By Peter Jones | The Denver Film Festival has a musical soundtrack again this year—from documentaries to narrative features, from industry panels to music videos, from Itchy-O to the New York Philharmonic. Yes, music and movies go together like Gene Kelly and Vincente Minnelli and the 42nd edition of a Mile High institution has arranged for yet another affecting medley of cinema and sound.
For starters, Colorado’s own Grammy-nominated Devotchka, an eclectic band that provided the music for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, will this time perform a live original soundtrack to a near-forgotten silent film. The band, whose moniker is Russian for “girl,” will put its musical stamp on Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s 1929 experimental film Man with a Movie Camera on Sunday, Nov. 3, in a special performance at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
An artistic advancement, as well as a relic of Soviet culture, Vertov’s film is an avant-garde study of urban life in the early decades of the U.S.S.R.—with the cameraman and crew as kind of characters—but it is also an early form-focused precursor to cinema verite, using what were then such new techniques as slow motion, split screen and stop-motion animation.
Having performed everywhere from burlesque shows to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts with the Colorado Symphony, Devotchka, with its minimalistic show biz and bouzouki-theremin inclinations, is the perfect ensemble to set a 1920s Russian experiment to 21st-century music.
Another much newer music-centered film will have its Colorado premiere at the festival — Amazonia Groove, a cinematically luscious trip down the Amazon River with many musical stops along the way. Like the Mississippi, this winding river through South America is a birthplace of folk music and a magnet for the international sounds that have long colonized the region’s towns and cities.
The Brazilian documentary tells the story of a people and the music that ties them together. One group integrates jungle bird sounds into its songs. Others do South American variations on hip hop. Some relay stories of Italian missionaries and the harmonies they brought along with their Bibles. And then, take a look at Gina Lobrista, who might just be the new Taylor Swift-ish diva of the south continent.
Amazonia Groove, part of the festival’s Focus on Brazil, plays Friday, Nov. 1, Saturday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 9, at United Artists Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall.
Another musical highlight will be The Conductor, a 2018 Dutch movie that tells the true story of Antonio Brico, who became the first woman ever to conduct a professional symphony, though the accomplishment was less than a happy ending for this early 20th-century immigrant.
Although the period detail is not always convincing, the engaging tale of an audacious proto-feminist is well suited to the festival’s Women+Film component. Star Maria Peters will attend.
The Conductor plays Saturday, Nov. 2, Monday, Nov. 4, and Friday, Nov. 8, at the Sie Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. The film will also be shown Sunday, Nov. 3, in Fort Collins in a satellite presentation at the Lyric Theater.
The festival’s “Music Video Mixtape” returns this year with the latest in highly creative music videos. Children of the 1980s and MTV’s golden era are in for a post-Madonna revelation. These 21st century music videos are not glorified commercials, but mostly highly detailed, and largely entertaining, experimental films set to new music.
A few highlights:
~ As dream catchers, Denver’s own Infamous Stringdusters take their high-lonesome Rocky Mountain bluegrass on a fast-paced, magical Colorado road trip in “Rise Sun.”
~ A late night in an urban laundromat is not so drab for New York’s Julietta, who finds the clothes of strangers may not need those washing machines to move around to the music in “Beach Break.” This is “some good, clean fun,” as one viewer observed.
~ King Princess takes a bite out of unrequited love in “Cheap Queen.” Spoiler alert: Her true love is an animated bologna sandwich—on white bread.
~ Itchy-O proves that its avant-garde audience interactions are just scratching the surface in “Saptaloka,” a haunting Mexican hat dance, for lack of better explanation.
~ Sonia Barcelona’s “Violent Water” is an Atlantis fantasy of Titanic proportions.
~ AJR’s “100 Bad Days” proves how catchy disembodied heads can be, especially at parties.
The complete “Music Video Mixtape” will be heard and seen Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Sie Film Center, Saturday, Nov. 9, at UA Pavilions and Sunday, Nov. 10, at the Lyric.
Then, on Saturday, Nov. 2, the festival will present a discussion by filmmakers and others on the nature of music videos at the 303 Music Video Panel at the Festival Annex in the McNichols Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave., in Civic Center Park. Presented by 303 magazine.
The marriage of music and film will be more fully explored in another panel discussion presented by the Colorado Film and Video Association. Industry experts and filmmakers will discuss the highs and lows of getting music into movies on Nov. 8 at the Festival Annex.
For a full festival schedule, visit http://denverfilm.org.
Enjoy the sights and sounds!
Denver Arts Week starts Nov. 1st.
Photo: Actress Maria Peters will appear in person at the Denver Film Festival screenings of The Conductor, the true story of the Netherlands’ Antonio Brico, the first woman to conduct a professional symphony orchestra. (photo courtesy of Denver Film)