Starz Denver Film Festival: Quartet's Big Night among four fest snapshots

Categories: Festivals, Film

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Maggie Smith.
The 35th annual Starz Denver Film Festival rolled into its first weekend with a head of steam -- and a pile of cash, thanks to a $2.5 million gift from philanthropists John and Anna Sie that's allowing the Denver Film Society to own its home. Everything hasn't run smoothly over the past few days, but the goodwill produced by the event has carried it over each bump thus far -- including a highly anticipated screening that didn't actually happen.

On Friday evening, the L2 Center, across the street from the complex that houses the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax (soon to be rechristened the Sie FilmCenter, thanks to the aforementioned donation), was scheduled to host the Denver debut of The Sapphires, a film about an Aboriginal soul group that's reportedly a crowd-pleaser extraordinaire. In her introduction for the flick, festival director Britta Erickson noted that it had earned a ten-minute ovation from the notoriously jaded attendees of the Cannes Film Festival, and had been just as enthusiastically received at the Telluride Film Festival, where she first fell under its spell.

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"The Sapphires."
Erickson's lead-in further whetted the appetite of the big L2 crowd -- but after the lights dimmed, the digital projector that was to play it split the film into two rectangles, neither of which showed the complete image.

When the movie was stopped, most attendees anticipated that the delay would be momentary. But no: A group of crew members struggled with the contraption for a full hour before a fest staffer announced that the projector appeared to be irrevocably broken. Ticket buyers were offered their money back, and promises were made (and kept) about additional screenings. A new time was set for Saturday afternoon, with three more on the docket for Sunday, November 11; click here for more details.

Afterward, Erickson was understandably frustrated. She told me that a few hours earlier, volunteers had run the film in its entirety on the very projector that went south as a test, and the device had passed with flying colors. She also noted that the technicians had actually been on the phone with the projector's manufacturer during the delay, only to learn there was no quick fix.

What was remarkable about the evening, though, was the response of those on hand to his unfortunate turn. No one seemed angry or upset -- no one I saw, anyhow. Spirits remained high, with plenty of those who thought they'd be watching The Sapphires venturing into the Tattered Cover and Twist and Shout, the FilmCenter's two great neighbors, and spending some quality time with books and music. The reaction was a heartening indication of just how beloved the festival has become over its three-and-a-half decades of life.

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"Hyde Park on Hudson."
The next morning, I ventured to the Denver Pavilions -- a new participant in the festival, now that the film complex at the Tivoli is no longer available -- and took advantage of another of the fest's most enjoyable attributes: the ability to see much-anticipated new movies before they come to the average neighborhood multiplex. In this case, the featured item was Hyde Park on Hudson, with Bill Murray portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt during a period in which he engaged in an extended affair with a distant cousin (Laura Linney) even as he prepared for a visit from King George VI (Samuel West) as war clouds gathered over Europe.

The film itself falls short of brilliance by a considerable margin. Murray captures the charm and mannerisms of FDR, if not his accent, and the sequences in which George VI and his queen (Olivia Colman) try to determine if a picnic menu that includes hot dogs is meant to ridicule them is mildly amusing in a dry, Downton Abbey sorta way -- although recent memories of The King's Speech and Colin Firth's Oscar-winning portrayal of the stuttering monarch don't do the new offering any favors. But the juxtaposition of the royals' visit and the president's far-from-juicy affair (Linney's performance is tentative and muted) make for a split focus that prevents either narrative from seizing the day. The result is a pleasant enough confection, but one that won't linger for long afterward.

The same conclusion works for that evening's Big Night presentation.

Continue for more about the Starz Denver Film Festival's opening weekend.


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