The Twelve Days of Christmas arrived early for film aficionados in Denver, as the 37th Starz Denver Film Festival (SDFF) rolled out the red carpet at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on November 12-23, 2014. One of the country’s largest, longest cinema spectaculars, the SDFF played host to over 250 films from 40 different countries, plus panels, parties, and tributes, in celebration of the best local, independent, and international films around.

And with temperatures dipping well into the teens on opening night, Mother Nature helped the SDFF put the “cool” in “coolest” as one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World for 2014.

This year’s program followed a special theme, “Step into the Story,” with many films hand-picked for their deeply personal stories and true-to-life origins. Festival Director Britta Erickson said, “From the romance of New York City and the suspense of World War II to two powerful documentaries with Colorado ties [Touch the Wall, Keep On Keepin’ On]…we are thrilled to invite audiences to ‘Step into the Story’ and experience outstanding films.”

Opening the festival was 5 to 7, the feature debut of director Victor Levin, depicting a different kind of love story – a romance that gets overly complicated when a young New York City writer (Brian) falls for an older, married woman (Arielle) with two children. Even though her marriage is open, the arrangement only allows her to see Brian between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m each day.

Starring Anton Yelchin, Frank Langella, Glenn Close, Berenice Marlohe, and Jocelyn DeBoer, the film is light and refreshingly sentimental, challenging audiences to rethink their views on modern relationships.


SDFF Rising Star Jocelyn DeBoer along with Festival Director, Britta Erickson

Levin was on hand to present the film along with DeBoer, who was also selected as the festival’s Rising Star.

Throughout, there were plenty of opportunities to step into extraordinary stories: Ukranian director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe, winner of the Krzysztof Kielowski Award for Best Foreign Feature, about a young deaf man drawn into the seedy underbelly of gangs, violence, and prostitution, told entirely in sign language without subtitles. The True Grit Award winner Keep On Keepin’ On, about 93 year-old jazz legend Clark Terry, mentor to Miles Davis and the first African American musician on “The Tonight Show,” who develops a friendship with a blind piano prodigy. And Narrative Feature winner, Roberto Andò’s Viva la libertà, a political dramedy about an opposition party leader who flees Italy only to be replaced by his bipolar identical twin, who subsequently becomes popular.

Familiar stars on screen ranged from Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) to Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), as well as director Ethan Hawke (Seymour: An Introduction) and Tom Hardy (The Drop), featuring the late, great James Gandolfini in his final role.


A screening of Touch the Wall, a documentary about Olympic swimmers Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce

Many of the gala screenings showcased top-of-the-line Oscar contenders: Reese Witherspoon’s 1,100-mile journey of self-discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild; The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician Alan Turing; and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. World cinema selections included The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s engrossing sequel to the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Act of Killing (which took home the festival’s Best Documentary prize). And Portuguese film Futuro Beach, detailing the romance between a long distance swimmer and the lifeguard who tried to save his partner’s life.


Like many festivals, the SDFF brought in a bevy of talent to several unique panels – “Examining Ebert,” about the life work of Roger Ebert in film history and criticism; “Femme Fatales,” about the role of women storytellers from three up-and-coming directors (Leah Meyerhoff, Sarah Adina Smith, and Josephine Decker); and “25 Years Post Cassavetes,” focusing on changes in independent film since the first SDFF Cassavetes Award was presented 25 years ago to Steven Soderbergh.

On Closing Night, the festival came full circle, stepping into director Frank Whaley’s feature Like Sunday, Like Rain, a sensitive charmer about a blossoming friendship between a young au pair (Leighton Meester) and a 12-year-old music prodigy (Julian Shatkin), each coping with challenges and helping one another improve their lives.

As the 12 drummers drummed and temperatures rose above freezing, the SDFF closed out another great fest, ending warmly on a mile-high storybook note. MM

The 37th Starz Denver Film Festival took place from November 12 – 23, 2014. For more information on the festival, visit its website.