Denver Film Fest 2016 Announces LA LA LAND as Opener + Galas & Competitioners

Festivals Editor; Los Angeles, California (@RylandAldrich)
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Denver Film Fest 2016 Announces LA LA LAND as Opener + Galas & Competitioners

The first big festival announcement landed today from the good folks at the Denver Film Society. Their 39th Denver Film Fest kicks off November 2 with Damien Chazelle's throwback Hollywood musical La La Land (here's Gorber's rave review). Pablo Larrain's Jackie will close the fest on November 12.

There are all kinds of other great films mentioned below as well including a centerpiece screening of Lion, and special screenings of Mifune: The Last Samurai and Toni Erdmann. I'll also give a completely conflicted and biased mention the fact that Alex Karpovsky will receive this year's Reel Social Club Indie Voice Award at a screening of Folk Hero & Funny Guy.

Here's the full release:

The 39th Denver Film Festival (DFF39), produced by Denver Film Society (DFS), today announced the lineup of Red Carpet screenings, special presentations and films in competition. Recognized as one of the nation’s premier film events, the Festival will open on November 2, 2016, with LA LA LAND, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The Festival will close on Saturday, November 12 with JACKIE, directed by Pablo Larraín and starring Natalie Portman.
 
Rounding out the Red Carpet schedule are; LION, the drama directed by Garth Davis and starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, screening as the Festival’s Centerpiece presentation on Friday, November 4, and THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig as the Red Carpet Matinee on Saturday, November 12.

“The 39th Denver Film Festival Red Carpet and Special Presentations represent compelling voices in cinema and continue our tradition of bringing the most anticipated films from the fall circuit to our audiences,” says Denver Film Society Festival Director Britta Erickson. “From Damien Chazelle’s modern musical La La Land, starring the dazzling Emma Stone, to Natalie Portman's iconic portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larraín's Jackie, these films set the bar for the entire program of impressive work coming to our screens in November."

In addition to Red Carpet screenings, DFF39 will present more than 200 titles representing local, national and international independent films, as well as industry panels, workshops, achievement awards and tributes.
 
Other highlights include a screening of the comedy LOST IN PARIS, which will be honored with the Festival’s Rare Pearl Award, and a Tribute to the writing, directing and acting duo behind the film, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon. The couple will also appear with two of their previous films, RUMBA and THE FAIRY. The Stan Brakhage Vision Award will be presented to internally-recognized, avant-garde filmmaker Saul Levine. In addition, the Festival will recognize Alex Karpovsky (Girls, Inside Llewyn Davis) with its Reel Social Club Indie Voice Award at a screening of FOLK HERO & FUNNY GUY, in which he stars.

The full program lineup for the 12-day Festival will be announced onMonday, October 10 and individual tickets for the general public will go on saleWednesday, October 12 online at www.denverfilm.org or in-person at the Sie FilmCenter (2510 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO 80206).
 

DFF39 highlights include:

RED CARPET SCREENINGS

OPENING NIGHT
LA LA LAND - USA / Director: Damien Chazelle
Academy Award nominee Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) wrote and directed this original musical set in modern-day Los Angeles, where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, struggle to make ends meet against the backdrop of a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts.

CENTERPIECE
LION - Australia/UK/USA / Director: Garth Davis
Separated from his family at age five, Saroo survived on the streets of India, found love with his adoptive parents in Australia—and now, 25 years later, is setting out anew. Armed only with unwavering determination and Google Earth, he embarks on a quest for the ages: going home again.

RED CARPET MATINEE
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN - USA / Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Everyone, everywhere, understands the growing pains of adolescence. Times change, modes of communication evolve, but some things—like the first pangs of love or the sting of a friend’s betrayal—never do. Creating a film about growing up in our digital age took artists who could poignantly capture the voice of this generation. From writer/first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig and five-time Oscar-nominated and three-time Oscar-winning producer James L. Brooks, The Edge of Seventeen is a coming-of-age comedy with a refreshingly authentic voice.

CLOSING NIGHT
JACKIE - USA/Chile/France / Director: Pablo Larraín
This searing and intimate portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history—as seen through the eyes of iconic First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman)—is already garnering buzz as an Oscar contender. Acclaimed Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín directs.
 

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER - USA / Director: Doug Nichol
Featuring interviews with Tom Hanks, John Mayer, Sam Shepard and others, this impassioned and thought-provoking documentary considers the meaningful place that outmoded—but still perfectly functional—machines like typewriters can and should hold in an increasingly digitized, automated and dehumanized world.
 
