The 21st edition of the Denver International Film Festival gets under way at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the United Artists Colorado Center Theatre with an opening-night screening of The Theory of Flight, Paul Greenglass's study of the friendship between a brooding artist (Kenneth Branagh) and a young woman with Lou Gehrig's disease (Helene Bonham Carter). Closing night this year (October 15, UA Center) will feature Waking Ned Devine, a sly comedy about the upheaval provoked in a tiny Irish village when one of the residents wins a lottery.
The remainder of the festival will take place at the AMC Tivoli Theatres on the Auraria campus. Some recommended highlights:
* The Way (Friday, Oct. 9, 6:15 p.m.) chronicles the problems of a 55-year-old Chinese immigrant as he searches for love in alien Budapest; Hungarian director Ferenc Moldovanyi will appear in person.
* In The Inheritors (Friday, Oct. 9, 9 p.m.), Stefan Ruzowitsky creates a drama laced with humor about seven long-exploited Austrian villagers who must deal with new freedoms and responsibilities when their old tormentor dies and leaves them his farm.
* The War Room (Saturday, Oct. 10, 6:15 p.m.), D.A. Pennebaker's vivid 1993 documentary, takes an inside look at Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign as conceived by media director George Stephanopolous and spinmeister James Carville. Five years and one major bimbo eruption later, it's worth another look.
* Happiness (Saturday, Oct. 10, 9:15 p.m.), the new film by Welcome to the Dollhouse director Todd Solondz, is bound to stir controversy: It's an unblinking black comedy about S-E-X, including a touch of pedophilia.
* In The Celebration (Sunday, Oct. 11, 9:30 p.m.), by Denmark's Thomas Vinterberg, a sixtieth-birthday party for a family patriarch is transformed into an emotional psychodrama--studded with laughs--when an outspoken son reveals a long-hidden family secret.
* Karim Traidia's The Polish Bride (Tuesday, Oct. 13, 9 p.m.) traces the romantic path of a Polish woman who has been forced into prostitution, then is taken in by a Dutch bachelor farmer with a few problems of his own.
* The protagonist in My Son the Fanatic (Wednesday, Oct. 14, 9:30 p.m.) is a Pakastani cabdriver named Parvez whose budding relationship with a young prostitute in a rural English town is overturned by his son, a fundamentalist Muslim. Directed by Udayan Prasad.
* Jacki Ochs's inventive documentary Letters Not About Love (Saturday, Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m.) focuses on the five-year correspondence between two poets--one American, one Ukrainian--who sharpened their crafts by using a single word in each of their letters as the starting point for complex verbal inventions.
* Want to know more about Martin Scorsese's seemingly uncharacteristic encounter with Tibet and the Dalai Lama? What movie buff wouldn't? With In Search of Kundun With Martin Scorsese (Saturday, Oct. 17, 4:15 p.m.), documentarian Michael Henry Wilson shows us one of the finest American filmmakers at work on his study of the spiritual leader's extraordinary life.