Also brightening the October horizon is the return of the Denver International Film Festival, celebrating its 21st year with eight glitzy days of director tributes, film premieres, celebrity guests and a host of special events. This year's festival opener, The Theory of Flight, stars Kenneth Branagh as a flyboy with a past and a frail-looking Helena Bonham Carter as his wheelchair-using companion; it screens tonight at 7:30 at the fancy new United Artists Colorado Center Theatre, I-25 and Colorado Blvd. An opening-night gala follows downtown at the Seawell Grand Ballroom, 14th and Curtis in the Plex. Tickets are $20 for the film only; a $50 package includes both the film and the gala. The meat of the fest--a kaleidoscopic parade of foreign treasures, documentaries, indie films and shorts and unexpected hits--gets going tomorrow, with most screenings taking place at the AMC Tivoli Theatres, 900 Auraria Pkwy. The festival wraps up on October 15 with a United Artists showing of Waking Ned Devine, a "small" comedy being compared to The Full Monty, along with a Last Reel Celebration at the Starlight Cantina and Pizzeria, 4100 E. Mexico Ave. Regular festival admission is $4 to $7.50 per program, and you can purchase tickets in advance by calling 303-830-TIXS; remaining tickets go on sale one hour before showtime in the theater lobby. For information call 303-321-FILM or log on to www.denverfilm.org. For complete festival listings, see page 42.
The Denver Museum of Natural History, 2001 Colorado Blvd., sheds some light on antiquated stereotypes about the "dark continent" today when it unveils Africa: One Continent, Many Worlds, another traveling blockbuster coming to roost in museum galleries. Running through January 25, the exhibit includes sections on contemporary African family life, art, ecology and business. You'll have opportunities to take a video tour through Dakar, gaze at a life-sized robotic rhino and peek inside a goatskin tent filled with the daily accoutrements of a nomadic tribal family. The exhibit is included in museum admission, $4 to $6. A related giant-sized film, Africa's Elephant Kingdom, also hits the enormous IMAX screen beginning today; theater admission is an additional $4 to $6. Call 303-322-7009.
If your boots are up to it, grab a partner and hit the fast lane down to Rodeo, 10001 Grant St., Thornton, for the Marlboro Country Nights Dance Showdown. The first of two preliminary rounds in the amateur country dancing competition begins tonight at 9; the next round is on October 16, and finals are on October 23. You might just two-step, waltz and swing your way to glory at the regional championship in Arizona in November or--who knows?--to the December 4 national finals in Texas. For details call 303-280-1800.
Get ready to stand in line again at the Denver Art Museum, where they'll be greeting the fall season with 600 Years of British Painting: The Berger Collection, a massive exhibition opening today that follows the full gamut of British art chronologically from the fourteenth century to modern times. Exceptional miniatures in the beautifully illuminated Bute Book of Hours, circa 1500, will give way to galleries containing masterworks by Holbein, Van Dyck, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable and others, with plenty of artful portraits and landscapes in between. The exhibition, a sure thing if we've ever seen one, continues through March 28. The museum is at 100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.; call 303-640-4433.
What better opportunity for longtime Creative Music Works Orchestra director Fred Hess to pass over the baton than when Maria Schneider is in town? That's not to cast a shadow on Hess's replacement, saxophonist Lynn Baker, but tonight Baker defers to the visiting Schneider, a protege of the late, great big-band arranger Gil Evans who's now considered tops in her field, both as a bandleader and as a composer. Schneider and the orchestra tune up tonight at 8 at the Houston Fine Arts Center, 7111 Montview Blvd.; tickets are $12 at the door ($7 students, seniors and Creative Music Works members). Call 303-759-1797 for details.
Hey, punkin--where's your pumpkin? It's the time of year when little ones' thoughts turn to carving out a big, ugly (or tiny, sweet) jack-o'-lantern for Halloween, so you've got to be prepared. Lucky for you, today is pumpkin-harvest central. The orange orbs are ripe, ready and overstuffed in pumpkin patches all around town, so there's more than one way to skin a gourd: Four Mile Historic Park, 715 S. Forest St., hosts a free Great Pumpkin Harvest Festival with crisp, crunchy-leaved, outdoorsy fun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nominal fees will get you pumpkins, museum tours and hayrack rides; call 303-399-1859. Or you can gallivant out to Bellflower Farms, 4704 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton, where Pumpkin Daze got under way yesterday. There'll be pumpkins galore, fresh produce, baked goods, crafts and more from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free; call 303-738-9788. And if today doesn't work for you, we know of at least one Pumpkin Patch that's open daily through October 30. The St. Luke's United Methodist Church youth group will be peddling pumpkins to support its community service projects from 11 a.m. to dusk weekdays and 9 a.m. to dusk weekends. Give them a visit at 8817 S. Broadway, Highlands Ranch, or call 303-791-0659.