Again this year, Denver Film Festival artistic director Matt Campbell 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. Today he spotlights selections for November 4-6: Land of Gold, Battleground and Quantum Cowboys.
Land of Gold Directed by Nardeep Khurmi
7 p.m. Friday, November 4
1 p.m. Saturday, November 5
Director Nardeep Khurmi's Land of Gold "premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival," says Matt Campbell. "Within that festival, there's a grant that AT&T provides to underrepresented voices to help them finish their projects, and then they get a first-look deal with HBO. And Land of Gold is the winner of that grant this year."
According to Campbell, the narrative focuses on "a Punjabi truck driver who is going across the country. His wife is at home, pregnant, and she wants him to get home, and as he's heading there, his path crosses with a nine-year-old undocumented Mexican-American girl. She's trying to get to her uncle, and the two of them form an unlikely bond when she joins him on this cross-country adventure."
The relationship between the two main characters "is really lovely," he says. "Both of them are ostracized within American society in different ways, but this is one of those films where two people who seemingly don't have anything in common form a connection and begin to rely on each other and trust each other. It's a dramedy with some light bits in it, and is one of the more crowd-pleasing films in this year's festival, with a really excellent message behind it."
Khurmi is scheduled to participate in a post-screening Q&A, and Campbell is hopeful that one or more cast members may also turn up. Here's a video focusing on the pitch that helped the director land the grant for Land of Gold: Battleground Directed by Cynthia Lowen
2:15 p.m. Saturday, November 5
12:30 p.m. Sunday, November 6
As Campbell sees it, Battleground is "one of the most timely zeitgeist documentaries we have in the festival this year, since it's about Roe v. Wade and activism both for and against abortion in America. The unique thing about it is that it really does look at both sides of the argument — and having seen a fair amount of documentaries about similar subject matter over the years, that's not always the case."
An example offered by Campbell: "One of the main characters in the film fashions herself as a liberal progressive who lives in San Francisco, but she's adamantly pro-life."
He predicts that "the film is going to spark a lot of conversation, and one of the cool things about it is that at the screening on Saturday, we're going to have an extended panel discussion moderated by Lisa Kennedy. The director, Cynthia Lowen, will be there, and so will be Dr. Alison Patterson, the OB/GYN director at CU Medicine."
Campbell appreciated that Lowen "tries to have an objective presence for both sides of this argument, which is one of the most polarizing topics in the country. It'll be up to viewers to decide if the film achieves that, but in my opinion, it does its best not to just preach to one choir or another." Quantum Cowboys Directed by Geoff Marslett
7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 5
4 p.m. Sunday, November 6
AMC House 4
"We love highlighting local talent," Campbell emphasizes, and director Geoff Marslett certainly qualifies. "He's a teacher at CU Boulder who teaches filmmaking and animation, and with this film, he's made a Western — but not a traditional Western in any sense. It's an animated film, but he also shot live-action sequences, and portions of it are Rotoscoped."
The technique, in which animators essentially trace footage of actors, is only one of the stylistic flourishes that distinguishes Quantum Cowboys, whose eclectic cast includes actor David Arquette, musicians Neko Case and John Doe and fellow filmmaker and CU Boulder faculty member Alex Cox.
"It's also somewhat of a science-fiction film, kind of in the multiverse vein," Campbell reveals. "There are a lot of big ideas going on. It's wildly imaginative and creative, but definitely within the world and ethos of the Western. Geoff loves the West and western landscapes, so the film is very visually impressive."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.