Along with changing leaves and the possibility (knock on wood) of first snow, October heralds two world-class film festivals within easy driving distance of Colorado Springs.
The Denver International Film Festival, this year celebrating the 25th year of the Denver Film Society, will offer 10 days of film screenings, a number of filmmaking seminars, a panel discussion on "Violence in America: Movies Imitating Life," and a grand finale of the film society's 25 all-time favorite films, to be screened on the festival's closing day.
Across scenic La Veta Pass and south of the state border, Taos hosts its second annual Mountain Film Festival, concentrating on mountaineering films and issues affecting the environment and human rights in remote, mountainous regions of the world. This year the festival will kick off with a Youth Endurance Challenge, a two-day backcountry expedition for adventurers 15 to 25 years old to be led, in part, by New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Johnson will also participate in the festival's Human Rights in Mountain Cultures screenings, featuring a series of documentaries from Bolivia, Columbia, Tajikistan and Vietnam, chronicling the effects of the drug war on indigenous people.
Both festivals promise challenging viewing, new perspectives and a welcome detour from regular multiplex fare.
Denver International Film Festival
The locale of films at the DIFF ranges from Afghan-istan to Panama, from Jackson, Miss. to Denver's inner city. Moviegoers can choose from major Hollywood releases, documentaries, foreign feature films or shorts, and can participate in a number of panel discussions.
Four films address the issue of gun violence in America: Alan Jacobs' American Gun (Oct. 11), starring James Coburn, is the dramatic story of a man's obsession with tracing the path of the handgun that killed his daughter; Home Room (Oct. 17, 18) deals with the aftermath of a school shooting; Zero Day (Oct. 17) is the portrait of two troubled boys planning an assault on their classmates; and Michael Moore's provocative new film, Bowling for Columbine (Oct. 19), examines the culture of gun violence in America, taking viewers to the security cameras of Columbine High School and into Charlton Heston's living room. On Saturday, Oct. 19, directors Moore, Paul Ryan (Home Room) and Benjamin Coccio (Zero Day) along with Dr. Del Eliot of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence will lead a panel discussion, "American Violence: Movies Imitating Life," asking if art merely reflects the culture in which we live or whether it shapes it, and examining America's obsession with guns.
Several films explore postSept. 11 Afghanistan and America, conflicts in the Middle East and the ongoing battle between Israel and Palestine. Australian director Sherine Salama's documentary, A Wedding in Ramallah (Oct. 13, 15), tells the story of a young couple trying to marry in Palestine at the beginning of the second intifada; British documentarian Jenny Morgan asks both Jews and Palestinians how they are managing to survive in After Jenin (Oct. 16). Afghanistan: From Ground Zero to Ground Zero (October 17, 19) follows a 23-year-old Afghan American to Kandahar following the Sept. 11 attacks, then to her home village where she discovers that 41 civilians have been killed under American fire, including 19 of her relatives; 7 Days in September (Oct. 11, 13) shows the documentary work of 27 New York filmmakers in the streets of the city during the days immediately following the attacks.
Closer to home, the DIFF explores America's musical culture with Robert Mugge's documentary, Last of the Mississippi Jukes (Oct. 18), a visit to the Subway Lounge in Jackson, Miss. with commentary by Morgan Freeman and live performances by blues legends Alvin Youngblood Hart and Chris Thomas King. Mugge also directed the joyful Gospel According to Al Green, to be screened on the festival's closing day.
For a complete schedule of all DIFF events, visit
Taos Mountain Film Festival
Taos Mountain Film Festival
The drive alone on a crisp October day would probably justify a trip to Taos' second Mountain Film Festival. But this year's lineup promises more than just good scenery. Guests include world-class mountain climbers, photographers and adventure cinematographers who will exhibit their work for fans throughout the festival's three days.
Featured films include Found on Everest (Oct. 12), chronicling the rescue of climbers stranded on the North Ridge of Mount Everest, to be introduced by one of the members of the expedition, Dave Hahn of Taos; Endurance: A 21st Century Angle (Oct. 11), a fresh perspective on Shackleton's escape from the arctic ice by British filmmaker Scott Ransom; Quartzite's Falls, an investigative documentary from the U.S. exploring the Salt River in Arizona and the dynamiting of its most infamous rapid by a group of river guides.
Mustang is a Slovakian film introducing a tiny remote mountain kingdom perched on the world's highest plateau, between Nepal and Tibet, with only 5,000 people and no roads. People of the Wind, from Great Britain, documents nomadic sheepherders of Western Iraq who trek across the massive Zagros Mountains each year to reach summer pastures. Director John Catto's Jump is an account of the Czech tradition of leaping between rock towers, featuring a couple who love to "jump" together in spite of their advancing years.
A series of documentary films and panel discussions will explore the many controversies and unanswered questions about the real effects of the drug war on indigenous people around the world. Panelists will include New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson; a representative of the Drug Enforcement Agency; Eric Sterling, director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation; and Sanho Tree, a drug policy expert and Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Among the films on the topic are Argentina's Coca Mama (Oct. 11), filmed over a year in the Andes, examining the plight of coca farmers; The New Silk Road (Oct. 11), a BBC film pursuing the trail of opium from Afghanistan's poppy fields to the markets of the West; and Amapola, La Flor Maldita (Oct. 11), documenting the effects of the toxic defoliant glifosato, used to eradicate opium flowers, on children, animals, fish and plant life in a remote Colombian province.
The festival's environmental track will look at water issues of the West, featuring the second episode of the PBS series Cadillac Desert and a discussion led by veteran activists Katie Lee and Don Briggs.
Last year, Taos Mountain Film Festival's human rights series concentrated on the abuse of the Afghan people by the Taliban. That was one week following the attacks on the World Trade Center, just as America was preparing to go to war in Afghanistan. This year the festival will present a look at the effect of the West's involvement in the affairs of the people of the Persian Gulf, just as the U.S. is threatening war with Iraq.
As film festivals go, it's a pretty hefty agenda.