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A group of people in a movie theater, standing and clapping
The cast and crew of "The Conductor" receive a standing ovation at the Sie FilmCenter during Denver Film Festival 2021. (Photo provided by Denver Film, taken by Jason DeWitt)

Colorado is home to at least 40 film festivals ranging from the glitzy to the gory. This Friday, the Denver Film Festival opens its 46th year with a selection of over 100 feature films and 74 short films. Despite cutting the program from last year’s 143 feature-length films, the festival still has one of the deepest catalogs in the state. 

Matthew Campbell, artistic director for Denver Film Festival, said the program cut was in part as a reaction to the slimmer audiences caused by the pandemic. “Of course, (we) are dismayed when (we’ve) programmed a film and there’s no one in the audience,” Campbell said. “What we’ve tried is to make it a little more streamlined, a little more digestible, and tightening our focus so that the films we do have in the festival have a larger audience.”

Shining a light

Most film festivals fit into one of three categories: regional, industry and niche. 

Denver Film Festival is a regional festival, a category that also includes Breckenridge Film Festival and Crested Butte Film Festival. These festivals focus on films their local audiences wouldn’t have access to otherwise — whether it’s an awards front-runner that hasn’t been widely released, or independent and international films that might not make it into mainstream theaters. 

The number of movie theater box office tickets sold has been trending downward for the past two decades. In 2002, the number of movie tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada was around 1.5 billion. By 2019, that number was close to 1.2 billion, a decrease of about 346 million moviegoers. 

Even with box office smashes this year such as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” the number of tickets sold at theaters is drastically down from pre-pandemic levels. After bottoming out at 199 million in 2020, the number of tickets sold last year was up to 703 million. The change in theater demand makes film festival showings even more significant for viewers who value seeing a film on a big screen.

“Film festivals have always had that purpose, but now it’s even more important to shine a light on films that aren’t easily available,” Campbell said. “And it might be their only chance to see some of these films in a theater.”

The other major type of film festival is what Campbell called the “industry festival,” or the “marketplace.” These are the festivals that populate most imaginations: Sundance, Cannes, Toronto and Telluride. Attendees — aside from the occasional hardcore cinephile — are typically industry or industry-adjacent folks who hold awards-giving or purchasing power. It’s the place to be seen, where films debut, critics write their first reviews and distribution companies make (or don’t make) their offers.

The third type is the niche or subject-specific festival. These typically center a culture or genre, like the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, which focuses on adventure films, Aspen Shortsfest or Telluride Horror Show

What to watch

With 109 feature-length films, close to 180 total films on the program, it would be hard to universally recommend a given film, or even a given film track at the Denver Film Festival. That’s by design. 

“There are themes you could draw from, but part of programming is finding that balance, and kind of intentionally fighting against having too many films that just speak to one another,” Campbell said. The program is intentionally broad in order to avoid an insular festival experience. 


That said, some of the designated tracks this year include a Colorado Spotlight, an Italian showcase and a collection of films from the UK and Ireland. The festival also has a number of standing tracks featuring films that have been shown throughout Denver Film’s year-round programming, pulling from CineLatinx; CinemaQ, which focuses on LGBTQ filmmaking; and its Women + Film program. 

Throughout preliminary screenings, Campbell saw a large number of Ukrainian films he wanted to include, both documentaries that spotlight the Russian invasion and narrative pieces that don’t.

Campbell calls it the festival’s “unofficial” track. “It is more of a well-rounded experience, where (we’re) not just pigeonholing them into storytelling about the Russian invasion — these films can be viewed together, or they can stand on their own two feet,” Campbell said. 

What, where, when, how much?

The Denver Film Festival runs Nov. 3-12, with 109 feature-length films and 74 short films scheduled for the Sie FilmCenter, AMC 9 + CO 10 theater, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, MCA Denver at the Holiday Theater, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Tickets are available online and at the Sie FilmCenter. Individual showings are $17 ($13 for Denver Film members) and special presentations, a selection of feature films, are $30 ($25 for Denver Film members). Information about packages and tickets to special events can be found at this link

Parker Yamasaki covers arts and culture at The Colorado Sun as a Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow and former Dow Jones News Fund intern. She has freelanced for the Chicago Reader, Newcity Chicago, and DARIA, among other publications,...