What makes a film festival special? Is it the chance to see the celebrities and filmmakers? Is it the thrill of being the first among your friends to see the film with all the buzz? Could it be the comradery of the other film fanatics passionately discussing why a particular film is important and what their favorite actor, director or film for this year is? Fall film festivals are usually the time we get the first chance to see the films that will get nominated for the Oscars.
In a year that has turned most festivals virtual and canceled the Telluride Film Festival, is it worth the time and energy (and expense) to attend the ones still happening? That answer is a resounding yes. If you luck out and attend a film festival with a drive-in component, you might see the stars on the big screen doing a Q&A. They may even be there in person like Bill Murray and Rashida Jones were for “On The Rocks” with Sophia Coppola at NYFF this past month. If it’s a usually star-studded affair like the Mill Valley Film Festival in Northern California, you can pay to watch tributes and award presentations featuring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Regina King or Dame Judi Dench. Many of those programs would’ve been sold out and not accessible to the general public.
The Denver Film Festival, which opened Thursday and runs through Nov. 8, featured Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” at Red Rocks as a drive-in screening. Film festivals have been blessed by a couple of films that are particularly well-suited to the outdoor screening treatment. “Nomadland” has sweeping vistas and the cinematography features the play of light across the expressive face of Frances McDormand. “Ammonite”(Frances Lee, writer and director) also has powerhouse actors in Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. Screening at Red Rocks on Thursday, Oct 29, the windswept seaside of England and stark whites and grays look great on the big screen. The story of an intimate relationship between disparate women seems suited to the intimacy of being inside your car.
One of the blessings of the virtual screenings of films, you don’t have to be in that town, or sometimes, even that state, to attend. There have been wonderful interviews from the British Film Institutes Film Festival on Facebook. New York Film Festival was accessible from anywhere in the United States. Mill Valley Film Festival has an Encore program of some the festival highlights available at mvff.com.
You do need to be in Colorado to view most of the Denver Film Festival’s program, as the screenings are geo-blocked. It’s an extensive program of documentaries, narratives and short films. Many of the films feature Q&As with filmmakers. Be the first among your friends to see the film that looks to be the Oscar nomination from Greece, “Apples (Mila)” — a surreal fable in the vein of “The Lobster.”It’s one of the films that was selected for the Telluride Film Festival. The list includes “Nomadland,” “Ammonite,” “There Is No Evil,” “MLK/FBI” and the latest from perennial Telluride Film Festival favorite, Werner Herzog’s documentary “Fireball.”
These are films I’m most excited to see at the Denver Film Festival, (denverfilm.org): “Minari,”a story of family resilience as a Korean-American couple tries to establish roots in a small Arkansas town. “Ema,” a film from Chile with Gael García Bernal about a fiery complex woman. “I Am Greta,” about Greta Thunberg is a timely selection, Films by local filmmakers like “Most Guys Are Losers”based on the book and life of Denver bar owner Mark Berzins.
You may still miss having the conversations that come with standing in line and bumping into old friends at the concession stand, but attending film festivals virtually means you can pause the film. You can make your own snacks. You can forget about the cold nights or the rain and focus on settling in to let a film take you away to another place and another time. So forget about politics and the pandemic for a moment and indulge in some cinema joy.