Best Film Festival 2011 | EFPalooza | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Between arthouses and snowboarders and anyone else with a large white surface to project on and a masochistic yen for cat-herding, there are probably at least two film festivals running at any given time in this town. And while many of them suffer from a disconnect — either they're "local" or they're "good," but they're rarely both — the first EFPalooza made a strong bid for resolving that imbalance. Of course, its parent organization, the Emerging Filmmakers Project, based at the Bug Theatre, has been uniting, nurturing and showcasing local filmmakers since 2002; in fact, the impetus for the festival came when host Patrick Sheridan realized that the group was about to screen its 500th film, which he felt warranted some celebration. With a track record like that, it's no surprise that the inaugural EFP managed to round up a diverse and shockingly high-quality selection from an array of top-notch local artists — and even though the going is always roughest the first time around, EFPalooza delivered like gangbusters. Here's to the sequel.

November was a banner month for John Hickenlooper: The beer-brewer-turned-mayor stepped into the big leagues of politics with his actual election to the office of governor of Colorado, as well as through his fantasy role as a U.S. senator in Casino Jack, directed by his cousin, director George Hickenlooper, who passed away shortly before the film played the Starz Film Festival. In one of the movie's best scenes — a daydream sequence in which Jack Abramoff, played by the always-fantastic Kevin Spacey, goes off on John McCain (via real footage) in a Senate hearing — Hick plays the nameless senator sitting next to McCain's double. His performance mostly consists of looking grave and saying something like "Seize that man" (it's hard to tell; there's other dialogue over the line), but Hickenlooper's silver-screen legacy will live on — at least until it's eclipsed by him actually becoming a U.S. senator. And with a look that grave, we wouldn't rule it out.

Best Film Performance by a Mayoral Candidate

Jeff Peckman

Out-of-this-world mayoral candidate Jeff Peckman has gotten face time on The Daily Show (back when he was pushing a Denver ballot initiative calling for Safety Through Peace) and Late Night With David Letterman, where he touted his proposal that the city create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. But his best-timed appearance may have been in the movie trailer for Battle: Los Angeles, from an interview done back in December — before he had any thoughts of running for mayor, Peckman assures us, but released right after Peckman made the 2011 ballot. Too bad the movie crashed.

Looking for a way to make up for a dip in donations due to the lagging economy, the Denver Zoo came up with an event that's both money-making and, if things go well, baby-making: the Singles Safari, a one-night party at which 500 men and 500 women wander the zoo, looking for love and stopping by various "Ask Me" stations, where zookeepers explain the horny details of polar-bear breeding and elephant sex. If the singles get lucky and become couples, the zoo also now offers Date Night, which, just like a relationship, is less focused on doing it and more focused on eating dinner by candlelight.

It's one thing to hear about the four elements of hip-hop or even to experience them peripherally. Driving around town, you might admire the elaborately scrawled graffiti while listening to someone on the radio rapping. And if you've been to a club, chances are you've danced to a DJ or maybe even watch somebody breakdance. It's another thing entirely to experience hip-hop culture in the flesh. And thanks to Delfino "Fienz" Rodriguez, a true-school dyed-in-the wool b-boy, the community has a chance to do just that at Mighty 4 Denver, the free annual b-boy jam that takes place every summer in the heart of downtown. This past July, b-boys and b-girls of all ages showcased their individual breakdance style in front of a captive audience of awestruck onlookers. We look forward to seeing them again this year.

Denver has an abundance of arts districts — there's the town's biggest, along Santa Fe Drive, one in LoDo and another in RiNo; there are arts districts in Cherry Creek North and along Tennyson Street, among other places. But for a true arts district, it's impossible to beat the Golden Triangle, the area circumscribed by Broadway, Colfax Avenue and Speer Boulevard — because that's where the Denver Art Museum is located. This neighborhood is also home to the art-collecting Denver Public Library and the soon-to-be-completed Clyfford Still Museum. But not only does the Golden Triangle boast important buildings filled with art, it also has some of the town's top commercial galleries, too, including the William Havu Gallery, Walker Fine Art and Z Art Department. And just across Broadway — technically a few yards outside the Golden Triangle — the new History Colorado museum is nearing completion. All of Denver's arts districts contribute to the cultural life of the Mile High City, but the Golden Triangle is the one to beat.

Metropolitan State College of Denver — perhaps soon to be known as Denver State University — has the largest set of art departments in Colorado, with something like a thousand art majors. That's surely one of the reasons that Merge, a group show devoted to the efforts of Metro's alums, was so damn strong: An amazing number of artists have graduated from the school over the years. Presented at Metro's own little museum, the Center for Visual Art, this was a juried event with founding art-department chair Barbara Houghton and current chair Greg Watts calling the shots; the show included the work of Phil Bender, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, Sean Rozales, Merlin Madrid, Luzia Ornelas, Evan Colbert, Heidi Jung, Josiah Lopez, Mary Cay, Mark Friday, Dave Seiler, Jennifer Jeannelle and many others. No matter what name Metro goes by, its artistic impact on Denver is undeniable.

Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

The late Dale Chisman was a giant in Denver's art world. Not only was he one of the state's most significant abstractionists, he was also an advocate for the arts who championed the work of emerging artists and was among the founders of Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where his memorial service was held shortly after he died in 2008. Soon afterward, plans were laid for a show saluting Chisman's own astounding contributions. The resulting exhibit, mounted at RedLine, was organized by Jennifer Doran, co-owner of Robischon Gallery, which represents the artist's estate. It was an over-the-top effort, not just because of the high quality of works in the show, but also because the organizers pulled out all the stops. Dale Chisman in Retrospect included not just the painter's creations since the '70s, but a high-quality catalogue, a panel discussion, and even a jazz concert featuring a suite of tunes penned by Chisman's composer/musician son-in-law, Matt Jorgensen, responding to his life and work. This past year, there wasn't another solo that even came close to this retrospective. It was a fitting send-off to a fine artist.

Throughout September, Turner Jackson roamed the city wearing a sandwich board proclaiming "Freestyles Are Still Free." His guerrilla rapping approach showcased his ability to rap his face off at will and proved that the art of freestyle is not only alive and well, but integral to your rapping persona. Using pretty much anything around him at the time, Turner — who even filmed a freestyle with Joe Thunder in front of the Westword offices — displayed a frenetic pace and zealous energy, and the campaign came across as both charming and innovative. The few times we ran up on him spitting hot fire on the 16th Street Mall, he was surrounded by a crowd begging for more.

While living in the Bay Area, Scott Banning, an associate of Crash Worship, was a member of the Extra Action Marching Band and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. But it wasn't until he decided to try to turn Itchy-O from a sit-down musical endeavor into something more visceral — and on the move — that he managed to combine his passions and experience into the perfect project. Initially playing as a surprise guest at other shows, Itchy-O Marching Band has become an unexpected and frequent presence at a broad swath of public events, one that has brought smiles to many faces with its solid marching-band instrumentation and experimental electronic accompaniment.

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