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Arts & Life

Need Some Last Minute Picks For The 38th Denver Film Fest?

Philippe Halsman
Courtesy of Cohen Media Group
François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock."

There’s plenty of good film to see at the 2015 Denver Film Festival. Need some suggestions?

At the top of my list is Hitchcock/Truffaut, the documentary based on an eight-day conversation, initiated in 1962 by the young French director François Truffaut with the masterful Alfred Hitchcock. It led to an essential book about film. Now filmmaker Kent Jones has added to the record of that conversation some contemporary filmmakers, including Richard Linklater, French director Olivier Assayas, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese. It feels like being in the middle of the most thrilling film talk you can imagine, with some of the most thoughtful filmmakers of the past 60-some years.

It’s a pleasure to hear Hitchcock when he’s not being gamey in front of an audience. This was a private talk with one other person, and Hitchcock is sincere and thoughtful – also brilliant, of course. He says he’s out of step with post World War II notions of acting; that actors can lead a film with their understandings, their interpretations. Scorsese points out that after the war, actors developed a sense of power and individual imagination. Hitchcock says he’s like the old lady who doesn’t want to go where the Boy Scouts are leading.

Truffaut, Hitchcock and the others then get into the question of a director’s control. The talk goes to specific shots, like the famous image of the burning gas station in The Birds, taken from high above the action. Hitchcock says he was avoiding having to show a lot of detail, meaning hoses, people running around and other minutia that might interfere with the overall effect. Scorsese adds the interpretation Hitchcock avoids, that the shot takes on an apocalyptic, religious feel. He calls it “the cleansing of the Earth.” Richard Linklater wonders if it’s God’s point of view, that we are all being judged.

It’s a privilege to eavesdrop on this conversation.

The Denver Film Festival will also show a timely new feature about migration from Africa to Europe. In Mediterranea, two young men leave Burkina Faso for Italy, where they get work picking oranges. Some Italians treat them well, although ultimately things go sour.

The shooting feels too nervous, and the cutting looks like the editor was bored with anything longer than a couple of seconds. But in the quieter moments, the faces have great depth and you get the sense of how terrifying the migration must be. Mediteranea has a feel for the dangerous volatility of young men, and when a fight begins between African migrants and native Italians, you see how, when it’s frustrated, the jumpy, angry energy of these boys simply erupts, whether we like it or not.

Mediterranea descends from an interesting family tree. Director Jonas Carpignano is half-Italian and half-American. He was an assistant director to Benh Zeitlin on Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Zeitlin did the music for Mediterranea. The film also got support from the Feature Film Project of the Sundance Institute. This is full-fledged international filmmaking.

Finally, for now, a documentary in the festival called War of Lies, about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, by German documentarist Matthias Bittner. It’s a long interview with the Iraqi man known to intelligence agencies as “Curveball,” whose certainty about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction helped justify our war on Saddam Hussein.

Curveball’s actual name is Rafed Aljanabi, and the question is whether one can believe anything he says. The camera gives Aljanabi a cold hard look for most of its 89 minutes, as he talks about providing intelligence to the western nations, hoping they will depose Saddam Hussein. He’s unfazed by his own admission that he would say anything if it helped unseat Hussein. When asked if he feels guilty about lying to start a war, the look on his face and his response are worth the wait. Aljanabi often begins his answers to questions with the word “honestly.” In my experience, honest people don’t have to tell you about their honesty.

Download the film guide [.pdf] for the 38th Denver Film Festival

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