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Denver Film Festival October 23 to 25 Must-See Picks: Minari and More

Steven Yeun, foreground, in a scene from Minari.
Steven Yeun, foreground, in a scene from Minari. Denver Film Festival
Again this year, Denver Film Festival artistic director Matt Campbell is offering his must-see picks for each day of the event, which is largely virtual and continues through November 8. Keep reading to get his takes on the selections for October 23 to 25: Minari, City So Real and I Am Greta.

Friday, October 23
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Limited Screening: Accessible from 7:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. October 23

"We wanted Minari to be the film for our virtual opening night," says Matt Campbell. "It was directed by Lee Isaac Chung and stars Steven Yeun," of Walking Dead fame, "who's going to be doing a special conversation with us — an extended Q&A."

The "really beautiful film" focuses on "a Korean family in the 1980s," he continues. "It's very much set in Reagan's America, because they move to Arkansas. Steven Yeun plays the father who has a dream of starting a farm on land that's known in this small community for having difficulties. But it's really the story of his young son, who's only four or five years old, and the whole family: his older sister, the mom and dad, and even a grandma who comes to live with them."

In Campbell's view, "It's a tale about the American dream of immigrants coming here and trying to make the best of it, and even though it takes place years ago, it really resonates with today's topics."

click to enlarge A scene from City So Real. - DENVER FILM FESTIVAL
A scene from City So Real.
Saturday, October 24
City So Real
Directed by Steve James
Limited screening: Accessible from 12:15 a.m. October 23 to 11:45 p.m. October 24

City So Real "isn't technically a film," Campbell acknowledges. "It's a TV series, and we'll be showing the first four episodes" of five total; the program will turn up on Hulu circa October 30 following a one-night National Geographic channel debut. But given that the man behind it is Steve James, who helmed the groundbreaking 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, Campbell is thrilled to be able to showcase it as part of "a new film section that highlights social justice, which is very pertinent every year, but especially this year."

The offering focuses on "the mayoral race in Chicago, which took place a couple of years ago and that Lori Lightfoot ended up winning," he explains. "But City So Real follows multiple candidates who were trying to take Rahm Emanuel's seat during a time when the trial was going on over the police shooting of Laquan McDonald," a seventeen-year-old gunned down in 2015 by an officer whose actions were initially deemed justified.

The court case "is sort of a flash point that sets the atmosphere for the mayoral race," Campbell maintains. "But it's as much about the city and how Chicago operates and its famous politics as it is about the race itself — and it's really fascinating." He adds that even though the fifth and final episode won't be available to DFF43 viewers, "it feels like it comes to a natural conclusion. It's not like you'll be left wanting more." James also participated in a Q&A for the Denver bow.

click to enlarge Greta Thunberg in the new documentary I Am Greta. - DENVER FILM FESTIVAL
Greta Thunberg in the new documentary I Am Greta.
Sunday, October 25
I Am Greta
Directed by Nathan Grossman
Limited screening: Accessible from 12:15 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. October 25

At this point, few people in the Western world are unaware of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teen who has become arguably the planet's best-known climate activist. But Campbell divulges that I Am Greta "starts right at the beginning, when she started protesting outside the Swedish parliament and no one was really paying attention to her. It was just her by herself, with one little sign up. And it continues through her delivering her infamous U.N. speech."

Campbell sees the film as "very inspiring and obviously very timely. But you also end up having a lot of empathy for her. She's a teenager with Asperger syndrome who's thrust into this global spotlight and all that comes with it. You see detractors on places like Fox News saying she's a puppet and that her parents are abusing her. But she's very passionate, and she doesn't hide her disappointment with adults and the way they're running the world and how they're allowing climate change to run rampant."

Thunberg "is not afraid to speak truth to power, but she's also very vulnerable. And the special bond between her and her dad is very eye-opening. It's as much about family as it is about activism and the climate."

Click for ticket information and more details about the 43rd Denver Film Festival, including how to access selections online.
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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.
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