The 39th Denver Film Festival — Days 8–12


Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis

Hungarian immigrant and yellow journalist Joseph Pulitzer wanted to elevate his chosen profession by honoring the best in the business. He gave his fortune to Columbia University to start a school of journalism, and on June 4, 1917, six years after his death, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.

Almost a century later, the Pulitzer remains the highest award to honor writing and journalism, and director Kirk Simon pays tribute to the award and the those who it has graced in the new talking heads documentary, The Pulitzer at 100. While the doc touches briefly on the history of Joseph Pulitzer, Pulitzer at 100 is primarily a collection of winners discussing what the award means to them and how it has affected their careers.

Though the talent assembled to discuss this prestigious award is impressive and entertaining, Simon completely dodges any reference to the decline of print journalism and the constantly evolving relationship between journalists and politicians—Carl Bernstein provides an anecdote from the Nixon years that may prove prophetic with the Trump presidency. This exclusion makes The Pulitzer at 100, unfortunately, lightweight and self-congratulatory. But with talent like this, at least it is entertaining.


Caoimhe Doyle
Caoimhe Doyle

Filmmaking is the art of crafting the illusion of reality. To pull that off, you need an army of technicians and artisans behind the scenes to make everything come to life. And though film and television are visual mediums, they rely just as much on the ear to make their fakery seem real. Those who trick the ear are Foley artists, and they are some of the unsung heroes of cinema.

Named after Universal Studio’s soundman Jack Foley, Foley work produces the sounds that can’t be captured during filming. The vast majority of audio recordings done during production are for dialogue purposes only, meaning that the sound of footsteps, doors closing, cigarette lighters clicking are dulled, muted, and often forgotten. In one historical instance, the entire Roman Army of Spartacus (1960) was missing. Rather than reshoot the entire sequence, which would have cost millions, Jack Foley simply shook a key ring in front of a microphone in rhythm, and the clank and the legion’s armor were recreated in the studio for next to nothing.

Though Foley is an integral part of the filmmaking process, it is often forgotten by the moviegoing public. Actors of Sound, directed by Lalo Molina, gives these Foley artists their due and a chance to explain their craft and tell their stories. The documentary is constructed primarily of talking heads interviews—that occasionally go on for a little too long—but works best when the artists demonstrate how to make the sounds they do.

For those who have little to no interest in how a movie or TV show is made, Actors of Sound will not convert them, but for those who do, Actors of Sound is another peek behind the curtain to see how these wonderful movies are made and manipulated.


Michael Fassbender & Brendan Gleeson
Michael Fassbender & Brendan Gleeson

Sometimes a movie’s merit is based solely on who stars in it, which is the case with Trespass Against Us, a familial drama where the family in question is a group of impoverished robbers.

The always-impressive Michael Fassbender plays Chad Cutler, a talented getaway driver and son of Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson), patriarch of a community of vagabonds, some of who are more feral than others. Colby’s grip on his family is absolute, but Chad is ready to break the cycle. His son will go to school, learn to read, and find a way to escape this family and make a name for himself.

But Trespass Against Us isn’t really about the hope that Chad’s son provides, as it is about Chad’s frustration with the life that he is locked into. He has no education to speak of, and with his only talent as a driver, there isn’t much waiting for him in the straight and narrow. Director Adam Smith wallows a little too long in Chad’s plight, but with two ever-watchable actors like Fassbender and Gleeson, Trespass Against Us rises from the mire just enough.


Aisholpan Nurgaiv

High in the Mongolian mountains of Altai, men capture baby eaglets to use for hunting. The eaglets are trained to help the hunters kill foxes for food and fur so they can survive Mongolia’s harsh winters. After seven years, the eagles are released back into the wild, and the cycle begins anew.

For generations, this job has belonged solely to the men of the family, but not anymore. Now 13-year-old Aisholpan is going to buck that tradition and become the first female eagle hunter in her family’s history, and her father, Nurgaiv, is going to help her do it. He takes her to a cliff where she must carefully take a baby eaglet from the nest and then train it for competition before hunting season.

The Eagle Huntress is the uplifting story of Aisholpan, her father, and her remarkable eagle. The cinematography is stunning, and both Aisholpan and her father and compelling individuals, but director Otto Bell’s construction of the events is ham-fisted and manipulative. A pity that such an impressive story should be so muddled in the telling.