Denver Fest Jells As Big Event With New Venue, Special Guests
By Ron Holloway
Denver, Oct. 29.
It took the biblical seven years to get the Rocky Mountains cultural event on the wing, but the eighth Denver Intl. Film Festival (Oct. 16.-20), under the tandem direction of Ron Henderson (management) and Forrest Ciesol (selection), now scores as one of North America's major all-around festive outings.
Success is due to a number of fortunate pluses, all of which seemed to jell this year to put Denver over the top. One was the acquisition of the 700-seat sixplex in the restored Tivoli Brewery (a state landmark dating back for more than a century). Located a short walk away from Downtown Denver, the multiplex facility allows for conveniently staggered combo screenings of 90 entries from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. - right in the heart of the urban university campuses with some 35,000 students to draw upon.
Previously, the fest locations were a half-hour's drive from the downtown hotels, in suburban University Heights (U. of Denver), which made for harried coordination and other headaches.
The second plus is the emphasis on a round of tributes, "evenings," and in-person salutes to visiting filmmakers and personalities. Since the fest runs on a tight five-day, 100-program schedule, the guests of honor have a tendency to stay around for the entire show. This makes for greater interest on the part of art film buffs and the movie-going public in general.
Special guests this year included Ellen Burstyn, Ienser Gabriel Figueroa, Jeff Goldblum, Dorothea Moritz, Krysztof Zanussi, Will Vinton Studios, Richard Dreyfuss, JoBeth Williams, Penelope Spheeris and Will Sampson - each with three pics skedded or a special event.
A third plus is the solid backing of the community. The opening night at the preserved Paramount Theater was hosted by both the Gov. Richard Lamm and Denver Mayor Federico Pena. The United Bank is the major corporate funder, while the Denver Post delivers pages of coverage along with free ads on daily fest events.
Due to this rather unique formula of offering sponsors a high profile throughout the week, the Denver fest is edging towards the $500,000 mark for its year - around budget - a split of $250,000 for operating expenses and circa $200,000 in in-service donations (media, travel, hotel, amenities, etc.).
"Everything clicked this year," per Henderson, "and the festival has not only reached a turning point, buy it's also apparently on its way to becoming a Denver institution."
The run on the wickets confirms even the most rosy prognosis for the future. Sellouts were posted for most of the weekend shows, while the second day scored 15 SRO slots alone for the middle of the week. With an estimated attendance of 50,000 for the 90 film offerings (early morning shows are kidpics), the only real problem was the impossibility of seeing everything of interest. To be sure, there were complaints from both the press and the public on that score.
"We hardly expected the run on even the most demanding of art fare," admitted Ciesol, "so we'll have to rethink our options for next year."
Another wrinkle to be ironed out is the projection agony. One 16m projector gave up the ghost early on, but other problems surfaced on-proper ratios and sound facilities. The Tivoli management is simply learning firsthand the challenging truth of housing a top-flight festival.
Opening-night nod went to the regional preem of "Twice In A Lifetime" with Ellen Burstyn. Other highlights included Emir Kusturica's Cannes winner "When Father Was Away On Business" (Yugoslavia), Krzystof Zanussi's "Year Of The Quiet Sun" (Poland/U.S./West Germany), Jean-Luc Godard's "Détective" (France), Percy Adlon'n "Shugar Baby" (West Germany), Lina Wertmüller's "Softly...Softly" (Italy) and Xie Jin's "Qui Jin - A Revolutionary" (China), among others.
It was the docu section, however, that caused the most stir. Will Robert's "American Rebel" portrays the odyssey of a Denver hometown boy, singer Dean Reed, from the modest success in L.A. as an actor-singer through his breakthrough in Latin America as an folk-singing hero to his astonishing career in East Germany and the Soviet Union as "the Johnny Cash of Communism" (fest catalog).
When Reed showed for the world preem of the docu that took three years to make (it's as revealing as it is informative), he found himself in the middle of a storm of controversy on a local talkshow - tempers there flaired to neat-fisticuffs, and police protection had to be called in for the two fest screenings as a result (see separate story).
Just as eyecatching in every respect was the tribute to Mexican lenser Gabriel Figueroa. Michael Donnelly of Azteca Films brought in for the occasion Emilio Fernandez' "The Pearl" (1947) and Carlos Velo's "Pedro Paramo" (1966), both pristine prints, as the Mexican retro matches to Don Siegel's "Two Mules For Sister Sara" (1970). Figueroa, now 79, tirelessly answered questions that practically covered most of modern film history.
In addition to the aforementioned tribute guests, other included critics (hosting fave films) David Ansen, Roger Ebert, Karthryn Bernheimer, Rober Denerstein and Michael Healy; helmers Steven J. Ross, Robert Mugge, Donna Deitch, Henry Jaglom, Kirby Dick, Terry Zwigoff, Will Roberts, Muffett Kaufman and Rob Nilsson and special guests Barry Bruce, Carolyn Lunday, Jesse Beaton, Michael Donnelly, Nick Dorsky, Scott Einbinder, Robert Fulton, Neil Jacobs, Vikram Jayanti, Jim Knaub, Jeff Libsky, Randy Man, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Manfred Triesch (Goethe Institute San Francisco).