Snowstorms, Cold War and “Glory”: A Successful Denver Film Festival Remembers Its History, Looks To Its Future

The group of moviegoers who would launch this first festival pooled their resources and contacts to launch the first festival. They called it “10 Days in May”, a play based on the title of John Frankenheimer’s film “Seven Days in May”. The first edition only had 78 films on its schedule, a solid lineup that would grow to over 200 titles over time at this year’s festival. The special guest of this first festival was director Robert Altman. His new film “A marriage»Concluded the festival this first year.

“We didn’t know if this would be successful, if people would come or if their critics would appreciate it, if the sponsor would get their money’s worth,” Henderson said. “And, to our surprise, it was an incredible success. “

The opening night of the festival was packed, as were many of the screenings that followed. That year, at the height of the Cold War, three Cuban films were shown at the festival: “The Last Supper” by Tomas Gutierrez, “Alicia” by Manuel D. Cousin and “Lucia” by Humberto Solas. Henderson recalled that showing the films was not without incident, especially during the height of the Cold War.

“On the first Friday of the festival, the first Cuban film was to be screened at Vogue,” he said. “We got a call at the festival office saying that if you were showing this film, a bomb would go off in the cinema. So the police sort of searched the theater, cleaned it up, and the show continued. “

Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
Denver Film CEO James Mejia addresses a sold-out crowd here to see Rebekah Henderson’s film, “Running With My Girls,” which premiered at the Denver Film Festival at the Sie Film Center. November 11, 2021.

Cuban films were among the first of many international films to make it to Denver over the decades. The remaining years of the festival focused on Japanese, German and Canadian films. Henderson says the festival’s goal has always been to bring in films from outside the United States. Over time, the festival has grown from late spring to fall.

“We are one of the last festivals on the festival calendar. We are following New York, Toronto, Venice, Telluride, ”he said. “So all the hottest movies have reached the top. And we were trying to pick them up and share them with the Denver audience.

After their successful debut, the show continued. In its second edition, the festival honored Lillian Gish and documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman among a number of artists. Henderson recalls that a screening of “M * A * S * H” was crowded at the Paramount Theater in the festival’s fourth year.

“We had Alan Alda to open the festival, and he was at the peak of his popularity thanks to the M * A * S * H ​​TV program,” he said. “There was a horde of people standing in front of him waiting for him. As soon as we got out of the limo, the crowd literally crashed, and this young girl, she must have been 13 or 14, gets up and grabs her by the neck. It was a little scary, but the Channel Seven cameraman sort of made his way through the crowd, into the theater and [Alda] at his seat.

Later, the festival planned to screen Gena Rowlands’ film “Gloria”, but instead received a Spanish copy of Denzel Washington’s film “Glory”. They had to scramble to find a way to keep people seated.

“If any of the audience chooses to leave, ask them to come back because Gena has nonetheless agreed to come and do a question-and-answer session,” Henderson told those in the theater. “So the audience stayed, she came back and spent about 30 minutes chatting with the audience.”

Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
Crowds filter into the SIe Film Center to see Rebekah Henderson’s film, “Running With My Girls,” which premiered at the Denver Film Festival. November 11, 2021.

Over the course of its history, the Denver Film Festival has floated around the city and has been screened in various theaters. Henderson lists them: the Ogden, the Vogue, the Flick in Larimer Square, and many more. Eventually, the Denver Film Society, now known as Denver Film, found a permanent home at the Sie Film Center in Colfax.

Kevin Smith, director of marketing at Denver Film, knows many Henderson stories. One particularly unforgettable year, a snowstorm hit the city as it brought filmmakers from Australia.

“Some of the programming team went out and took the VHS tapes for the movies and brought them over and basically had an impromptu version of the film festival for anyone trapped in the Warwick. [Hotel] for a few days, ”he said. “We took the opportunity to say, ‘I would do that a little differently. Let’s make it fun for all these filmmakers that we brought in from all over the world ‘and that turned into some kind of party. ”

The festival will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year. Smith and his team are already considering the future of the festival and what could be in store for its 50th anniversary. One of those things to come: Organizers are taking a close look at diversity and equity as well as how to make the festival more inclusive, accessible and sustainable. Another idea is to bring the festival to the rest of Colorado.

“How do you tie all these pieces together so that there is a long-term foundation and it’s not just a short-term initiative?” Smith said. “If we ever want to grow more as an organization, we have to be in the community, spend a lot more time there and that will bring more people back with us. “

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