Arts and Culture

Denver Film Festival Must-See Picks November 6 to 8: Ema and More

A scene from This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection.
A scene from This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection. 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 selections for October 30-November 6-8: This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection, plus MLK/FBI and Ema.

November 6
This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection
Directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese
Limited screening: Accessible through 6:15 p.m. November 8

The winner of a special jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Burial takes place in Lesotho, a kingdom located within South Africa, and Campbell says it's "about an old woman, a widow who's prepared to die and wants to have her burial plot near her ancestors and relatives and family. But that's threatened when the village is forced to resettle, because there's going to be a new reservoir. So there's tension between the residents of the village and the developers coming in and upending their way of life."

The plot outline may sound conventional, but according to Campbell, the way it plays out definitely isn't. "There's a very unique and bold vision. It's very well-structured and very artfully done, but it's also intense and very beautiful."

He concedes that "it does have a classic structure to it — a problem that needs to be resolved. But the way it arrives at the end of its journey isn't typical at all."

November 7
Directed by Sam Pollard
Limited screening: Accessible 12:15 a.m.-11:45 p.m. November 7

Former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's systematic harassment of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. isn't a secret at this point. But Campbell says the new documentary still contains many revelations. "Recently released classified documents that came to light thanks to the Freedom of Information Act really detail more explicitly what they were doing to King, as well as Hoover's personal vendetta to take him down."

The filmmaking demonstrated by director Sam Pollard is impressive in its own right, Campbell feels. "It's all historical footage, and there are no conventional talking heads. You hear people talking about what's going on to contextualize the narrative around it, but you don't see them. And what they're talking about sent chills down my spine. Their goal was not to specifically assassinate King, but to create an environment that made him want to take his own life. They sent letters essentially saying, 'You should commit suicide, or we're going to tell everyone you're a cheater and an adulterer. We have tapes.'"

In Campbell's opinion, MLK/FBI is a very appropriate choice for our closing-night film," which traditionally takes place on the last Saturday of the festival even though screenings continue the next day, "because it sheds light on a great American and how our country treated him. It's a reckoning of those two things."

November 8
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Limited screening: Accessible until 11:45 p.m. November 8

Ema (played by Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gastón (international star Gael García Bernal) "are this couple in a kind of experimental dance troupe," Campbell explains. Gastón "is the director and Ema is the main dancer, and they decide to adopt a child together. But the film takes place after they've already given the child back to child welfare, because the child was really extreme in his behavior and committed a really terrible, violent act."

This event isn't depicted on screen, Campbell points out, but its impact resonates through the film. "Ema is trying to reconcile still loving this child despite what happened. She's a challenging character, and she makes mistakes and does things most people might not agree with, necessarily. But she's trying to work through this complicated relationship with Gastón and their former son."

He sums up the film as "a story of human nature where no one is a saint. It's challenging but fascinating, and I really enjoyed it."

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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