THE EAGLE HUNTRESS -  UK/Mongolia/USA / Director: Otto Bell
Set against the breathtaking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, this awe-inspiring documentary follows 13-year-old Aisholopan as she trains to become the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family to hunt eagles, a tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries.

I, DANIEL BLAKE - UK/France/Belgium / Director: Ken Loach
Graced with humor and heart, legendary English director Ken Loach’s gripping social-realist tale about a widowed woodworker fighting the system to preserve his dignity—and that of a struggling single mother he meets along the way—won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
 
LOST IN PARIS (Paris pieds nus) - France/Belgium / Directors: Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon
Replete with the intricately choreographed slapstick that has come to define the work of Belgian couple Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, Lost in Paris is a wondrously fun and frantic comedy about two peculiar people finding love while lost in the City of Lights.
 
MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI - USA/Japan / Director: Steven Okazaki
Narrated by Keanu Reeves and featuring interviews with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and others, this immensely satisfying tribute to the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune surveys his life and career—from his formative World War II experiences to the enduring samurai epics in which he starred, influencing the art of cinema worldwide.
 
THE PLAY - USA / Director: Peter Vogt
On November 20, 1982, during a Cal Berkeley–Stanford game, the greatest play in the history of American football—dubbed “The Play”—went down in front of 80,000 stunned fans. Even today, the details of that hilarious and epic moment are hotly debated; this is the story behind it. (Bonus: it includes John Elway.)
 
THE RED TURTLE - Japan/France/Belgium / Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
In this magical and multilayered fable, a castaway is determined to escape a deserted tropical island—only to have his attempts barred by a red tortoise. Animator Michaël Dudok de Wit’s dialogue-free debut feature recounts the milestones in the life of a human being.
 
THINGS TO COME - France/Germany / Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Mia Hansen Løve won a Silver Bear for best director at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival with this beautiful tale of a Parisian philosophy teacher (the inimitable Isabelle Huppert) who must reinvent her life when her husband leaves her for another woman.
 
TONI ERDMANN - Germany/Austria / Director: Maren Ade
Ines, an uptight German working for an international consulting firm in Bucharest, is paid an unexpected visit by her estranged father, who uses pranks in an attempt to get closer to her—with hilariously uncomfortable results. The two must finally reconcile their differences in this dramatic comedy, a hit at Cannes.
 
TRESPASS AGAINST US - UK / Director: Adam Smith
The ever-watchable Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson star in this gripping drama, set in the English countryside, about a family of outlaws whose patriarch is determined to keep them that way—at all costs to the younger generations. Smith’s film includes an original score by The Chemical Brothers.
 

KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE FILM FINALISTS
 
GRANNY’S DANCING ON THE TABLE - Sweden / Director: Hanna Sköld
Hanna Sköld combines animation and live action to tell the deeply disturbing, fairy tale–like story of young Eini, who lives with her controlling father in the woods—where her only means of escape is concocting a fantasy world in which she tries to make sense of her family’s dark history.

I, DANIEL BLAKE - UK/France/Belgium / Director: Ken Loach
Graced with humor and heart, legendary English director Ken Loach’s gripping social-realist tale about a widowed woodworker fighting the system to preserve his dignity—and that of a struggling single mother he meets along the way—won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
 
THE LAST FAMILY - Poland / Director: Jan P. Matuszynski
Exquisitely shot in two Soviet bloc–style apartment buildings and shot through with flashes of wicked humor, this unsettling biopic explores the art of Polish surrealist Zdzisław Beksiński as well as his relationship with his anxiety-ridden son. The script was based on the painter’s own recordings.
 
OLD STONE - China/Canada / Director: Johnny Ma
In Johnny Ma’s noir-ish debut feature, taxi driver Lao Shi runs into a motorcyclist, then saves his victim’s life by paying for his admittance to the hospital. The callous response to his compassionate act, even from those closest to him, forces him to consider dire solutions to his growing troubles.
 
ONE WEEK AND A DAY - Israel / Director: Asaph Polonsky
Over the course of a day, Eyal ditches work, steals cannabis from a hospice and otherwise seeks solace while his wife Vicky struggles to return to normal in this poignant comedy about a grieving couple emerging from the Jewish period of mourning for their deceased son.
 
THE ORNITHOLOGIST - Portugal / Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
A moment’s inadvertence pitches an adventuresome birdwatcher into a series of bizarre (and sometimes blackly humorous) encounters. As he struggles against lust, loneliness, danger and despair, a contemporary tale of redemption unfolds, steeped in the iconography of medieval pilgrimage and set against the majestic backdrop of northern Portugal.


