Film and TV

Denver Film Festival 2021 Must-See Picks for November 5-7: The Taking and More

An image from The Taking.
An image from The Taking. Courtesy of the Denver Film Festival
Denver Film Festival artistic director Matt Campbell is again offering his must-see picks for each day of the event, which continues through November 14. Keep reading to get his take on selections for Friday, November 5 (The Taking), Saturday, November 6 (Drive My Car), and Sunday, November 7 (All These Sons).

The Taking
Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
6:45 p.m. Friday, November 5
AMC House 2
4:15 p.m. Saturday, November 6
AMC House 2

Among director Alexandre O. Philippe's specialties are "fascinating documentaries about cinema," notes Matt Campbell, "and The Taking is no exception."

The focus of the film "is Monument Valley, on the border of Utah and Arizona, and how it's steeped in visual imagery of popular culture and the Old West because John Ford shot so many of his films there," he notes, including such landmarks as 1946's My Darling Clementine and 1956's The Searchers. "It seems like this vast space, but it's actually a fairly small area, even though it stands for the signifying trope of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny — whites conquering the West and taking the land from the Indigenous people who live there."

The title is a reference to a scene from another movie that spotlighted Monument Valley — 1994's Forrest Gump, "when he's running through the desert and he stops," Campbell recalls. "It's now a tourist site, where people go to take pictures, so they're kind of reinforcing the idea of this space as being for the white, conquering civilization and not for the communities that had always been there and are currently living there and often struggling. There are a lot of elements to the film — a lot of philosophical and psychological underpinnings that Alexandre integrates into his thesis and dissection of cinema."
Drive My Car
Directed by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi
1:45 p.m. Saturday, November 6
AMC House 9
2:45 p.m. Sunday, November 14
AMC House 9

Drive My Car "premiered in competition at Cannes earlier this year," Campbell says. "It's about a theater director whose wife passes away very early on in the film. After that, he takes on a gig to direct a play at this theater festival north of Tokyo — and he decides to cast his deceased wife's former ex-lover, a young man who she was having an affair with."

This isn't the flick's only tricky dynamic. According to Campbell, "The director wants to be able to drive his car to and from rehearsal to his hotel, which is something like an hour outside of town. But the festival organizers don't want him to drive because of insurance reasons, so they hire a young, female driver to drive him back and forth. The two of them spend a lot of time in the car, talking about life — and they begin to have a relationship."

Campbell acknowledges that Drive My Car is "pretty long — about three hours — and methodically paced. But for me, the three hours flew right by. It's about the lies we tell ourselves to rationalize what we're doing in life."
All These Sons
Directed by Bing Liu and Joshua Altman
6:45 p.m. Saturday, November 6
Tom Fries Theater (Sie FilmCenter)
4:45 p.m. Sunday, November 7
Tom Fries Theater (Sie FilmCenter)

Directors Bing Liu and Joshua Altman made a splash with audiences and critics by way of 2018's Mining the Gap, which explored three characters from Illinois united by a love of skateboarding. Their latest project, Campbell says, "is a really powerful look at programs for young African-American men on Chicago's south and west sides, where former gang members are trying to get these young guys to choose a different path and step away from the violence that's been ravaging their communities."

Liu and Altman "follow some of the younger guys and the struggles they're going through," he continues. "It's an issue we see on the news, but it's usually just reported as how many people were killed in Chicago over the weekend. But they really put humanity behind the headlines and tell the stories of people who are living this life day by day."

Despite the tough subject matter, Campbell stresses that All These Sons is "super-powerful, and the overarching themes are the positive aspects of change these former gang members are trying to bring about. Even though it takes place in Chicago, the ideas and the lessons and the struggles can be applied to many urban areas across America that are dealing with this issue."

Click for ticket information and more details about the 44th Denver Film Festival, including how to access some 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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