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I was thirty miles outside of Denver... when the drugs began to take hold.
by Chris Parry

When you hit a whole bunch of film festivals in a single year, it really is surprising not only how different each one is from the next, but how different each part of a country can be from the region right next to it. The state is Colorado, the city is Denver,and the topic is film. Everywhere you look. The Starz Denver International Film Festival isn't a massive draw on the film festival map, at least not as far as the Sundance crowd is concerned, but be damned if you could find a population more in love with film than the Mile High folk.

"Michael Moore did a book signing thing up here on Wednesday.. drew 7500 people," comes the matter of fact piece of info from an unnamed festival frequenter. I stop him and look for clarification. "7500 people? Did I hear you right?" A quiet matter-of-fact nod comes back my way as I start to think things through in my head. 7500 people to hear a guy speak? Howard Dean may be the next President of the United States, yet he calls a 3000 person draw a roaring success. 7500? How could this be?

It became a mission to discover the reason for this mass hysteria for the Oscar winning documentarymaker. Was it because his last film, Bowling for Columbine, involved events that happened close by? "Nah, I only just saw Bowling for Columbine," says a festival volunteer, "They didn't stock it in the video stores near me forever. Only just got a copy in last week after I bitched and moaned about it long enough."

But later, as I was about to put Moore's strong showing down to a freak of nature, a festival staffer informed me that last year's festival closed with Bowling for Columbine and sold out, wait for it, a 3000-seat auditorium for the show. 3000 people to a movie! Sweet Jesus, what are they feeding these Denver people, go-pills?

No. Turns out Denver folks just love a good movie. Or a bad movie. Or any movie. In a nation filled with cities that have only one, or even zero, art-house theater screens, Denver thrives on the artier fare. The Landmark Theater chain has a strong presence in this part of the world, and indie arthouse theaters are also around. The Denver Film Society holds SEVEN film festivals a year, with genres running from Asian to Gay to Chicano to Pan-African. They hold open air screenings at Red Rocks, where they've been known to draw 7000 people to a screening of Braveheart. And Starz, the movie network based a few clicks down the road, gets behind the local film flavors by not only sponsoring the Denver International Film Festival, but also helping pay for the creation of the Starz Film Center, which runs an eclectic mix of new releases, indies and retro flicks all year long.

And did I mention they serve alcohol at the Starz center?

So day one on the Denver adventure starts out rather secretly. Instead of hitting the fest right off, the HBS crew headed out to the college town of Boulder, one of the prettiest (and youngest) little bergs you'll find. The draw was a concert by Howie Day, a musical phenom who samples himself before your eyes, playing a riff, looping it, then playing another riff to accompany that one, then looping that, then playing a little percussion on the face of his guitar, looping it again, singing a few lines, looping that, and finally breaking into full song - accompanied by six different versions of himself. Never before have you seen a one-man-show that sounded like an eight-piece-band, but this man not only pulls it off, but he plays music that sounds every bit as good as Coldplay, Radiohead, or Ben Harper. The crowd went nuts, and the guy responded by playing a two hour-plus set that brought the house down. Nice way to kick things off.

Day two we came to town and hit the festival in full swing. The first screening we managed to get to was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an incredible documentary that, while starting out as a slow puff piece for Hugo Chavez, the socialism-loving President of Venezuela, quickly managed to turn into a full-blown event when upper-class forces opposed to Chavez (and eerily supported by the US administration) staged a coup. With the cameras trapped inside the Presidential Palace while the place was surrounded by tanks, a less couraegous crew might have run for their lives. Not this crew - they stayed the course, watched the government fall, and were back the next day when the people rose to take back the government. What's really distressing about this film is not so much the violence on screen, through there is plenty of that. Rather, it's the compliance and even assistance of the media in spreading disinformation about the coup to make it appear as if Chavez was hated by the people, when the cameras on the ground show the exact opposite. Intercutting the documentary footage with what the private media were saying (even CNN managed to shame themselves), there wasn't a person in this audience that didn't walk away from the film outraged at what goes on behind our backs - and even in our name.

And so it went to screening number two - Breakfast With Hunter. I really wanted to see this flick, a documentary about the real Hunter S. Thompson - maverick journalist and creator of gonzo journalism. It's some fascinating stuff, though largely disjointed, that takes you closer to the real man behind the legend than anyone before has been able to capture on film. To watch Thompson meeting with Alex Cox, the original writer/director of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and subsequently rip into the filmmaker for daring to mention the word 'animation' around his project, is just jaw dropping stuff. Thompson goes fully bonkers, yelling and screaming and cursing up a storm. "This is war!" he yells into his phone at his producer, as Cox heads for the door like a bat out of hell.

The Saturday morning screening of this bad boy will feature free Bloody Mary's for all in attendance, and that may well be a good thing judging by the amount of alcohol consumed last night. Sundance does the 'celeb' party thing, where everyone shows up and drinks water. Vancouver does the 'too cool for celebs' party thing, where nobody gets an invite except those people who are part of the inner circle of Canadian film. Seattle does the 'distributor and filmmaker' party thing, where the celebs aren't around, but the schmoozing is strong regardless.

Denver? They do the 'here's your book of passes, invites, tickets and drink coupons' thing, where the population of every party moves en masse to the next party, and the next, and the next, all night long - screenings be damned. Starting out in a suave urban loft, the drinking started light, before it moved to the VIP area of the Starz Center, then a screening of Pieces of April, then the Pieces of April after-party at an ooh-la-la restaurant, then... well, from that point it got a little hazy. Suffice to say it's noon, I just got out of bed and I'm writing this article on five hours sleep. You do the math.

And just when I think my hangover can't get any worse, I hear Harry Knowles got a production deal at Revolution Studios. Well, no real shock there, I suppose. If Knowles was going to get a production deal anywhere, it'd have to be at Revolution - and I don't mean that in a good way.

So the next few days promises good stuff all 'round - a lunch with Campbell Scott, a potential meeting with William H. Macy, whose absolutely stellar film, The Cooler, is closing the festival out on Sunday, and I'm personally hosting the Q&A's after Breakfast with Hunter's three screenings, which the man himself may or may not turn up for - all good stuff to look forward to...

If my liver holds out.

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originally posted: 10/18/03 05:01:27
last updated: 12/31/03 13:57:06
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