Neither wind nor rain nor sleet nor snow has stopped the Denver Film Festival before — though the blizzard of 1997 tried when it dropped 21 inches and shut the city down. That year Jack Palance received DFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the legendary cowboy accepted the award inside the Warwick Hotel. The crowd that night may have been small, but they were mighty (even money says they were staying at the Warwick or lived close by).
At least in the time of pandemic, we won’t have to brave the elements to attend this year’s DFF. We won’t even need to go any farther than the living room as all 180-plus movies programmed will be virtual (save for three, more on that in a minute).
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s not the only thing different this year. For starters, DFF is seven days longer (Oct. 22-Nov. 8), tickets are cheaper, and the recognizable Hollywood studio titles are all but absent (because Hollywood studio films are all but absent from 2020 in general). There’s an upside to that: More space for foreign and independents, not to mention all the homegrown movies featured in the Colorado Spotlight sidebar.
This year’s heavy hitters: Minari, the story of a Korean-American family searching for the American dream on a small Arkansas farm — it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. dramatic feature at this year’s Sundance Film Festival; Apples, the Greek breakout hit from 2020’s truncated festival season; and Nomadland, the recipient of both the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion and Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award.
Nomadland will be one of three movies getting the drive-in treatment at Red Rocks (Thursday, Oct. 22). The other two are Nine Days, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance (Saturday, Oct. 24), and Ammonite (Thursday, Oct. 29). All three shows begin at 7 p.m.
DFF’s biggest get this year: nonagenarian documentarian Frederick Wiseman and his latest work, City Hall. Wiseman has spent his career exploring American institutions with a hands-off observational approach, and this look at Boston’s City Hall couldn’t be timelier. We’ll talk more about City Hall and Wiseman’s legacy when CU-Boulder’s International Film Series rolls out a Wiseman retrospective in November, but ticket buyers to DFF’s screening of City Hall will also be treated to a post-screening Q&A with Wiseman, who is receiving this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
There’s more, a lot more: Undine is the latest from German filmmaker Christian Petzold, once again teaming with the spectacular Paula Beer; The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel picks up where the documentary The Corporation left off in 2003 and throws coronavirus and social unrest into the mix; 76 Days captures the genesis of the coronavirus pandemic from the frontlines of Wuhan, China; and Shiva Baby is the comedic antidote you’ll need after all those weighty docs.
It’s gonna be great. Head to denverfilm.org/dff43 to download the full guide, purchase tickets and stream the movies.
ON THE BILL: 43rd Denver Film Festival, virtual, Oct. 22-Nov. 8, denverfilm.org/dff43/