Photo: Leonard Bernstein (Courtesy of Denver Film Festival) | By Peter Jones | While movies are most certainly the star of the Denver Film Festival, music has always had a supporting role. Whether as subject matter or soundtrack, the two art forms have shared the screen ever since talkies drowned out the quiet of the silent-film era. The 44th film festival—the event’s first in-person edition since Covid—kicks off Nov. 3 and wraps up 11 days later.

Music has always been at the center of revolution, and the documentary Bernstein’s Wall exemplifies how a legendary conductor-composer worked to create social change as much as a body of work that passed the test of time. Symphony movements have not always been known for their associations with political ones, but Leonard Bernstein was a trailblazer in more ways than one.

The son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant had diverse musical tastes, as well as wide-ranging opinions on everything from pop music, sex and the media to race, politics and religion. Conflicted by his own homosexuality, Bernstein used his larger-than-life position to push for the greater good and risked his career by lending his name to controversial causes.

The aptly named Bernstein’s Wall, an intimate and poignant profile a 20th century icon, plays Nov. 12-14 at the Sie Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax Ave.

Another maverick orchestra leader, with strong ties to Denver, is at center stage for the documentary The Conductor. Marin Alsop, a former musical director for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, was also the first woman to raise a baton for the Baltimore, São Paulo and Vienna symphonies. Despite initial rejection from the classical establishment, Alsop found support from none other than Bernstein as she followed her dream to be “maestra” of the symphony.

The Conductor, which follows Alsop around the world as she mentors the next generation, screens Nov. 5-6 at the Sie Center and Nov. 7 at Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St.

A few other disenfranchised artists who have strived for acceptance will be profiled in the Colorado-produced Imperfect, a documentary that tells the story of a troupe of disabled actors and singers as they work to stage a version of the Bob Fosse musical Chicago. The film follows the company members—with conditions ranging from Parkinson’s to autism—and in doing so presents a moving behind-the-scenes story of the strength of the human condition.

Imperfect plays Nov. 8-9 at the Sie Center.

Italian pianist-singer-composer Paolo Conte is the focus of Via Con Me. The enigmatic and eclectic musician, who inexplicably doubles as an attorney, has been likened to Americans Tom Waits and Randy Newman in his idiosyncratic styles of song craft and storytelling. The documentary culls from a large and rich archive of live material, as well as new interviews with the likes of countrymen Roberto Benigni and Isabella Rossellini.

Via Con Me screens Nov. 9 and 11 at AMC 9, 826 Albion St.

Politics meets music again in Soy Cubana, a documentary that follows Vocal Vidas, an Afro-Cuban, all-woman a cappella group from Santiago de Cuba as the quartet makes its debut in the United States. The 2017 visit to Los Angeles comes to symbolize the larger relationship between two nations, close in proximity yet ideologically in different worlds, even as the promise of long-awaited diplomacy was seeming to take shape.

Soy Cubana plays Nov. 13-14 at AMC 9.

In addition to the feature documentaries, the festival will present Music Video Mixtape, which will feature some of the newest and most creative promotional music films by mostly lesser known artists. The videos screen Nov. 11-12 at the Sie Center.

For tickets and a complete festival schedule, visit

Enjoy the festival.

Peter Jones is a free-lance writer who has previously written for large publications. He wrote this article especially for COMBO focusing on the films whose subjects were “music”!

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