Denver’s a pretty great film town, but that doesn’t mean that all of cinema's many niches and genres are equally well represented. You can always catch a blockbuster film at any neighborhood multiplex, and plenty of arthouse, indie and repertory fare is available around town. But the weird stuff is harder to come by, which makes events like the Den-Ex Film Fest, a showcase of work by local experimental filmmakers, a precious commodity.
“Denver does not see experimental film programs very often,” acknowledges Johnny Morehouse, a Westword MasterMind award winner who co-curated the festival with John Hartmann. “It's a good thing to have.”
Presented as part of the Emerging Filmmakers Project, this is Den-Ex’s second year, and the organizers want to make it an ongoing concern. Knowing full well that the “experimental” tag can scare people off — flashbacks to a college symposium full of long, unchanging shots of buildings, or an hour of abstract shapes projected in a loop — Morehouse emphasizes that Den-Ex focuses not just on local work, but on the accessible side of experimental filmmaking.
“These are pretty fun experimental films,” he says. “They're playful at times, definitely serious at some times. And, of course, I'll get people who come up to me at the end of the show and say, ‘Some of those aren't experimental films, they're art films or narrative music videos.’ But they're good! They're all experimental in some form or fashion, but if we're going to put a show together, we have to make it kind of entertaining. You can't sit someone down for a couple of hours and have them look at blank screens or scratches or whatever. We're beyond that. We're a quicker eye. We look at things a little different. We just tried to put together the best program that included mostly Denver filmmakers, and it's a good one.”
So you can expect short works that focus on a variety of experimental approaches, from the conceptual to the procedural to the content of the film itself.
“How I define experimental does not necessarily mean you have to do a bunch of scratching on film and the old style of Stan Brakhage and those guys,” Morehouse says. “It could be an experimental process, or experimental storytelling. I include that if they can get really creative with how they tell the story, I still consider that experimental.
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“There are a few films we have that people are just experimenting on film, doing things or acting a certain way or whatever,” he continues. “To me, that is experimental. I think we have to widen our gauge of what's experimental. That's why we do this, to broaden that [definition].”
The films will be split into two sections of roughly forty minutes each, with a post-session Q&A after each section and an intermission in the middle. Many of the filmmakers will be on hand to answer questions about their films, and between that and the expansive view of what constitutes an experimental film, Den-Ex is a great entry point to newcomers to the genre.
“This will be a very good introduction” to experimental film, promises Morehouse, "especially since there are so many locals, because you can talk to them.”