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Rolling Out the Starz

Denver's film fest looks forward and back.

Wear something silver. The 25th Starz Denver International Film Festival starts Thursday night at the Buell Theatre with White Oleander, Peter Kosminsky's study of a girl's harrowing journey through a series of L.A. foster homes; it will close ten days later at the Buell Theatre with Bowling for Columbine, political gadfly Michael Moore's disturbing examination of guns and violence in America. Moore will discuss the film on October 19 with a Denver audience, for whom the word "Columbine" has special meaning.

In between, the festival -- which has gone through more title sponsors over the years than Liz Taylor has husbands and dodged only a few less bullets than John Wayne -- will demonstrate its endurance at the Starz FilmCenter in the former Tivoli Brewery. It will screen more than 150 films from two dozen countries -- including a closing-day retrospective called DIFF's 25 Greatest Hits, featuring such past audience favorites as John Cassavetes's Faces (1968), Woody Allen's Manhattan (1978), Robert Mugge's foot-tapping documentary The Gospel According to Al Green (1984) and Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas (1984).

Actor Nick Nolte, the soul of independence on screen and off, will pop in this Sunday night, with his new Investigating Sex, to accept the fest's John Cassavetes Award. Past winners include such indie-film luminaries as Traffic director Stephen Soderbergh, Down By Law creator Jim Jarmusch and actor Sean Penn.

DIFF 25 will present a twelve-film salute to Chinese cinema, which remains something of a mystery in the West despite the huge popularity of Raise the Red Lantern and other Zhang Yimou works. From China, in person, comes director Chen Kaige (Yellow Earth, Farewell My Concubine); from Hong Kong, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Cheng Pei-Pei.

Some other highlights:

Among the new fiction films in the festival, look for Julie Taymor's Frida, in which Selma Hayek portrays acclaimed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, whose tortured life was short indeed; Dylan Kidd's Roger Dodger, the savage comic portrait of a supposed ladies' man (Campbell Scott) who takes his sixteen-year-old nephew out for a disastrous night on the town in Manhattan; and Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects, a trip to suburbia, somewhat in the style of American Beauty, that examines love, tragedy and hope in the lives of a huge cast that features Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Mary Kay Place and a gaggle of frighteningly authentic teenagers. Australian-born director Philip Noyce, who will be honored at the fest this Saturday night, will bring three of his films: the 1989 thriller Dead Calm; his new adaptation of Graham Greene's classic Vietnam novel, The Quiet American; and Rabbit-Proof Fence,a drama about Aboriginal children stripped of their culture in a Dickensian Aussie orphanage.

As always, DIFF will feature documentaries that Denverites will be able to see nowhere else. Daniel Junge's Chiefs, produced by Denver-based Oscar winner Donna Dewey, vividly follows two seasons of play by the Wyoming Indian High School basketball team, whose daily lives on the Wind River Reservation are as harsh as the epithets they hear in the visitors' parking lot. Standing in the Shadows of Motown looks at the unsung studio musicians who backed superstars like Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and the Supremes. Lee Hirsch's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony examines the huge role "freedom" music played in South Africa's long struggle to break the bonds of apartheid and taste sweet liberty. Especially for movie buffs, there's Lost in La Mancha, the frequently hilarious chronicle of a disaster-ridden attempt by director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys) to shoot a new film version of Don Quixote-- a project doomed by evil Spanish weather, the leading man's double hernia and Gilliam's own Quixote-esque delusions about art and commerce.

These are the same glorious delusions, of course, that keep struggling film festivals breathing -- if only barely -- and the very existence of DIFF 25 stands as tribute to the stubbornness of that spirit.

 
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