Film and TV

Denver Documentary Society Hosts Its First Civil Rights Film Screening

Wade Gardner, filmmaker, founder of the Denver Documentary Society, and civil rights activist.
Wade Gardner, filmmaker, founder of the Denver Documentary Society, and civil rights activist. Sudabot
"I guess it's in my blood," says Denver Documentary Society founder and award-winning filmmaker Wade Gardner, explaining that his passion for civil rights activism stems from a movement that began before he was born. "I come from Russian descent. My grandfather was a Bolshevik who was kicked out of Russia and sent to the United States and started the Communist Party of America in California." Now Gardner uses his family's storied past as inspiration for his filmmaking and curation work. His 2017 award-winning documentary, Marvin Booker Was Murdered, spotlights the death of a homeless Black preacher at the hands of five Denver jail guards.

Gardner is still passionate about civil rights issues, and has curated five films for the Denver Documentary Society's inaugural Mile High Human & Civil Rights Film Screening at the Holiday Theater. The event begins on Friday, March 10, and continues on Saturday, March 11. And the compelling films aren't the only draw; there will also be free beer provided by Ratio Beerworks.

Gardner used his extensive list of contacts — both filmmakers and distributors — to track down and bring the five films to Denver, all of which peek into the lives of several diverse groups and prompt hard-hitting discussions about legally ending one's life, what it means to "reclaim" a last name for Black families, the indoctrination of Indian youth and more.

"I wanted to bring a special film that spoke to the Latin American and Hispanic culture we have here in Denver, so the film that opens our festival on Friday evening is called El Equipo," Gardner says. El Equipo, directed by Bernardo Ruiz, takes audiences back to 1985 and explores how the relationship between the American forensic scientists Dr. Clyde Snow and a group of Argentinian students impacted the history of forensic science and human rights.

"We title [our end-of-night screenings] as having a dose of reality," Gardner adds, "so our initial dose of reality screening is Jack Has a Plan." That film details the life and death of Jack, a man diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and pronounced terminally ill. Jack spends the time after his diagnosis making peace with his past and present, accepting his eventual death while embracing the life he has. Ultimately, Jack plans a medication-aided death, which occurs 25 years after his initial diagnosis.

Chris Metzler, producer of Jack Has a Plan, is a lifelong friend of Gardner's, and spoke to him about the film more than a year ago. "We just agreed we'd be in touch," Gardner recalls. "It worked out perfectly."

The other documentaries include 20 Days In Mariupol, directed by Mstyslav Chernov, which covers a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the city of Mariupol, and Little Richard: I Am Everything, a film about the Black, queer origins of rock-and-roll through the music of Richard Penniman, directed by Lisa Cortés. A collection of documentary shorts, titled "Humanity Revealed," will showcase "Parker," directed by Sharon Liese and Catherine Hoffman, which tells the story of a Black American family that chooses their own last name. Also in the collection are "Liturgy of Anti-Tank Obstacles," directed by Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, which follows the Ukrainian citizen resistance during the ongoing war, and "Holy Cowboys," directed by Varun Chopra, which explores Indian youth and their indoctrination as bovine vigilantes.

And this may be your only chance to see them in a cinema: None of the films Gardner chose will be shown at a commercial movie theater. "As a curator, it's important to understand bringing selections that would not screen in our community, how important it is to find and bring those relevant films that have great directors," Gardner says. "That's what I enjoy doing the most."

However, Gardner's selection of curated films are not just little-known documentaries, but works of art that spark conversation. "Most importantly, the whole idea of the Denver Documentary Society in the screening is to build awareness of the value of documentary in the community, and how the stories can engage [us]," Gardner says. "They can allow for people to get together and talk. They can allow for people to stand up and dance and sing along."

The Mile High Human & Civil Rights Film Screening starts at 6 p.m. Friday, March 10, and continues at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at MCA Denver at the Holiday Theater, 2644 West 32nd Avenue. Tickets for each documentary screening are available on a sliding scale, starting at $12.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.

Latest Stories