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41st Denver Film Festival spotlights women+film

A red carpet evening at the Denver Film Festival featuring local, national, and international filmmakers.
Photo courtesy of Denver Film Society

Festival puts female filmmakers at forefront

From Oct. 31 to Nov. 11, the 41st Annual Denver Film Festival (DFF), hosted by the Denver Film Society (DFS), came together to celebrate local and international films. Hundreds of films were showcased, seven red carpets were walked by filmmakers, and attendees had opportunities to meet the teams and creators behind their favorite movies.

DFF has 20 subcategories of films for audiences to choose from. These subcategories range from CinemaQ—focusing on queer voices and perspectives, to Contemporary World Cinema—screenings of movies made by filmmakers around the globe, to Women+Film—movies and documentaries created by, starring, or focusing on the stories of women throughout time.

Regardless of which subcategory was chosen to attend, each one bled into another. There were stories of women told from international perspectives, such as Becoming Astrid, or ones focusing on queer identities in global history, like El Angel. This year’s lineup at DFF furthered DFS’s goal to promote art from all people, all races, and all identities.

Opening night saw directors, actors, producers, and an assortment of individuals behind the films to be shown at the festival. DFF41 was kicked off on Oct. 31 with a red carpet screening of notable Greek Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film, The Favourite

The Favourite tells the story of early 18th-century English royalty while the nation is at war with France, meaning their high-class lifestyle does not stop. Abigail (Emma Stone), the newest servant, seizes the chance to live the aristocratic lifestyle.

Certain films of red-carpet caliber had opted to have a more subdued showings of their films, such as actress Rosamund Pike’s newest leading role in A Private War. Director Matthew Heineman tells the story of Marie Colvin (Pike), a driven war correspondent who was giving press coverage to regions that few in the world knew were at war. She traveled with resistance fighters to the front lines, helped to discover a mass grave in Afghanistan, and somehow managed to defy death while doing it.

After covering the revolution in Sri Lanka, Colvin was struck in the face with a grenade, causing her to wear an eyepatch for the rest of her life reporting.

A Private War is Heineman’s first narrative, non-documentary film. He has pulled all his on-the-ground style of shooting techniques into this heart-pounding biopic. There is rarely a steady camera. Instead, the frame is in constant motion, chasing after Pike as she charges into an active war zone. At times, the sudden bombings and non-stop camera movements can be overwhelming in a surround sound theatre, but Heineman excels at convincing viewers that they are right there with Pike as she charges into battle.

Another film at the festival, communicating the life of women in war-torn Afghanistan, was the documentary Afghan Cycles, directed by Sarah Menzies. Menzies and a team of female filmmakers travelled to Afghanistan after learning about the country’s all-female bicycle-racing team. 

Women of Afghanistan are currently allowed to ride bicycles in the country legally, but the team endures oppression while publicly training for their competitions. Faced with judgement, persecution, and death threats for riding bikes, Afghan Cycles takes a soberingly honest look at human rights and is gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking to see women being forced to flee their home country for simply riding a bike.

Filmmakers Sarah Menzies and Jenny Nichols were in attendance for sold out screenings during the festival to host an open discussion with the audience. 

“The women have been run off of the road by motorcycles. They’ve had stuff thrown at them,” explained Menzies. “But for every bad story you hear, there are also a lot of positive stories. So, we wanted to make sure that we were trying to get both sides.”

Afghan Cycles wasn’t the only documentary focused on the stories of women to be shown at the festival. Filmmaker Tom Donahue’s most recent documentary shines a light on the dark side of filmmaking. This Changes Everything calls an urgent look to the #MeToo movement in Hollywood with the years and experiences of actresses leading up to today. Featuring interviews with actresses like Meryl Streep, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Natalie Portman, viewers are able to understand that the poor treatment of minorities in Hollywood has existed since the beginning of the film industry. 

Moretz tells the story of studio executives forcing her to put chicken cutlets into her bra when she was 15 years old and Portman explains that of all the sets she has been on, only two were directed by women—one of which was herself.

One of the standout foreign films of the festival was the Swedish drama Becoming Astrid. This film is set in early 20th-century Sweden, chronicling the notable author Astrid Lindgren’s (Alba August) young life. Lindgren would grow up to become the author of classic children’s stories, such as those starring Pippi Longstocking. 

Becoming Astrid makes it apparent that life then was just the same as life now. Issues that Lindgren faced are as common today as they were 100 years ago. After an affair as a teenager, Lindgren finds herself pregnant and forced to grow up too fast. She is kicked out of her parents’ house and cannot be involved in the life of the father of her child. Becoming Astrid portrays the author as an everyday girl, showing her experiences in providing for her young son as she builds the foundation of her writing career.

On Nov. 11, DFF 41 came to a satisfying end with one final red carpet evening. The very last film to be shown at the festival was Vox Lux, with director Brady Corbet as the guest of honor at the event.

Opening with a horrific scene of a school shooting, survivor Celeste Albertine (Raffey Cassidy) rises to fame after performing at the school’s memorial service. Eighteen years later, Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) has become a pop star battling with personal struggles and the true price of her fame.

The festival was bookended with stories revolving around those of women of influence. Whether the story was told as an extravagant period piece or a dramatic story of a music icon, this year’s festival was steeped in the stories of women. 

However, of all the films shown at DFF, only four of the 18 major awards of the festival were given to films made by women. Awards for documentaries and two short films were awarded to female filmmakers. Other than that, the awards were given to men.

Even though representation was not equal in the awards chosen by panels of guest judges, this year’s Denver Film Festival took a step in the right direction. The lack of awardees being women is not due to a lack of showings of female-made films. The DFS has shown itself to promote films created by underrepresented groups.

In fact, one of the main sponsors for the Denver Film Festival, Lyft, showed promotional videos before each screening of the festival explaining that any Lyft ride during the festival that used a promotional code would donate part of the profits to organizations that support female filmmakers. The movies in the DFS sponsored Women+Film category gave attendees an opportunity to support underrepresented filmmakers. 

The 41st Annual Denver Film Festival shined a light on issues plaguing the film industry in terms of unequal representation. This year’s festival took a step in the right direction by furthering the DFS’s goal of promoting art made by all people, all races, and all identities.

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