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Starz Denver Film Festival 2008 – Flick Picks

Fire Under the Snow

starz denver film festival – flick picks


Fire Under the Snow (Makoto Sasa)
– Kim Owens

Directed by Makoto Sasa, “Fire Under the Snow” is documentary that points the lens towards the struggle of the Tibetan people and in particular, to a Buddhist monk, Palden Gyatso, who witnessed the Chinese Communist Army invade his beloved country in 1959. Palden, a young man at the time, protested the invasion and was arrested as a result, spending the majority of his adult life, thirty-three years in all, being tortured and confined in numerous prison camps.

Released in 1992, he fled Tibet on foot, walking for over two weeks to reach the Dalai Lama’s exiled government in Dharamsala, India. Since then, and despite his decades of torture and attempts to silence his spirit, and the film follows Palen’s strength and tenacity behind his strife to defend his country and the people of Tibet.

This included his hunger strike at the 2006 Olympics in Turin to protest Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 games, arguing that Afghanistan was barred from participating because of their poor human rights and women’s rights records, but China was allowed to host the games. “Whenever you fight for truth, eventually truth will prevail.”

In an interview with the New York Post, Palen had this to say about the film, “I felt that the film very clearly outlines the illegal occupation of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Government. It also vividly depicts my imprisonment and tortures that I went through in Chinese prison, so I am very happy and grateful to see this documentary.”


The GardenThe Garden (Scott Hamilton Kennedy)
-Kim Owens

Many land developers in this country will have some ‘splainin’ to do when they get to the pearly gates. They’re for huge developments that look good in their annual reports, but which leave a wake of devastation to the land, animals and people. And more often then not, they get away with their sins through behind-the-door deals done with city government officials.

Winner of in the Silverdoc’s Sterling award for best U.S. feature, “The Garden” doesn’t take place near a wildlife preserve, but within the garden oasis in South Central Los Angeles. This 14-acre plot is America’s largest urban farm brings people together to grow their own food, and for years has brought healing to those affected by the L.A. riots of 1992.

Documentary filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy sheds light on the fight to preserve the garden in the face of bulldozers, how city hall’s self interests goes against their commitment to serve the best interests of their citizens, and how community organizers refuse to let go of this land.

The Third Wave (Alison Thompson)
-Kim Owens

Documentaries like “The Third Wave” pick up where the media leaves off, which is typically a few weeks following a crisis. In this film, four volunteers went to Sri Lanka to help out those affected by the 2004 tsunami, only to find themselves unexpectedly in charge of managing all the relief and recovery efforts for the town of Peraliya.

Not only were they not prepared to be running the show, their few weeks turned into year. Australian filmmaker and one of the four volunteers, Alison Thompson, passed the camera to those she was shooting, collecting over 250 hours of film to make this a true community effort.


GomorrahGomorrah (Matteo Garrone)
-Kim Owens

In 2007 reporter Robert Saviano released his book on the Camorra crime family of Naples. His research and writing of “Gomorrah: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System,” not only became a best-seller, it may have done a little too well.

After living under police protection for the last two years, a paper in Italy, La Repubblica, reported that Camorra’s powerful Casalesi clan had put a hit on Saviano and his bodyguard because his book “has made a great deal of noise, created a mess.”

Directed by Matteo Garrone and winner of the Grand Prix awared at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “Gomorrah” is based on Saviano’s book, which will no doubt blow many away with the truth behind this crime family, how burrowed their “business” activity is in our world economy, and the sheer number of lives they’ve taken over the past few decades.

The film, like the book, is expected to be an eye-opener.

For example, Camorra’s enterprises consist of legitimate businesses in numerous sectors, including construction, tourism, textiles, fuel, banking, transport, and supermarkets, generating an estimated 150 billion euros per year.

One of their investments includes shares of the reconstruction of the Twin Towers in New York City.

Camorra’s army members that number in the thousands come from all walks of life, including doctors, chemists, psychologists, construction works, farmhands. They employ children to do the dirty work as drug dealers and soldiers.

Comorra is also responsible for many environment violations, running a toxic waste business that dumps tons of illegal waste in Southern Italy, which poisons farmlands, causes tumors in residents, and if piled together, would be higher than Mount Everest.

Granted, selling 1.2 million books in Italy alone is no small feat. But realizing the scale of this familiy’ reach and the length of time that they’ve had pwoer, it’s truly amazing that this story hasn’t been told on an even larger scale beyond what the book and film have been able to accomplish thus far.

For Saviono, he’s paid a price for doing his journalistic and public duty. “I want a life, I want a home. I want to fall in love, to drink a beer in public. I want to walk in the sunshine and in the rain, and to see my mother without fear. I want to laugh and not talk about myself as if I were a patient with a terminal disease.” (you can read the english reference story to the Repubblica story at

Hopefully the rumors are true, and that “Gomorrah” receives its 2009 Academy awards nomination. Then no amount of hitmen will enable the Comorra family to hide or silence its dirty deeds.



Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley)
-Matthew Henderson

This is a documentary about early Australian filmmaking in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Australia has been known for its lack of censorship, over-the-top gore and quirky character mindsets that overcast its American counterpart’s attempts at shock media.

Interviews with current and past actors and directors, including Quentin Tarantino, explore this cult-film phenomenon that few Americans have seen and/or even know exists.

As a huge fan of horror, gore, and shock-film, I am very excited to witness this film and explore the overlooked genius of Australian movie-making.


An Evening With Carolee Schneemann (Carolee Schneemann)
– Matthew Henderson

A long look at a six foot tall close-up vagina was not something I expected to see early on a Monday morning. Not knowing what to expect, I ventured to the press-screening of “An Evening With Carolee Schneemann.” It was a bit much to take in before coffee.

