The Denver Film Society’s Women + Film Festival has set its course for another memorable trip into cinema that starts Tuesday, March 15 at the Sie FilmCenter. The festival’s focus on films “by, for, and about women” will bring everything from narrative features about women at various stages of life and the decisions that come with that territory to documentaries following the writers and readers of romance novels — Love Between the Covers covers the best-selling book genre out there — to a group of Palestinian female drag racers in Speed Sisters, who are leaving their male counterparts in the rearview mirror. And that’s just the beginning.
“Common threads of women’s strength and courage appear in these films,” says Barbara Bridges, founder of Women+Film. “Whatever their struggles, from romance to Chernobyl, we feel empathy and understanding for these women. We can even see some of ourselves in their stories.”
Another voice in the mix this year belongs to Jasmine McGlade, coordinator for the Filmmaker Focus portion of the week and a filmmaker herself. “Filmmaker Focus offers a robust series of programs in Colorado, such as panels, workshops and networking events,” explains McGlade. “We utilize local talent as well as invite industry from outside of Colorado to be part of these creative conversations to inspire, educate and empower the local filmmaking community, and increase awareness of filmmaking in Colorado.”
There are a whopping sixteen films vying for your attention at the festival this year, so we asked McGlade to share her top five picks at Women + Film.
5) The Babushkas Of Chernobyl
Screens at noon Saturday, March 19
In the radioactive Dead Zone surrounding Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4, a defiant community of women scratches out an existence on some of the most toxic land on Earth. The residents share this hauntingly beautiful but lethal landscape with an assortment of visitors — scientists, soldiers and even "stalkers," young thrill-seekers who sneak in to pursue post-apocalyptic, video game-inspired fantasies. Why the women chose to return after the disaster — defying the authorities and endangering their health — is a remarkable tale about the pull of home, the healing power of shaping one's destiny, and the subjective nature of risk. “This is one of my favorite docs of the year,” says McGlade. “Set against an alluring backdrop and featuring spellbinding and endearing subjects, The Babushkas of Chernobyl is a fascinating, informative, and poignant film I'll not soon forget.”
4) The Bad Kids
Screens at 7:45 p.m. Friday, March 18
At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give at-risk students command of their own futures. This coming-of-age drama watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of these so-called "bad kids." “I adore vérité filmmaking, which was artfully employed in the making of The Bad Kids, a subdued film which addresses important issues such as poverty, education and substance abuse,” says McGlade.
3) My Friend From The Park
Screens at 7:30 Thursday, March 17
Liz is struggling to adjust to her new life as a mother. With her husband in a different country for work, Liz has left her job to stay at home and care for their baby, Nicanor. Making things worse is the judgmental nanny she has hired and a cliquey group of overly enthusiastic parents. Feeling lost and alone, Liz begins taking Nicanor to the neighborhood park, where she strikes up a friendship with the blunt, spontaneous Rosa, with some wild results. Says McGlade: “Unassuming and evocative, this Argentinian narrative and Sundance award-winner will resonate especially with anyone overwhelmed by the realities of responsibility.” This screening has a special introduction by University of Colorado professor Melinda Barlow, an expert on the female experience in cinema.
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Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 19
What does it mean to film another person? How does it affect that person — and what does it do to the one who films? Kirsten Johnson is one of the most notable cinematographers working in documentariestoday, having shot Citizenfour, Happy Valley, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Oath, The Invisible War and dozens of other essential documentaries. With her visually radical memoir Cameraperson, Johnson presents an extraordinary and deeply poetic film of her own, drawing on the remarkable and varied footage that she has shot and reframing it in ways that illuminate moments and situations that have touched her. “I recommend you take the opportunity to meet esteemed filmmaker Kirsten Johnson as she presents her nuanced, informative and special memoir during the festival,” urges McGlade.
1) Maggie’s Plan
Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, March 18
In this witty romantic comedy by Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose), Greta Gerwig portrays Maggie Hardin, a vibrant and practical thirtysomething New Yorker working in education; having failed to find love, she decides now is the time to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and struggling novelist, Maggie falls in love for the first time, and adjusts her plans for motherhood. Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette Harding (Julianne Moore), an ambitious academic who is driven by her work. “I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Maggie's Plan just yet,” notes McGlade, “but I've heard great things about this playful film starring one of my favorite actors, Julianne Moore. I recommend attending the screening where you can meet acclaimed film producer Rachael Horovitz (Moneyball), who will also speak on the Filmmaker Focus panel preceding the film.”
The Women + Film Festival begins March 15 and runs through March 20 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Individual tickets range in price from $12 to $25, with special discounts for DFS members and an all-access badge available for $100 ($90 for members). Get your tickets and see the schedule at denverfilm.org.