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.
The Search for Emak Bakia Directed by Oskar Alegria 7 p.m. Friday, November 8 UA Pavilions
"This is one of my favorite film in the festival, hands down," says Withey of The Search for Emak Bakia. "I saw it at the very end of putting together last year's festival and tried to sort of force it into the program, but it didn't work timing-wise for us or the filmmaker," director Oskar Alegria. "But it was definitely worth waiting for.
"This is an incredibly personal, very poetic story of the director, who saw a short film called Emak Bakia made by the filmmaker/photographer Man Ray in 1926, fell in love with it, and wanted to know where it had been made.
"The Man Ray film is silent, but there are a number of clues about the location. You can sort of see this region in the Basque part of Spain, and the coastline, and a very unique house."
According to Withey, knowing the house still exists definitely doesn't qualify as a spoiler, "since what the filmmaker discovers along the way is as important as what he finds in the end -- which is often the case with journeys or travelogues. What he finds out about the original film, and the location where it was shot, is very interesting, but what he finds out about himself is really beautiful."
As a bonus, Alegria will be on hand for the screening.
The Fifth Season Directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth 7 p.m. Saturday, November 9 UA Pavilions
A Belgian film made by directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth, The Fifth Season is "very surreal," Withey says.
The movie "takes place in a small village, a farming community. The townspeople are moving up this hill above the village and theyr'e carrying with them all of these dead trees and figurines made out of straw -- building a big pile on which they're building a bonfire. It's all part of saying goodbye to winter and welcoming spring and the beginning of the planting season."
This year, however, "nothing will catch fire, and that ushers in the fifth season -- a long, brutal extended winter that doesn't ever seem to have an end. Nothing grows from that time on, the livestock die and the people in the village begin to turn on one another."
The result, Withey says, is "an apocalyptic scenario on a very small front. We don't know what's going on outside of this very small farming community, and we don't know why anything is happening. It's one town's reaction to a strange, unearthly circumstance, where people start doing unexpected things -- things you're definitely hoping they won't do in order to barter for food. And blame gets placed on the last person to move into town, with people thinking that perhaps all of this is his fault. These are dark times in the little village, and sacrifices need to be made in order to hopefully lift this fifth season."
A Touch of Sin Directed by Zhangke Jia 9:45 p.m. Sunday, November 10 SDFF Sie FilmCenter
"This is an amazing film," Withey says, "and it's amazing for a lot of reasons -- including that it got past the Chinese censor board."
Director Zhangke Jia "is very well known, and he's had many films that have played in festivals around the world before, including ours; we've played all his films whether they were in the festival or back when we did the Asian Film Festival in Aurora. But this film is very critical of government and business practices -- and I wouldn't say the criticism is very veiled at all."
The film "is told in four parts," Withey goes on, "and even though they're all individual, they link together and the characters intermingle -- and each story is punctuated by a rather grim, outlandish act of violence that's usually directed at some government official or head of some company. Therein lies the critique of the current political and business situation in China."
One astonishing story element plucked from reality: "So many workers from various computer plants in China were jumping off the top of their buildings to their deaths that a lot of the companies installed nets. And that's in one of the stories."
Look below to see trailers for The Search for Emak Bakia, The Fifth Season and A Touch of Sin, and be sure to visit our Show and Tell blog each day throughout the festival for more of Brit's picks.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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