Surrounding states may be more popular places to film movies, but Colorado has one of the biggest growing film scenes around. Not only do we have the chance to watch great films every day, but there are dozens of festivals in the Denver area and around the state dedicated to film every year — so many that our annual Best of Denver Readers' Poll always includes a Best Film Festival category. These festivals cater to every whim and give film fans a wonderful way to connect with the world cinematically — while still staying in the dark. Here, in alphabetical order, are the ten best film festivals in Colorado in 2016.
10. Aspen Shortsfest
Though Aspen Film also puts on an impressive feature film fest in September, the organization displays an uncanny ability to sort through hundreds of short films, those delectable tiny bites of cinema, and curate a program that is both entertaining and influential. In the past two years, five of the festival’s Best Short winners have gone on to be nominated for Academy Awards. The 25th-anniversary season of the festival hits the idyllic mountain resort town this April, with complete program details leaking in March at aspenfilm.org.
9. Boulder International Film Festival
For years, many people wondered why Denver’s sister city needed a film festival of its own, since one expansive and experienced celebration in the area seemed enough to satisfy any hungry movie-goer. But for the past twelve years, Boulder has cultivated an identity for its fest that's just as different from Denver's film festival as the college town itself is from D-town. This year’s program is about to be announced, and the news that The Hateful Eight’s Bruce Dern is being honored by the fest — joining the ranks of past A-list honorees Alec Baldwin, James Franco, Shirley MacLaine and nearly a dozen others — adds a tough and grizzled flourish all its own. Learn more at biff1.com.
In only its second year, the Denver Film Society’s Latino film festival displayed a huge corazon as it focused on one of Colorado’s largest populations. With a robust and varied sampling of cultures — from Mexico, Peru, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and beyond — and an organized, sumptuous selection of films and events, the festival has planted a fun and diverse flag during Hispanic Heritage Month. Last year, CineLatino co-founder Joanna Cintron was named Coors Light Líder of the Year for her work, which gifted the festival a $25,000 grant, guaranteeing that this year’s fiesta will be even more daring and robust. Keep your eyes open for more info this summer at denverfilm.org.
7. Cinema Q Film Festival
July 21 - 24
Eight years ago, the Denver Film Society’s Cinema Q Film Festival emerged to provide the missing voice of the LGBTQI community in Colorado’s film-festival lineup. Since then, Cinema Q has focused on important issues that once seemed taboo — gay marriage, transgender issues, the AIDS crisis — and made them part of the mainstream conversation. Queer lives, voices and visions have long been the staple of Cinema Q, and as hearts and minds continue to evolve around the world, so do the festival's selections. But the offerings are always diverse, eye-opening, entertaining and, above all, important. For more info, go to denverfilm.org.
6. Denver Film Festival
Last November, the Denver Film Society kicked off its 38th Denver Film Festival without Starz as a title sponsor, but still managed to have one of its strongest and smoothest festivals yet. That’s a great start for the 39th edition, with DFS executive director Andrew Rodgers now in charge, fresh from the beloved River Run Film Festival in North Carolina. As long as the DFF's international programming continues to give viewers hundreds of films to chew on and talented guests to savor, whatever Rodgers can bring to the mix will just be delicious gravy. For info on this year’s fest, watch denverfilm.org.
Keep reading for five more of the best film festivals in Colorado.
5. Denver Silent Film Festival
April 29-May 1
One of the most interesting niche film festivals around is this celebration of cinema's silent past, which hosts its fifth celebration this year. At a time when digital cinema has taken over the way we watch films, the DSFF explores the classics that created the ways that cinema first told visual stories. By curating recently restored masterpieces, presenting them on 35mm and 16mm film and bringing in social experts and archivists — whose jobs exist to make sure that we don’t lose our past as we shoot forward fast into the future — the festival continues to prove its importance. Get info on this year’s fest at denversilentfilmfest.org.
4. Denver Jewish FIlm Festival
Now through February 21
Mizel Arts & Culture Center
For twenty years, the Denver Jewish Film Festival has presented scores of films that celebrate the meaning of being Jewish and also explore the differences that come with the faith. The DJFF keeps things fresh by introducing new themes each year, including the current salute to the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) that's part of a special focus on “arts and culture” and the variety of films that fall under that banner. And you definitely don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the programming. See the full program and get tickets at maccjcc.org.
3. Mile High Horror Film Festival / Telluride Horror Show
September 28-October 2 / October 14-16
Horror is big in the festival game; every filmmaker of note in the last century, from Spielberg to Kubrick, has tried his or her hand at one terror title, at least. The news that the Stanley Film Festival will be on hiatus in 2016 is a break for Mile High Horror and Telluride Horror; they now have an opportunity to look at what drew fans to the Stanley and apply it to their own fests, making them a bloody cut above the rest. For Mile High Horror, which already delights with a cavalcade of genre guests and new horror samplings, taking the Stanley’s lean-and-mean programming stance could help trim the fat (we know they can’t all be winners — so just don’t show the losers). Meanwhile, Telluride Horror Show can step in as a destination festival: One of the Stanley's draws was that the fest made you feel that the small town of Estes Park could be your scary last stop...forever. Telluride is a historic town made even creepier by its surroundings in October; people will come for the films but stay for the town they’re trapped in for three days. Get info for each at milehighhorrorfestival.com and telluridehorrorshow.com.
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One of the most unique festivals to launch in town was this playground for television that premiered last year. Inspired by the spirit and fun of film festivals — cultivating new and thoughtful media and creating a dialogue with industry icons and talent — SeriesFest took that approach to the small screen, which has produced art as engrossing and satisfying as cinema over the last decade. The festival screened dozens of curated pilots for potential series, provided rich panels about the state of the art in storytelling, and introduced network premieres of new shows hoping to become the next big obsession for viewers. One of those, the USA network’s Mr. Robot made its debut at SeriesFest with creators and cast in tow, and soon after earned Golden Globe and Emmy notice. SeriesFest promises even bigger thrills in season two; for more information, go to seriesfest.com.
1. Telluride Film Festival
For 43 years, film fans and movie stars alike have made the pilgrimage to this tiny Colorado town over Labor Day weekend for four days of film fun in the crisp autumn air. The vacation alone is worth the trek but the Telluride Film Festival is serious business for film lovers. The handpicked programming, kept secret until opening night, always predicts the big films of the fall that quickly find praise and Academy Award recognition. With tastemaking stakes so high, cinema's talents come out in droves to represent their films and soak up the high-altitude attitude. For information, go to telluridefilmfestival.org.