Aspen Times Weekly: Highlights from the 38th annual Denver Film Festival

by Andrew Travers
Benjamin Dickinson in "Creative Control."
Courtesy photo |



John Cassavetes Award: John Turturro

Maria & Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award: Nanni Moretti (‘Mia Madre,’ Italy)

Reel Social Club Indie Spirit Award: Benjamin Dickinson (‘Creative Control,’ USA)

Rising Star Award presented by Rise Above Colorado: Alex Wolff (‘Coming Through the Rye,’ USA)

Stan Brakhage Vision Award: Nathaniel Dorsky

True Grit Award: ‘Decay’


Narrative Feature: ‘Brooklyn’

Documentary Feature: ‘The Champions’

Short Film: ‘The House is Innocent’

Music Video: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, ‘S.O.B.’


The Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’

The Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Feature Film: ‘Rams’

Special Jury Prize: ‘Lamb’

Special Ensemble Acting Jury Award: ‘The Measure of a Man’

The American Independent Narrative Award: ‘Krisha’

Special Jury Prize, Filmmaker to Watch: ‘H.,’ directed by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia

The Liberty Global International Student Short Award: ‘Disintegration,’ Álvaro Martín (Spain)

Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Directing: ‘The Fantastic Love of Beeboy and Flowergirl,’ Clemens Roth

The Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award: ‘Oasis,’ Sara Lafleur-Vetter

Feature Screenplay Award: ‘Memory,’ John Benge

Short Screenplay Award: ‘Symposium,’ Tom Grady

If You Go…

The Denver Film Festival runs annually in early-through-mid November, with movies screening from mid-morning to late night horror shows (I caught a midnight showing of the bloody Indian slasher flick “Ludo” on Friday night). It’s easy to navigate, with films running on multiple screens at the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall and at the Sie Film Center on Colfax Ave., with red carpet events at the stately Ellie Caulkins Opera House. I stayed at the new Renaissance Denver Downtown – an elegantly remodeled Colorado National Bank – which was an ideal downtown home base from which to hop easily between screenings.

The festival is also, well, festive – and refreshingly so. Parties, panels and supplemental events run throughout, beyond the walls of movie theaters. I found myself Friday night at an after-party at the start-up incubator Galvanize, where I went on a stomach-churning virtual reality roller coaster ride with an Oculus Rift headset. The closing night party at the Curtis Hotel featured s’mores, live music and trapeze artists swinging above the crowd. Of course, a film festival ought to be about the movies and not the attendant bells and whistles. But the creative environment the Denver Film Society has fostered around this festival is ideal for talking about movies and celebrating the artists who make them.

—Andrew Travers

The Denver Film Festival should be on the road trip bucket list of every movie-loving mountain town denizen. I made the trip to the Front Range for the festival’s 38th offing last weekend, hitting the last three days of the 12-day, 250-film festival, which falls annually (conveniently enough for ski town folk) on the tail end of the fall offseason.

It’s thoughtfully curated and packed to the gills with a mix of international and domestic titles, features and documentaries, buzzy prestige films and off-the-beaten-path indie offerings. This year’s selections included Colorado filmmaker Arnold Grossman’s “The Boat Builder,” Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s stop-motion mind-bender “Anomalisa,” Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next,” the feminist movement drama “Suffragette” and John Crowley’s adaptation of “Brooklyn,” which won the festival audience award for Best Feature.

These are four Denver Film Fest titles to keep an eye out for:

‘Creative Control’

Visually stunning, culturally astute and unsparing in its satire, “Creative Control” looks a few steps down the road where personal technology devices are leading us.

Directed by and starring Benjamin Dickinson, the film – which won a special jury prize for visual excellence at SXSW and the Indie Spirit Award at Denver – centers on a marketing rep charged with selling Augmenta, a sort of next-generation Google Glass. When he demos a pair of the glasses himself and begins fantasizing about a friend’s lover, his reality distorts and his relationship with his yoga instructor girlfriend deteriorates. It’s set in a not-so-distant future, or alternative present, reminiscent of the series “Black Mirror,” rendered here in a cold black-and-white. “Creative Control” is as funny as it is disturbing, with acerbic send-ups of the tech, fashion and yoga subcultures (and comedian Reggie Watts in an irresistibly outlandish supporting role as himself).

The film wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve, peppering homages to Antonioni and Kubrick throughout. Dickinson said he also binge-watched “Mad Men” before making “Creative Control,” which argues that Madison Avenue types remain as manipulative and misogynistic as forbears like Donald Draper.

“I think there’s something about both the advertising and the tech industries where to sell things we manufacture an attraction,” Dickinson said after Friday night’s screening, “and it’s not necessarily concerned with what’s good for us as mammals.”

‘Coming Through the Rye’

It appears to be a fantasy – a cinematic exercise in wish fulfillment for every teenage American outcast since the 1950s. But “Coming Through the Rye” is actually a mostly true story from writer-director James Sadwith, who road-tripped to New Hampshire in 1969 in search of J.D. Salinger and actually found the reclusive author of “The Catcher in the Rye.”

“For years people said ‘When are you going to tell that story and make a movie of it?’” Sadwith recalled after Saturday’s screening in Denver. “Finally, after Salinger died [in 2010] and it came time to do my first feature, this was the story to go to.”

A magnetic Alex Wolff is in nearly every frame of this funny, warm and unpredictable coming-of-age story, playing the fictionalized version of young Sadwith, here named Jamie Schwartz. Jamie is teased and tormented by his classmates at an all-boys’ boarding school, but finds solace in Salinger’s portrait of Holden Caulfield and writes a play based on the novel. He sets off to show it to Salinger with local girl Deedee (Stefanie LaVie Owen) and they contemplate life, love, creativity and family on the road to finding Salinger (the dependably great Oscar winner Chris Cooper).

Wolff — best known as the younger brother in “The Naked Brothers’ Band” and now a strapping 18-year-old — took home Denver’s Rising Star Award for his turn.

‘Mia Madre’

An Italian film about filmmaking and personal trauma in the “8 ½” tradition, Nanni Moretti’s semi-autobiographical tragi-comedy “Mia Madre” stars Margherita Buy as a Moretti-like director and John Turturro as her exasperating lead actor.

Margherita (Buy) is assured and prone to tantrums on the set of her latest film – about factory workers struggling under new ownership – but is increasingly fraught over her elderly mother’s failing health.

On the set, she does battle with the American prima donna Barry Huggins (Turturro) who flubs his lines and hilariously fumbles around in a cloud of self-importance. Away from the cameras, Margherita grapples with the impending death of her mother. Moretti, who co-wrote the film after losing his mother while making “We Have a Pope,” was honored with the festival’s Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award. Turturro was on hand in Denver to accept the John Cassavetes Award.


Already a prominent part of the year-end awards conversation, Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is a startling and supremely acted love story.

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” the film stars Cate Blanchett in the title role as a New York socialite in a crumbling marriage and Rooney Mara as the shy young department store clerk who catches her eye.

Haynes sumptuously captures the early 1950s setting and costumes, and deftly constructs a story of gay romance amid intolerance that refuses to follow a familiar tragic trajectory. “Carol” is a patiently paced and engrossing dual character study, propelled by nuanced performances from Blanchett and from Mara, who won a Best Actress award at Cannes for the film, “Carol” is confirmed to play during Aspen Film’s annual Academy Screenings, which run from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2 at the Wheeler Opera House.