Denver Film's artistic director, Brit Withey, recently did a very difficult job for us: He picked what he thinks are going to be the ten absolute don't-miss films screening at this year's Starz Denver Film Festival. We know. Tough. But here, for your reading pleasure, is a breakdown (in no particular order) of the films you need to pencil into your schedule (which, by the way, is available in full in this week's issue of Westword).
Marwencol -- (USA) Documentary Beaten and left for dead outside a bar, outsider artist Mark Hogencamp suffers from brain damage and amnesia. Without the resources necessary to continue formal rehabilitation , he undertakes his own therapy through the construction of a 1/16-scale model town he calls Marwencol. Startlingly honest and affecting, this is a documentary like no other.
The White Meadows -- (Iran) Narrative In this magical-realist allegory of sociopolitical oppression, dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof follows middle-aged Rahmat as he sails around Lake Urmia on a mission to collect the tears of the heartbroken into a tiny pitcher, remaining a silent witness to the havoc wreaked by the powers that be.
Secrets of the Tribe -- (Brazil) Documentary Secrets of the Tribe, by Brazilian director José Padilha (Bus 174, DFF 2003), tells the shocking story of the Yanomami people and the anthropologists who studied them in the 1960s and 1970s. Through a series of interviews, it reveals the dark side of the field, ultimately questioning its very nature.
A Somewhat Gentle Man -- (Norway) Narrative In this Norwegian comedy-drama, a seedy Swedish underworld boss tries to persuade Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgård), fresh out of prison, to shoot the snitch who put him there. But after being locked up for twelve years, Ulrik would prefer to experience life's pleasures, especially reconnecting with his now-grown son.
Norman Mailer: The American -- (USA) Documentary Novelist and journalist Norman Mailer was one of the most provocative figures in twentieth-century America. Documentarian Joe Mantegna paints a vivid portrait of this intense, sincere and reckless man who earned both public acclaim and censure -- as well as the devotion of those who knew him best.
The Crossing -- (Turkey) Narrative In this meditation on the loneliness of modern life, Turkish writer/director Selim Demirdelen paints a compelling portrait of a shy, middle-aged accountant who constructs an elaborate domestic fantasy from the ruins of domestic tragedy -- while coming to the aid of others who have troubling secrets of their own.
Kawasaki's Rose -- (Czech Republic) Narrative Frequent fest guest Jan Hrebejk (Shameless, SDFF32) tackles the touchy subject of the collaboration between Czech citizens and their former Communist government with a light, ironic touch in Kawasaki's Rose, the official Czech nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards.
When We Leave -- (Germany) Narrative Umay's arranged marriage to a traditional, domineering husband has uprooted her from Berlin, where she was raised, to Istanbul, where she feels stifled. Finding her situation intolerable, she returns home, taking her little son with her -- only to throw her family into turmoil.
Little Rose -- (Poland) Narrative In 1960s Poland, against a backdrop of anti-Semitism, a beautiful young woman is recruited by her lover, a secret service agent, to woo a famous writer in order to expose his Jewish identity. But the more this reluctant informant learns about her mark, the more the plan spins out of control.
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Armadillo -- (Denmark) Documentary Armadillo is a gritty documentary that follows a platoon of Danish soldiers on a humanitarian mission to Afghanistan's Helmand Province. The reality of war is vividly and shockingly captured as the young soldiers complete their six-month tour in Taliban territory.