Film and TV

Previewing the Denver Film Festival's Biggest Opening Night Ever

Knives Out and The Lodge are both screening on opening night at the Denver Film Festival.
Knives Out and The Lodge are both screening on opening night at the Denver Film Festival. YouTube/YouTube
Opening night at the Denver Film Festival is getting a makeover.

Even though tonight, October 31, is officially designated as the kickoff for the fest's 42nd edition, it follows yesterday's tribute to longtime DFF artistic director Brit Withey, who died in a car crash earlier this year. And while this evening's festivities are centered around a traditional red-carpet presentation, with director Rian Johnson's Knives Out getting the spotlight treatment at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House circa 8 p.m., ten more screenings at other venues are on the docket, including The Lodge, the first must-see pick suggested by Matt Campbell, who was named interim artistic director after Withey's passing.

"I specifically chose The Lodge since it's Halloween," Campbell says. "What's Halloween without a great horror film? And The Lodge is definitely the greatest horror film we have in the festival."

As for Knives Out, festival director Britta Erickson sees the cheeky whodunit, which stars Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans and many other notables, as being Halloween-friendly, too, as well as offering a mood-lifter following the emotional Withey salute. And in her view, director Johnson provides a third rationale.

"Brit and I began watching Rian's career when we brought Brick," a memorable 2005 high school noir headlined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "to DFF 28. Rian also opened the festival in 2008 with The Brothers Bloom," a worthy if little-seen piece that teamed Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz. "So he'll be the first filmmaker to open the Denver Film Festival twice. And we also played Star Wars: The Last Jedi at Film on the Rocks."

That's not to mention Johnson's personal connection to Denver. As Erickson notes, "Rian spent a good portion of his adolescence here, he has family here, and he's going to be here with the film, which is lot of fun. It's more broad-based than some of the films we show, but it's really clever, and Rian is a great filmmaker."

Here's the trailer for Knives Out:

Additional festival highlights cited by Erickson include "a silent presentation we're doing at the Museum of Nature & Science's IMAX theater of The Man With the Camera," a silent-era documentary that captures street scenes of the Soviet Union circa 1929. The film is "going to be live-scored by DeVotchKa, a great local Denver band," she adds. "We're so excited about it. It's going to be fantastic." The extravaganza gets under way at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 3.

"We're also continuing our tradition of literary cinema, which Brit was so passionate about, being married to a food writer [Ruth Tobias] and being a foodie himself," Erickson goes on. The flick in question is Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy, which screens three times: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 5, at the UA Pavilions; 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 6, at the Sie FilmCenter; and 10:45 a.m. Saturday, November 9, at the Pavilions. In Erickson's words, Kennedy is "a Brit, a sparky Brit, who's well into her eighties. She's lived most of her life in Mexico and is a world-renowned Mexican cookbook author who drives in her truck all over Mexico to get these recipes. I saw it at the Alamo during South by Southwest and I ordered mac and cheese, which I love. But as I was watching, I remember thinking, 'I wish I was eating Mexican food right now. I've got to get some tacos.'"

Erickson also encourages fest-goers to visit the festival annex in the McNichols Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue, where they'll be able to sample virtual-reality displays, immersive experiences, talk-backs and Q&As, art exhibits and more. And she's equally enthusiastic about the three-film tribute to Hungarian director György Pálfi that encompasses his latest effort, His Master’s Voice (7:15 p.m. Sunday, November 3, and 2 p.m. Tuesday, November 5, at the UA Pavilions; and 1:45 p.m. Thursday, November 7, at the Sie FilmCenter), the meaty Film Studies collection comprising works such as Forman v. Forman, about director Milos Forman, and Waves, the fest's Centerpiece feature, screening at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 7.

Director Trey Edward Shults will be on hand to talk about this last effort, and Erickson promises there'll be plenty to discuss. "It plays with aspect ratios and unfolds in two parts, and it's got some really fantastic, up-and-coming actors in it — some you've never heard of, but also Lucas Hedges, who was in two films we showed last year." She sees Waves as proof that "we're not afraid to challenge audiences. But it's my favorite film in the festival."

And The Lodge? Continue for its trailer:

Campbell first saw The Lodge — the attraction at 9:45 p.m. on the 31st and 9:15 p.m. on Friday, November 1, at the Sie FilmCenter — during the Sundance Film Festival and was suitably wowed.

"It's just a classic example of excellent tension-building," he says. "What happens is there's a family with parents who are getting a divorce, and the two children go with their father to the family lodge — a cabin up in the mountains — for the Christmas holiday."

Attending as well is "the father's younger fiancée, who the kids don't really take a shine to," he continues. "She's pretty aloof. When the father has to leave for a while, it's just the three of them for a few days. But what you don't realize at the beginning is that the fiancée has a history of mental-health problems and actually grew up in a cult. So she's still kind of grappling with that history when all of these things come to fruition manifested through herself, but also through the woods and the house. So it's a ghost story that's really visually stunning, really well done. The perfect scary movie for Halloween."

Click for tickets and more information about the 42nd annual Denver Film Festival.
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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts