Starz Denver Film Festival: Day 10–12

From jean to shining jean

Blue Gold American Jeans

Proper cinema doesn’t highlight the differences that separate us, but the things that connect us. Blue Gold is one of those documentaries. It works hard to show us how tradition and culture can spread across the globe, all in a harmless, but somehow revolutionary pair of pants.

Jeans were first known as Miner Pants, but then WWII came and the jeans went overseas. At first, the jeans were identified with cowboys, but thanks to Marlon Brando and James Dean, they became the symbols of counter-culture. Symbols that The Ramones and The Sex Pistols co-opted. Soon, these jeans were taken and marketed and became billion dollar industries.

I would be willing to wager more than half of the audience at Blue Gold were wearing jeans, and as I sit here and write in the lounge, I count at least a dozen in my immediate eyesight. Part history lesson, part documentary following Eric Schrader (an Idahoan jeans dealer), part exploration of how culture disseminates, Blue Gold has plenty and narration from Ed Burns to boot.

Directed by: Christian D. Bruun
Written by: Christian D. Brunn, John Marks, Louis Spiegler
Produced by: Christian D. Bruun, Theis Jessen, Mark Romeo
Narrated by: Edward Burns
Blue Gold Productions, Running time 93 minutes, November 21 & 22, 2014

G. L. O. R. I. A.

Fabrizio Rongione & Marion Cotillard "Two Days, One Night" (2014)
Fabrizio Rongione and Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night (2014)

Two Days, One Night is an intimate story from two Belgian directors who excel with the intimate. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been making movies for over 30 years, and the duo prefer to focus on the everyday struggle. These are life or death struggle where the fate of the world does not rest in these common hands, but their lives do.

Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a mother of two who works at a nearby solar panel factory, but has missed several weeks of work due to a severe case of depression. While she was away, the foreman and owner observed that 16 people could do the same work that 17 did, and Sandra is out of a job. The plant deals with this in a humiliating manner, a vote is conducted among the staff, let Sandra keep her job or accept a thousand euro bonus. Everyone at the plant lives paycheck to paycheck and a thousand euro bonus is the kind of money that can solve a lot of their problems, even if it does come at the loss of one of their own.

Sandra fights—weakly at first—to keep her job, and the company agrees to hold another vote on Monday. That leaves Sandra Saturday and Sunday to convince her 16 co-workers to let her keep her job at the loss of their bonus. It’s not an easy task, and the Dardennes do a wonderful job depicting the reasons that someone might—or might not—feel guilt for someone losing their job. Each person has their own reason for needing the money, and each person has their own rational for why they need money more than they need Sandra to keep her job. Neither are easily reconciled.

Two Days, One Night is a beautifully natural tale of everyday struggle. The camera stays close on Cotillard’s face (a face made for the camera if there ever was one) and documents her inner turmoil, her struggle, her suffering, her disappointment, her hope and, eventually, her grace.

Written & Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
Produced by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée
Sundance Selects, Rated PG-13, Running time 95 minutes, November 22 & 23, 2014

Nice to meet you

Seymour An Introduction

Directed by accomplished actor, now first time documentarian, Ethan Hawke, Seymour: An Introduction is a beautiful excuse to spend time without a talented and kind man.

Seymour Bernstein is an incredibly talented classical pianist, a beautiful face, and—most importantly—a gifted teacher. Seymour has been teaching piano for decades, and few are as calm, patient and intuitive as Seymour is, and with Seymour, Hawke finds a willing and appropriate subject.

Any documentary about an individual is really just an excuse to spend time with the subject, and with Seymour: An Introduction the audience’s appetite is whetted for many more chapters.

Directed by: Ethan Hawke
Starring: Seymour Bernstein
Sundance Selects, Running time 84 minutes, November 22 & 23, 2014

Based on a true story

Rinko Kikuchi "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter" (2014)

Written, produced, and directed by the Greeley born duo, The Zellner Brothers, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is remarkable. An authentic story crafted by outsiders looking in and admiring.

The story follows Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a restless 20-something who doesn’t want to get married or move up in her company. Instead, she just wants to chase adventure. Whether she happens upon a VHS copy of Fargo by discovery or she found it in a fever dream is unclear, but find it she did and it has become her obsession.

On a whim, Kumiko decides to pick up and head to Fargo, ND via Minnesota in search of the briefcase of money Steve Buscemi’s character buried in the snow. This is not an obsession that Kumiko has fully thought through, particularly the outfit she decided to wear in the cold Midwestern winter.

The Zellner Brothers are originally from Greeley, CO but now reside in Austin, TX, where their last two features (Kid-Thing, 2012 & Goliath, 2008) are set, but a change of scenery doesn’t hurt them in the slightest. The scenes set in Tokyo do not feel like a tourist or an outsider. In fact, they feel like the work of a Japanese director who has become complacent with his country. When Kumiko moves to the snow-crusted landscapes of Minnesota and (possibly) North Dakota, they are shot with the eye of a native, again, one who has become complacent with the world around them, yet continues to find beauty. Kumiko is the third movie from the Zellner Brothers, and it impressively announces their talent.

Directed by: David Zellner
Written by: David Zellner & Nathan Zellner
Produced by: Andrew Banks, Jim Burke, Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Nathan Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi
Amplify, Running time 105 minutes, November 22 & 23, 2014

Harder than it looks

AP Photo/John Rooney

With Trying to Kill Giants, director Gary Keys explores 20th century racism using three figures: heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, Paul Robeson, and Muhammad Ali.

One of the first dominant African-American boxers, Johnson was also known, and hated, for his choice in white women as wives. Robeson, one of the greatest and most recognizable voices, was also billed as a Communist. Ali was no stranger to controversy, and the doc focuses on his civil disobedience. With the benefit of unseen footage, Ali comes across strongest in the documentary.

Running a scant, 59 minutes, Trying to Kill Giants could have easily been broken into three-hour long studies of each of the three men, but Keys smartly acknowledges that brevity is the sole of wit and keeps it short and sweet. The strong and loud voices from the subjects and from Keys covers some of the more amateurish aspects of the documentary and stirs the mind for more information and exploration.

Directed by: Gary Keys
Produced by: Gary Keys & Emily Morse
Starring: Jack Johnson, Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali
Running time 59 minutes, November 23, 2014

Alright, alright, alright

21 Years Richard Linklater

A first in a series of documentaries from writers, producers, and directors Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood that focus on American independent filmmakers, 21 Years: Richard Linklater acts like a gift for Linklater, a celebration of his movies and career from 1991 to 2013.

Compiling interviews from the vast majority of actors that have populated Linklater’s work, as well as some animation designed to fill in the holes, 21 Years is a puff piece that does a good job introducing the viewer to the work of Linklater, without delving into any of his tropes or techniques.

One of the greatest American directors, Linklater comes at the American dream and philosophy via cinema, a perspective that has produced some of the odd results, yet remain accessible to the large public thanks to Linklater’s relaxed demeanor. Fans of the Linklater’s work will enjoy some stories from Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke, but those seeking anything deeper will be disappointed.

Written & Directed by: Michael Dunaway & Tara Wood
Produced by: Michael Dunaway, Melanie Miller, Tara Wood
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Keanu Reeves, Parker Posey, Zac Efron, Ethan Hawke
Gravitas Ventures, Running time 78 minutes, November 22 & 23, 2014