Carolee Scheemann is a world renowned artist of several mediums, one of which is film. She approaches film with heavy abstract, sexual, political, post-modern and anti-conventional themes. Her collection of films being show at Starz includes a few of her works, including “Meat Joy,” “Fuses,” “Interior Scroll,” and “Infinity Kisses.”

Schneemann’s works have been exhibited in major museums such as The London National Film Theatre, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.



ObsceneObscene: A Portrait of Barney Rosset and Grove Press (Daniel O’Connor, Neil Ortenberg)
-Kim Owens

In grammar school Barney Rosset was already being checked out by the FBI’s local troublemaker investigative team. In a 1989 television interview, Rosset admitted that “I would very much have liked to publish Hemmingway or Falkner,” and chuckling a bit, “somehow or another, they were already being published. We were rebels, looking for stuff that nobody else would publish.”

This is the life of a different kind of maverick, a more interesting rebel than the one we’ve heard a million times this year, and is the topic of “Obscene: A Portrait of Barney Rosset and Grove Press,” by directors Daniel O’Connor, Neil Ortenberg.

This film, as with others being featured at this year’s film festival, we’re reminded of another time when society looked life in another way, where topics of sex and reality that would be commonplace today were taboo thirty or more years ago. Yes, and when these Grove Press books—the autobiography of Malcom X, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, and Howl, by Allen Ginsberg—came on the shelves, it sent people into an uproar.

“Americans are very narrow about what they can take in, whether it’s sexual morays or literature,” Rosset states in the film, matter-of-factly.

Thankfully, that didn’t deter the publisher. “Obscene…” pays tribute to Rosset by going back to the beginning, weaving in interviews with a variety of other folks of the time (including Ray Manzark and filmmaker John Waters) to tell Rosset’s story. One that’s well worth seeing.

Tokyo! (Joon-ho Bong, Leos Carax, & Michel Gondry)
-Matthew Henderson

“Tokyo!” is a collection of surreal stories and anti-climactic ambitions of quirky characters. Humorous in its lack of ambition, yet visually stunning in its cinematic complexity, this film should be a hit for anybody who’s a fan of visual humor.

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) is a co-director of this film and his influence is undoubtedly felt in the film style, special effects, and simplistic, innocence of the story.



I Was a Swiss BankerI Was a Swiss Banker (Thomas Imbach)
-Matthew Henderson

Supposedly, this is a Grimm Brothers fairy-tale-type of story, revolving around a banker who’s been caught smuggling money across borders. During his tale of escape, dire consequences ensue and he’s plunges into another world, leaving his old world behind.

This movie trailer boasts bright imagery and an imaginative story. I don’t know much about Thomas Imbach, but I’ve heard great things about him. I’m very much expecting to be swept away by the creativity and fantasy of this movie.


Tokyo! (Joon-ho Bong, Leos Carax, & Michel Gondry)
-Matthew Henderson

“Tokyo!” is a collection of surreal stories and anti-climactic ambitions of quirky characters. Humorous in its lack of ambition, yet visually stunning in its cinematic complexity, this film should be a hit for anybody who’s a fan of visual humor.

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) is a co-director of this film and his influence is undoubtedly felt in the film style, special effects, and simplistic, innocence of the story.


MegalopolisMegalopolis (Francesco Conversano, Nene Grignaffini)
-Kim Owens

The world has changed significantly in the last twenty-eight years, and filmmakers Francesco Conversano, Nene Grignaffini have the documentaries to prove it. Now, in only 112 minutes, “Megalopolis” takes around the globe, giving us an intimate tour of the world through their eyes, as the duo uses the colors of countries and their megacities as the visual palette.

The scope of this film examines six of the world’s biggest gothams and the urban populations of each, individual city dwellers from various cultures, races, and economic levels, as they live day-to-day, each with their own plight. The cinematography of “Megalopolis,” combined with the light behind the people featured, is expected to enlighten more senses than just the visual.



Wesley Willis’s Joyrides (Chris Bagley & Kim Shively)
-Matthew Henderson

This documentary is about the now deceased cult icon Wesley Willis, who claimed his fame in the early ‘90s as a street artists and musician in Chicago. Willis, the son of a abusive, alcoholic mother and whose childhood consisted of foster homes and rundown housing projects, eventually developed chronic schizophrenia. He deemed his episodes “hell rides” and declared rock ‘n roll to be his “joy ride music.”

As with other undiagnosed artists of the past, Willis used his illness to his advantage, tapping into the obscurity of his mind to create his career as a well known artists and musician.

For fans and curious souls alike, “Wesley Willis’ Joyrides” is expected to bring his life, his success, and his death to light.

Life. Support. Music. (Eric Daniel Metzgar)
-Kim Owens

The night before the election, the Rock The Vote tour came to town featuring Tenacious D and Beastie Boys. Jack Black from TD encouraged fans to check out the YouTube clip of his fall on the stage, where in the dark venue, he took a step too far.

That was a funny episode. The one Jason Crigler took wasn’t. “Life. Support. Music.” is Crigler’s story of recovering from a fall that almost took his life, but did take the life out of him, leaving him in a vegetative state. As one of the premier guitarists in Manhattan and in the rock world in general, his family are his heroes, refusing to accept the doctor’s conclusions about the guitarist’s health future.

From childhood video clips, interviews with family, friends, fellow musicians and fans, you’re brought into this community’s vigil and commitement to defy the odds and bring Crigler back to health.


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