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Starz Denver Film Festival weekend must-sees: Brit Withey on Virgin Tales and more

Again this year, Starz 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.

Here, he shares his takes on Friday's Virgin Tales, Saturday's Caesar Must Die and Sunday's Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters.

Virgin Tales Directed by Mirjam von Arx 7 p.m. Friday, November 9 Denver Pavilions

"The filmmaker, Mirjam von Arx, is from Switzerland, and she's going to be here," notes Brit Withey. "But the documentary is about this family in Colorado Springs, and the guy who started the purity ball" -- a ritual in which daughters pledge to their fathers that they'll remain chaste until marriage. "It follows the family very closely; it's an all-access look at these purity balls, with fathers bringing their daughters in white dresses that almost look like wedding gowns. The fathers give the daughters the ring, and the daughters dance around these big crosses.

"I don't know how else to describe it other than to say it's creepy -- very creepy. There are these long segments where all of his children kneel before him in order of age, and he'll put his hands on their head and say their names and explain to them what their names mean and bless them. And there are these equally strange rituals with his sons, where they're sort of knighted with these gigantic swords. But the really wonderful thing about the film is that it's completely evenhanded, completely without judgement. The director just presents things as they are, as fact."

Withey adds that the family had planned to attend the screening as well, until reviews of the film from a showing on the East Coast made such a point of saying how disturbing their actions were....

Caesar Must Die Directed by Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani and Pablo Trapero 7:45 p.m. Saturday, November 10 Denver FilmCenter/Colfax

"This is an amazing film," Withey allows. "It's won almost every award it could possibly win since I first saw it; it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, and it just keeps winning and winning and winning."

Caesar Must Die concerns "a very locked-down prison in Italy that houses mostly Mafia members -- very important prisoners who almost never get out. And they started this program where they perform Shakespeare. They've been doing it for a really long time, and the prisoners have gotten to be really amazing actors -- some of them are just incredible."

Granted, the filmmakers brought in a ringer: Salvatore Striano, a onetime prisoner released in 2006 who has since gone on to a successful acting career in films such as 2008's Gomorrah. Thus, Withey admits,Caesar Must Die "isn't a totally pure documentary. But it's an incredible film. We see the prisoners alone in their cells and some of their rehearsals, leading up to this performance of Julius Caesar."

By the way, the Tavianis will be honored at the screening with the Maria and Tomasso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award, endowed by John and Anna Sie, whose $2.5 million gift to the Denver Film Society has allowed the organization to purchase the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax, soon to be renamed the Sie FilmCenter.

Continue to see Brit Withey's must-see pick for Sunday and trailers for all three of his weekend picks. Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters Directed by Ben Shapiro 4:30 p.m. Sunday, November 11 Denver Pavilions

Gregory Crewdson, the subject of this documentary, "is a remarkable photographer," Withey enthuses. "He takes these massive photographs -- and by massive, I mean that he creates sets for each one almost as if he's making a movie. He'll spend tens of thousands of dollars to create a set for one photo, with huge light structures and massive lights and all kinds of extras. And he does these interviews with actors even if they'll just be sitting in one spot for however many takes he uses to get this photo."

Not that he's done after he clicks. "He'll composite the image from a bunch of photos to create one. So it raises all of these questions about what is photography anymore, and what is art. It's a really interesting look at art and how it's created these days."

Look below to see trailers for all three of the weekend must-sees.

Click here for more information, and visit Show and Tell throughout the festival for more of Brit's picks.

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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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