife to fend for themselves. Burns portrays the oldest son, Gerry, who takes on the responsibility of the absent father for the younger siblings and his mother.  When the grandfather dies, he also halts his future to run the family owned Fitzgerald Tavern.

As Christmas, 2012, rolls around the clan’s patriarch surfaces with a benevolent request to spend Christmas day with his family. Rosie, (Anita Gillette) his ex-wife, was adamant when she heard his request, “I told him when he left he’d never step foot in this house again.” Twenty years later, she is still mad as hell. His children, especially the younger ones, wrote dad off long ago.

In  the traditional holiday movies of yesteryear, immigrant families prove to be if nothing else, resilient, anchored by church and family. So it is with this year’s first holiday movie about the Fitzgerald Family.

There were no surprises, except for the scene with Connie’s (Caitlin Fitzgerald) nasty husband. I enjoyed the typical bantering among siblings; whether Irish-Catholic, living in New York or Los Angeles all children react emotionally when dealing with life and lousy fathers. In the Fitzgerald’s Christmas, bad-dad does an about face toward the family he abandoned years ago. The Fitzgerald’s comes to terms with their Christmas Day dilemma, even Rosie.

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