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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #5: Starz Denver International Film Festival
by Chris Parry

It's now been a week since I returned from the single greatest adventure of my life to date, and my throat is still ripped to shreds, my liver still paining me, and my brain still disfunctional. I have just attended three days of the Starz Denver International Film Festival, and nothing could have prepared me for what lay in wait as I set foot off the plane onto the holy ground that is Party Town, USA. If I never again see another film festival, I'll die happy in the knowledge that I was there when the going got weird, and the weird turned pro.


Where it be at: Denver, Colorado
When it be at: Mid October every year (9th-19th in 2003)
How expensive it be: US$9 per ticket for any screening. No passes.
Number of films screened: 175
Value for money: Not too bad, especially when you consider that nearly every screening sells out.

What you'll see: A great mix, from upcoming releases to obscurities that will never make it past DVD. Plenty of good docos, plenty of little films that might have slipped under the radar of 'bigger' festivals, and generally not a missed beat. Far less chance of catching a weirdo 'art film' here than most festivals.

Celebrity-spotting: Not really the focus of the fest, but there are enough celebs involved to keep the cameras clicking. 2003 featured an appearance by William H. Macy, Campbell Scott, Francis Ford Coppola, and if that trio isn't star power enough for you, then to hell with ya!

Accomodation: The Starz Denver Internationall Film Fest doesn't take over Denver in a wave of high-priced hotel demand, so you'll pay pretty much what you'd pay in any other city at any other time of the year. The official Festival hotel was the Magnolia in 2003, offered rooms at between $99 and $139, depending on the day of the week, and that included free drinks, breakfasts, and more bonus goodies. The Executive Tower ran $79 deals for festival attendees, and the Hotel Teatro, which is swankier than all get out, would have cost you $145 a night.

Transport: From the airport, there are several shuttle services that will run to downtown for less than $20, round trip. Once there, you really don't need to worry about transport, because the venues are within walking distance and for the most part all in the one venue. Denver's public transport system is second to none, and a lot of times completely free, so even if you don't want to walk because your muscles are in a post-alcoholic binge spasm, you'll be alright. Late night taxis can be a pain though, so the best advice I can give is to pick up a new friend and stay at their place.

Parties: Holy cow, this crew knows how to turn on a party. And they're not ridiculous about making you jump hoops to get in, either. Every night features after-screening parties, pre-screening parties, award presentation dinners and the 'secret parties' that end up going until dawn. Those are the real killers, but they're also unmissable if you know the right people. Even if you fail in the 'secret party' quest, there's so much legitimate partay-ing going on, you won't feel let down.
At most film festivals, your social circle is rarely expanded. You meet people in the biz, maybe a celeb or two, and you pass around business cards and move on. At Denver, holy crap, you meet new friends by the truckload - festival workers, volunteers, filmmakers, press, sponsors, screening attendees, friends of screening attendees, friends of the friends of screening attendees, some guy who once met a festival attendee and owed the guy $5, so he came to pay it back and, hello, there's a party going on here?
Bottom line, a great time was had by all, and every person I met (except for the Chicken Lady, who is an undeniable weirdo) was a genuinely great person that I'm happy to have met. Big kudos to the hospitality suite staff, who held it together despite personal pain, a blocked toilet, and throngs of people who would not go home. True professionals.

Getting laid: Oh yes, you shall get laid. More than that, you shall hook up with someone nice and think "hey, maybe I need to spend a little more time in this town and get to know ... a little better." Hook-ups were going on left and right at the 2003 festival, but not the usual kind of film fest hook-ups where nobody shares real names and people dash off in the mornin. No, these hook-ups were the kind that last a little longer. Myself? My romantic tale is one of woe. The one woman that I felt an instant and intense connection to was dragged from the room with a look of 'but... but... but...' in her eyes. Will we ever meet again? I don't know, but I'll be back next year in hope, 'cos DAMN!

Best venues: The Starz International Film Center is where the majority of the screenings take place, and it's a good sized venue. You can take a drink (yes, I'm talking booze) into the screening with you, and every screen is a decent size for the room involved.

Worst venues: The Starz International Film Center - It's tough to find, especially if you're from out of town, the seats are old, the sound sometimes iffy, the theaters small and easily sold out, and the outside area isn't really built for long line-ups... BUT - Starz and the Denver Film Society are aware and working on making changes, with some major renovations planned for the years ahead. Kudos to both organizations for being on the case, as well as purchasing the old venue in the first place with plans to restore it. Good things lie ahead.

Places to hang out: If you feel like taking a day trip, you have abundant options. The Rockies are a short drive away (okay, you're in the Rockies to begin with, but the mountainous parts are a short drive away), and the college town of Boulder is a great spot to eat, drink, catch a band, do some hiking... In the downtown area itself, I'm told there are some great places to eat, drink and be merry - but I didn't have need for them. The festival itself was a constant supply of party fun, from downtown loft spaces to sports bars to fine restaurants, to the point where I had no reason to leave. One point of note - Denver is a great town for stand-up comedy, though the local crowds know this and make it hard to get tickets. Plan ahead.

Traps for young players: Screenings sell out quickly and often. If you really want to see a film, buy a ticket early. Don't EVER leave it until the last minute.

Press facilities/access: The Press are looked after at the Denver Fest in ways few other festivals can match. Sure, there's no massive media center where you can post your stories day and night, and there isn't a ton of celebrity star power to chase around all day, but the people who run this press office are HELPFUL! Yes, they'll actually go into bat for you to get you the interviews you want. When a publicist for an unnamed star decided our website wasn't the kind of thing they wanted pess coverage on, the publicity and press folks at Denver went into action, fought for us tooth and nail and secured us unbelievable face time with th guy in question. Beyond even that, when we were invited up to the fortified compound of one Hunter S. Thompson, they attended the trip, terrified out of their wits, and held it together in one of the most intense pressure situations I've ever witnessed.
When a publicist is asked to sit under a spotlight and read the work of a literary genuis out loud, while that literary genius is yelling at them go slower, "like you're on qualudes," every few lines, while a handgun sits on the table and forty bowie knives line a shelf nearby, and a note on the fridge says "never ever call 911... this means you!" ... Well, all I can say is Lindsay Mangat and Jenny Chikes are the kind of press office people you wish worked at every festival.
And yes Toronto, I'm looking at you...

The Hollywood Bitchslap final grade for the Starz Denver International Film Festival: I couldn't give anything less than an A grade to this fest. It's small, it could improve in some areas, but I had the sort of experience at this festival that will, and can, never be repeated. Congratulations to all involved. We'll be back for more next year... If the liver can heal in time.

Tune in next Monday for part six in this series: The Seattle International Film Festival

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originally posted: 10/24/03 04:20:01
last updated: 12/31/03 13:18:58
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