Starz Denver Film Festival: $2.5 million gift puts Opening Night in the money

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John Sie.
The opening evening of the Starz Denver Film Festival always focuses on the love of movies, and last night was no exception. But this year (the fest's 35th), the event was also about...a huge pile of cash. Before a big crowd at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, fest vet Ron Henderson revealed that philanthropists John and Anna Sie have gifted the Denver Film Society with $2.5 million with which to buy its current home, the Denver Filmcenter/Colfax. Not that it'll have this name for much longer.

See also: Photos: Starz Denver Film Festival: Opening Night 2012

The red carpet outside the Ellie prior to the big reveal was jammed with filmmakers, actors and the like, all enjoying a spectacular Colorado evening. No doubt they enjoyed showing off their wardrobe finery rather than having to huddle in wool coats. Not a lot of big name performers or instantly recognizable faces were caught in the many camera lenses, but the spirit of the attendees was so bright that flashes might not have been necessary.

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Anna Sie.
Inside the Ellie, plenty of folks were still milling around and hobnobbing when festival director Britta Erickson stepped to the podium and encouraged everyone to take a seat. She began in standard fashion, talking about the growth of the festival and many of the special events that will be taking place over the course of the next week and a half or so, including appearances by Vince Vaughn, Tippi Hedren and Boulder artist Stacey Steers, winner of the annual Stan Brakhage Vision Award.

In addition, she praised the scope of the films selected for screening, which include a slew from Argentina, whose cinematic output is being prominently featured this year, and sixteen entries from Colorado filmmakers.

Shortly thereafter, an executive of Key Bank, a sponsor of opening night, gave a brief, sorta awkward talk before introducing the annual salute to the festival's sponsors -- a political parody co-starring former Westword staffer John Ashton that was easily the funniest and most successful clip of its sort made in at least the last five years.

At that point, most folks in attendance likely figured the evening's main attraction -- the film A Late Quartet -- would start to unspool. But no: Erickson introduced Henderson, the co-founder and longtime face of the fest, who began talking about the Sies -- John, the founder of Starz Entertainment Group, and Anna, one of the city's most prominent benefactors, and a great lover of Italian cinema. (The fest's Maria & Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award is named for her parents.)

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The Denver FilmCenter/Colfax shares space with Twist and Shout and the Tattered Cover on East Colfax.
Why this tribute? Henderson took a while to get to the news, but it was definitely worth the wait. In mid-October, he revealed, the Sies had given $2.5 million (a $1.5 donation and a $1 million low-interest loan) to allow the Denver Film Society to purchase the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax. After more than three decades, Henderson said, "we own our own home."

Continue to read more about opening night at the Starz Denver Film Festival.


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