Again this year, Starz Denver Film Festival artistic director Brit Withey is offering his must-see picks for each day of the fest -- including many flicks that movie lovers might otherwise miss amid the flood of silver-screen goodies.
Watchers of the Sky Directed by Edet Belzberg Friday, November 21, 9:30 p.m. Saturday, November 22, 6:30 p.m. UA Pavilions
For Friday, November 21, Withey directs our attention to Watchers of the Sky, whose central theme "seems like something I should have been taught a long time ago. It's about a man named Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term 'genocide.' That's a word I just assumed had been around for a long, long time. But that's not so.
"Lemkin was a Holocaust survivor and he spent his entire life post-World War II trying to convince the United Nations to adopt the term 'genocide,' in order to have something to attach to these massive crimes -- mass acts of murder by groups of people. Before then, there wasn't any word for them, and he spent over a decade going to the U.N. over and over again to try to get them to adopt the term.
"He was poor, and this was his life's work. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five or six times but never won it. So this is a fascinating study of one man's Sisyphean task to do something that now seems so normal."
White Shadow Directed by Noaz Deshe Saturday, November 22, 7 p.m. Sunday, November 23, 7:15 p.m. SDFF Sie FilmCenter
White Shadow, Withey's recommendation for Saturday, November 22, is a narrative film that concerns a very real issue, albeit one little known in the United States. "Apparently and unfortunately," he says. "there are some rather large albino communities in central Africa that are hunted -- mostly by witch doctors, who will cut off parts of their body and either sell them or use them in rituals, because they're believed to have magical powers.
"The film follows a young boy who lives in a constant state of fear about being caught and killed and cut up for that purpose. His mother and father can't really support him anymore, so they send him off to live with an uncle in a large city. And that's a bit more dangerous than hiding out in a small village -- although only by a degree.
"The story of him trying to make a living, trying to lay low, trying to avoid being killed is an incredible story about growing up in a world of brutality. You identify with him, and you're scared for him."
The Overnighters Directed by Jesse Moss Sunday, November 23, 7:15 p.m. UA Pavilions
For Sunday, November 23, the festival's final day for 2014, Withey points to The Overnighters, which examines repercussions from what he describes as "the huge oil shale boom in North Dakota. A ton of people are going up there to work, and this is the story of one small town and the scores of people who move there with no job and no place to live. Some of them come in campers, some of them are sleeping in their cars. There are no motel rooms or anything like that left.
"The focus of the film is the town's minister, who has decided he's going to take in a lot of these people and let them stay in the town's church. He lets them sleep on the floor, he feeds them, he ministers to them -- and that puts him at odds with a lot of the community. Many of the people coming to town are rough people who go from oil rig to oil rig -- not the most sightly people, and some of them aren't so pleasant or they have alcohol problems. And he tries to help them. He says, 'I don't care what you've done or what you look like. I'm going to do everything I can to help you this minute.' But the conflict just wrecks this little town into pieces.
"There's an incredible twist at the end," Withey adds. "I can't say what it is, but I can tell you that no one I've talked to who has seen the film saw it coming. It's really shocking."
Look below to see trailers for Watchers of the Sky, White Shadow and The Overnighters. To access all the film festival's selections and purchase tickets, click here.
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