MAYSLES BROTHERS AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FINALISTS

DO NOT RESIST - USA / Director: Craig Atkinson
Visually arresting and creatively told, this acclaimed documentary examines the War on Terror's effect on our police forces. Taking you from the protests in Ferguson to a ride along with a SWAT team, it offers an inside look at what’s being done in our name on the homeland-security front.

JACKSON - USA / Director: Maisie Crow
Based in Jackson, Mississippi, this gripping documentary delves into the conflict between religious freedom and reproductive rights in the Deep South. As the last-standing abortion clinic in the state is threatened with closure, prominent leaders of the pro-life and pro-choice movements come to a head.

MIFUNE - USA / Director: Steven Okazaki
Narrated by Keanu Reeves and featuring interviews with Spielberg, Scorcese and others, this immensely satisfying tribute to the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune surveys his life and career—from his formative World War II experiences to the enduring samurai epics in which he starred, influencing the art of cinema worldwide.

THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS - India / Directors: Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya
This tender, unflinching documentary takes you through dusty towns in India with the crews of touring cinemas, who jury-rig 35mm projectors while enticing locals into their tents with calls of “movies to touch your soul.” Their passion persists despite dwindling audiences, as technology keeps most at home watching newer movies on TV.

OFF THE RAILS - USA / Director: Adam Irving
Darius McCollum has spent 23 years in maximum-security prison for hijacking hundreds of trains and buses—all to feed his obsession with driving them. This fascinating documentary places the story of McCollum, who has Asperger’s, within the framework of our broken justice system and its inability to rehabilitate convicts.

THE NINE - USA / Director: Katy Grannan
In her first feature documentary, photographer Katy Grannan reveals a ravaged America through her portraits of sex worker Kiki and her damaged companions, who live in the modern-day purgatory of Modesto, California. Grannan’s luminous visual aesthetic highlights this microcosmic study of human aspiration and resilience.


AMERICAN INDEPENDENT NARRATIVE AWARD FINALISTS

FREE IN DEED - USA / Director: Jake Mahaffy
Melva takes her autistic son Benny to a Pentecostal church in Memphis, seeking an alternative to the rote care his doctors have offered. But when faith healing also fails him, Melva faces a spiritual crisis. This intense, stirring drama from Jake Mahaffy is based on a true story.
 
HUNTER GATHERER - USA / Director: Josh Locy
After being released from a three-year prison sentence, wily, middle-aged Ashley Douglas finds himself jobless, living with his mother and longing for his former lover. Directionless and devious, he crosses paths with the kind yet simple-minded Jeremy, and an unexpected friendship forms the heart of this quietly comi-tragic character study.
 
KATIE SAYS GOODBYE – USA / Director: Wayne Roberts
This equally heartfelt and harrowing character study features a riveting central performance by Olivia Cooke as a truck-stop waitress whose plans to escape to the big city are derailed by small-town treachery. A powerful supporting cast includes Mary Steenburgen and Jim Belushi.
 
LIVE CARGO – USA / Director: Logan Sandler
A young couple returns to a small island in the Bahamas after the loss of their baby. While they struggle to start over, they find that the island harbors dark secrets all its own. Shot in stark black-and-white, this dramatic thriller explores the gray areas of human suffering.

LOVESONG – USA / Director: So-yong Kim
Sarah, raising her young daughter in a lonely marriage, and Mindy, a free spirit, have become estranged following an intimate encounter. With this gentle drama, director So Yong Kim paints a touching picture of two childhood friends who reunite after years apart.
 
MA – USA / Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall 
In this striking feature debut from choreographer-director Celia Rowlson-Hall, studied movement and a quirky score replace dialogue as Ma—a modern-day Madonna—traverses the sun-faded desert on her way to Vegas to give birth, meeting outlandish fellow travelers as she goes.


TRUE GRIT BEST COLORADO FEATURE FILM AWARD FINALISTS

A SONG FOR THE LIVING – USA / Directors: Colin Floom & Greg Nemer 
In a secluded mountain town, a young train engineer who has just lost his mother to suicide falls for a mysterious mortician. What starts as magnetic attraction becomes something much darker in this poetic tale of heartbreak and betrayal, beautifully shot in and around Central City, Colorado.

REENGINEERING SAM – USA / Director: Brian Malone
Sam Schmidt always wanted to go bigger and faster. His love of Indy car racing left him a quadriplegic, but he never pumped the brakes on his passion for life—and now he’s intent on gaining mobility through technology in this uplifting documentary produced by longtime festival guest Daniel Junge.

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