Jury Coordination and Notes

40th Denver Film Festival by Kimbirly Orr, KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer

The Denver Film Society celebrated four decades while delivering 150+ films over twelve days, sponsored by 93 companies. The breadth of cinema selected entertained many and, as the non-profit Festival reported, ticket sales were up 20% over the 2016 Denver Film Festival. Denver’s annual Film Festival is indeed an international affair. Filmmakers attended from 56 countries and talented filmmakers, directors, producers and actors were on-hand to mix with film fans and discuss their films and passions.

This event is about more than screening films. It is an essential entertainment lover’s guide to what’s hot – from red carpets to late-night lounges, film shorts, live reads, virtual reality demos and real-world conversations around issues such as immigrants and refugee conversations. Specifically, the Film Festival partnered with organizations throughout Denver working to benefit the immigrants and refugees who have just started to call Colorado home.

As the world becomes a digital entertainment hub, virtual reality, interactive mixed-media and immersive performance have been added to the festival and storytelling. The Denver Film Society also partnered with the University of Colorado Denver College of Arts & Media to showcase student films. It is always exciting to see new and exciting ways that talented artists are entertaining and inspiring audiences.

I had an opportunity to screen four films: Lady Bird, Molly’s Game, Chappaquiddick and I, Tonya. Of these films, Lady Bird was my favorite. Awards pundits are already wagging about Saoirse Ronan’s performance.  The coming of age plot showcased the Mother-Daughter tie, strong wills and matriculation through teenage angst. Ms. Ronan’s performance is amazing, as are the lessons she learns and shares along the way.

Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Colorado native, Molly Bloom, an Olympic hopeful whose injury derailed her Olympic dreams. Jessica Chastain portrays Molly and delivers a performance I hope will be rewarded with Best Actress. From athlete to entrepreneur, Molly ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade in Los Angeles and New York, before being arrested by the FBI. The narrative throughout the film was riveting.

I, Tonya was promoted as the Denver Film Festival Closing Night Red Carpet. Of the films I saw, this was my least favorite and weakest of the marquis selections. It did not captivate me. Real-life Olympian Tonya Harding’s character is presented as a tragic. For the first-time, I felt a lot of sympathy for Ms. Harding. While she was a champion on the ice, she did not have a champion in her life. Margot Robbie is believable and nearly unrecognizable as the disgraced figure-skater. Allison Janney portrays her mother and delivers a brilliant performance. This dark comedy, told documentary-style, is engaging. The constant smoking or extinguished cigarettes on ice skate blades was a big turn-off.

Screening Chappaquiddick near the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a mind-meld. The reflections about JFK and the family’s staunch political mainstay were top of mind throughout a film presenting the infamous auto accident which derailed Ted Kennedy’s political aspirations. Jason Clarke portrays Ted Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy is portrayed as weak and controlled by his stroke-ridden father (Brice Dern), a very ill, older man. While the film does not sway the viewer about what happened one fateful night, it does showcase how tightly-knit the Kennedy clan was and the mystique which follows this beloved and politically astute family.

The Red-Carpet events seem to get better every year. The 2017 Denver Film Festival brought several household names to town including: Kyra Sedgwick, Director of Story Of A Girl (Directorial Debut); Aaron Sorkin, Writer and Director of Molly’s Game; Bill Pullman, Actor in Ballad Of Lefty Brown. Along with A-list talent, several after-parties were hosted including a benefit for Wish of a Lifetime, founded by Colorado-born Jeremy Bloom, following the screening Molly’s Game, a film based on his sister Molly’s life.

The Denver Film Festival published a fantastic film guide which delineates every synopsis and screening opportunity as well as special events, information about talent and more. The conversations about real-world topics, such as immigration, human trafficking and more were a new opportunity to connect with like-minded fans. A unique and fun addition included a Shakespearean Star Wars read. Say what? True.

It’s worth it to take time off in November, fly to Denver and participate. Living the Film Festival is the best way to Fest in Denver! After 40 years, the event additions, exhibits, Red-Carpet events and parties continue to Wow and celebrate the entire gamut of the current entertainment scene.

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