Denver’s 39th Annual Film Festival


The 39th Annual Denver Film Festival sponsored by Starz took place Nov. 3-12 in multiple venues throughout Denver. The festival highlighted the film industry’s best talents on a local and international level in addition to holding multiple panels and events for loyal film fans and filmmakers, providing an opportunity for engagement and collaboration. With over 200 screenings and appearances by filmmakers and talent, The Denver Post called this year’s festival lineup “the most exciting lineup in years.”

Film screenings and events took place at the Festival Annex in the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park, the Sie FilmCenter on Colfax, and the United Artist Denver Pavilions Stadium.

The film festival kicked off on Nov. 3 with a star-studded opening night red carpet at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House featuring Academy Award nominees Emma Stone and Damien Chazelle, lead actress and director of the night’s feature film La La Land. Stone co-stars with other big names like Ryan Gosling and John Legend in a story about two young talents, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) trying to make it big in a contemporary Los Angeles.

Emma Stone arrived in person to receive the 39th Denver Film Festival Excellence in Acting Award and discussed the award and the film with a full house on the night of the screening.

After the opening night buzz, the film festival did not disappoint with its international and local film selection. A variety of Colorado Short Documentaries to highlight local talent in addition to international films from the United States, Australia, Tanzania, Romania, Germany, Canada, Poland, and many more that taught viewers lessons in tolerance, romance, equality, food delicacies, politics, and women’s issues were featured.

There were over 20 films involving women’s issues this year. One film in particular, A Woman, A Part, explored the life of actress Anna Baskin (Maggie Siff) in the midst of a mid-life crisis while battling mental health issues and an auto-immune disease.

While working on a television show, Baskin is faced with depression, substance abuse, and the crisis of uncertainty in her career. Baskin takes a break from her acting career at the advice of her manager and visits old friends in Brooklyn, New York, in an effort to rediscover herself and get in touch with her roots.

Director Elisabeth Subrin appeared in person and stayed with audience members after the screening for a questions and answers segment.

Such of Subrin’s career has been spent creating films about “women set against the backdrop of larger social and political forces” in an effort to share her passion for representation of women in history and culture.

Subrin joked about her struggle in finding financing for her film: “If you’re going to make your first feature film, make it about a woman whose life is resolved by a man,” a quality that her film does not possess. 

Subrin said of the creation of her feature film that she wanted to make a film about an actress because “actresses are ultimately the way that our culture understands what women are…an agent for women’s identity but [they] don’t write the part.”

A Woman, A Part is raw, thoughtful, witty, and an outstanding work in cinematography—a true gem in the Film Festival’s lineup of US films this year. 

The festival held its closing night on Nov. 12 with the red carpet feature film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman in a portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. The film tells the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy through Jackie Kennedy’s point of view and her struggle to keep her husband’s legacy alive.

In addition to the incredible film screenings, multiple panels called Creative Conversations throughout the 11 days of the festival allowed fans and filmmakers the chance to meet and discuss a myriad of topics such as Politics in Television, Indie Film PR and Marketing, and Bold Producing.

One Creative Conversation in particular was titled The State of the State: Filmmaking in Colorado and featured Colorado producers and directors Mitch Dickman, Laura Goldhamer, Donald Zuckerman (Colorado Film Commissioner), Patrick Hackett (President of the Colorado Film and Video Association), and Britta Erickson.

Moderator Bob Donnerstein started the night by saying, “It’s a sign of progress that we are even having this panel” in regards to Colorado’s filmmaking scene, which the panel agreed is struggling but definitely progressing.

The biggest problem that surrounds a scarce filmmaking industry in Colorado is the lackluster incentives to film in Colorado. There is a “content creation incentive that has a 20 percent cash rebate that anybody who is or is not a citizen here is eligible for,” Donald Zuckerman shared.

Zuckerman would characterize Colorado’s film funding as “anemic,” and “it is very tough to get funding [for filmmaking] because of the Tax Payer Bill of Rights limitations.” Colorado incentive funding stands at only $3 million a year; comparatively, New Mexico receives about $50 million a year of incentive money. Utah receives $8.7 million, Georgia has no cap on funding, and Louisiana recently capped their funding at $180 million a year.

The list of states with more incentive funding than Colorado is long. Zuckerman shared that getting Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight to film in and around Telluride, Colorado, recently was a huge accomplishment for the Colorado film scene. 

Otherwise, filmmakers often turn down the opportunity to film movies in Colorado due to the small incentives funding available, opting to only film certain scenes on location rather than an entire movie or television show, which means Colorado generates little to no revenue from the industry.

In speaking about the progress of the Colorado filmmaking industry since he started his position, “This past summer, there were four movies being made here at the same time,” Zuckerman said. “When I first started this position, there were no movies being made in Colorado. A movie hadn’t come here from out of state in five years. We had no business other than documentaries being filmed here.”

The State of the State panel offered insights from Colorado creatives about the efforts to make Colorado a filmmaking destination. While there has been progress made, there is still much more work to be done.

In addition to appearing at the Denver Film Festival each year, Creative Conversations also take place throughout the year at the Sie FilmCenter.

These films and panels took attendees to a different world, even if only for a moment. They allowed attendees to learn more about films and filmmaking industry. The films are intricate, well thought out, and a reflection of the phenomenal filmmaking that circles the globe and the filmmaking that happens right at home.

The panels were insightful and informative. The events that dressed the Film Festival’s itinerary are the backbone to much of the charisma in the mainstream Hollywood film industry, and asks audience members to take a deeper look into what great filmmaking looks like.

The Denver community is already counting down the days until the 40th Denver Film Festival.

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