Editor's note: This year's Starz Denver Film Festival, November 12-22, features more than 200 films. To help navigate this cinematic abundance of riches, we asked fest artistic director Brit Withey to highlight some worthy selections off the beaten screening-room path. Look for Brit's Picks each weekday through the extravaganza's close.
Moviegoers will hardly face a shortage of options during the first big weekend of the film festival. But Brit Withey feels viewers can't go wrong with his top choices for Friday, Saturday and Sunday: Harmony and Me, Con Artist and October Country.
Screening at 6:45 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Starz FilmCenter, Harmony and Me is "an American comedy that's really wonderfully written," Withey says. "The dialogue is super-sharp and the acting is really subtle and direct."
The flick has been lumped into a category called mumblecore -- a descriptor used for low-budget indies like 2005's The Puffy Chair and last year's Baghead. Withey doesn't think Harmony and Me is so easily pigeonholed, and told writer-director Bob Byington as much during an e-mail exchange. But Byington, who'll be on hand at the fest, isn't exactly wracked with anxiety about whether mumblecore is the right label for Harmony. "I'll live," he wrote Withey, adding, "I think it helps more than it hurts at the end of the day."
Con Artist, which unspools at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Starz FilmCenter, has a sense of humor, too, but this "really funny documentary by a filmmaker [Michael Sládek] originally from Denver" goes to very different places.
The action revolves around Mark Kostabi, "who took off from the Andy Warhol idea of the artist being the most important factor in the art. So he started hiring other people to paint his pictures, and he did it openly -- he put ads in the New York Times and made sure he told people he didn't have anything to do with painting them -- although he'd sign them all."
And he didn't stop there. As Withey points out, "He would tell people, as they were buying his art, which was selling for huge sums of money, 'Look, this is crap. It's going to go down in value the moment you buy it.' But they'd buy it anyway, and he became a huge star." Indeed, Kostabi continues working to this day: "He just got commissioned to do a huge bronze sculpture for the Pope," Withey says, with more than a note of astonishment.
October Country, a doc that can be seen at the Starz FilmCenter on Saturday at 1:45 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m., will prompt considerably fewer grins, but that hardly means it's less any less worthy than Con Artist, as witnessed by a recent passel of honors. "It just received five nominations in the Cinema Eye awards, a documentary competition," he allows.
Withey describes the film as "a somewhat disturbing portrait of a family that just seems to have everything go wrong: family members not getting along with each other, getting pregnant too young." In some ways, he concedes, "it's hard to really root for them, but you can't stop watching and wanting them to succeed." The resultant take is "devastating."
What flavor sounds tastiest? Check out the trailers for each film below: