Again this year, 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. Today he spotlights the opening night feature, Anomalisa, and offers a preview of the entire festival, which runs from November 4-15.
Many film festivals choose as their opening-night film an easily accessible crowd-pleaser. But for its 38th edition, the Denver Film Festival is moving in a more challenging direction with Anomalisa — and fest artistic director Brit Withey says, "I absolutely love it."
Writer-director Charlie Kauffman, the creative force behind Anomalisa, doesn't have a blockbuster mentality. But compared to his latest offering, past works such as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind seem blatantly commercial. While Anomalisa showcases well-known, top-flight talents such as David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh, it's not a live-action film. Rather, it's a stop-motion animated flick that utilizes puppets. Yet the plot, built around a protagonist described as a paranoid-schizophrenic motivational speaker with a bizarre malady that makes him think everyone in his orbit is the same person, is hardly kids' stuff. Indeed, the online listing for the picture on the festival website stresses that it's unrated and inappropriate for children.
To Withey, the festival's decision to put Anomalisa in the spotlight position speaks volumes. "I'm really glad that we're opening with it in one of our red-carpet slots," he says, in part because "this isn't a film that the audience is going to leave thinking, 'Well, that was a lightweight little movie.' They're going to feel something one way or the other — and I'm behind that kind of selection.
"Just because it's our opening-night film and there'll be a really large audience doesn't mean we should pander to that audience," he continues. "Just as we do in the rest of the festival, we choose films for these slots that have some backbone to them, have some critical acclaim to them, and are films we really believe in — and I think that's important."
As for the festival as a whole, Withey notes that "we'll be showing more than 250 films, including shorts, feature-length narratives, documentaries — everything. And 39 countries will be represented," including Poland, the nation in the annual international spotlight.
"Over the past several years, I feel we've settled into a real sort of groove in terms of the size of the festival and the different components," he continues. "We have an X number of red carpets and special presentations that appeal to a certain audience, X number of documentaries and sidebars: CinemaQ, our LGBTQ section, our spotlight on Colorado filmmakers. And we've got a lot of flexibility to drop in surprises.
"It's such a big festival, and in twelve days, there are a lot of films. We'll have eight theaters running over the course of almost every day — except for opening night, of course. And with that many films, the festival can be completely different for one person than it is for another person, just by virtue of how many different things are happening on any given day. And I find that very interesting."
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Look below to see a trailer for Anomalisa. To access all the film festival's selections and purchase tickets, click here.