Aspen Film presents the 43rd annual Aspen Filmfest from Sept. 27 through Oct. 3 at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House and Isis Theatre, and the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.
The festival opens on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. with “Good Night Oppy” screening at the Wheeler Opera House. The film tells the true story of the space rover, Opportunity, that was sent for a 90-day mission to Mars and ended up surviving for 15 years.
During festival week, students at Aspen Middle School will be treated to a screening of the film. “Oppy” is also one of four Filmfest offerings at Carbondale’s Crystal Theater, screening on Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.
Susan Wrubel, Aspen Film’s executive and artistic director, called it “a feel-good movie for all ages.”
Wrubel, in her sixth year of leading Filmfest, explained that what makes Aspen Filmfest unique is that it is a non-competitive, invitation-only film festival. “It gives us the luxury of cherry picking the films that we want to showcase and highlight within our community,” she said.
Among the 16 offerings are award-winning films from South by Southwest, Telluride, Toronto, the Cannes and Venice film festivals.
One addition to the lineup is a surprise screening on Oct. 2 of a film making its world premiere the night before at the New York Film Festival. Without spilling the beans, Wrubel said, “I highly encourage people to seek [it] out because it deals with social justice, family and inequality.”
“Empire of Light” (Wheeler, Oct. 1, 2 p.m.) was written and directed by Sam Mendes and stars Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones and “a young, phenomenal actor who should be on everyone’s radar — Micheal Ward — who’s unbelievable,” Wrubel said.
Set in a broken-down cinema in the United Kingdom in the ‘80s, the film follows the struggles of two characters — one dealing with racism and the other with mental illness. Wrubel shared, “They form this highly unlikely friendship as a result of the fact that they are both dealing with these two heavy issues.”
As a tribute to film director, writer and producer Bob Rafelson, who died at the age of 89 at his home in Aspen on July 23, there will be a free community screening of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (Wheeler, Sept. 29, 8 p.m.). This 1981 neo-noir thriller, starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, is one of Rafelson’s most notable films and playwright David Mamet’s first foray into screenwriting.
In 1999, Rafelson was the first person to receive Aspen Film’s Independent by Nature Award and, in 2019 on Aspen Film’s 40th anniversary, received Aspen Film’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.
A presentation, including film clips of Rafelson’s life and work will also be shown, and family members in attendance will share their remembrances. Free tickets for the “Postman” screening are available on the Filmfest website.
A word to the wise filmgoer: Don’t miss the matinees. There are some outstanding gems for daytime moviegoers that “are definitely not to be overlooked,” Wrubel said.
One matinee is “Wildcat” (Crystal, Oct. 2, 5 p.m.; Wheeler, Sept. 29, 5 p.m.), a documentary from the United Kingdom about a young British soldier who returns from Afghanistan with PTSD. He finds solace in the Amazon jungle by joining a wild cat rescue and fostering an orphaned baby ocelot to eventually return it to its natural habitat.
Another film of note is Julia Mintz’s “Four Winters” (Isis, Oct. 1, 12 p.m.). Mintz will be in town for the screening of her first feature documentary film as director, writer and producer.
Working as a documentarian and art activist for two decades, Mintz said the inspiration for “Four Winters” came from a story of the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe, when a young girl dug a ditch where she hid and then threw a hand grenade at the German front lines.
Mintz thought, ‘I want to make a movie about her,’ but then learned it wasn’t just one girl in a solitary act of resistance, but over 25,000 people of all ages, known as partisans, who actively fought in an armed resistance from the primeval forests of Eastern Europe and beyond.
Ten years in the making, the film focuses on partisan camps in the regions of Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine, whose borders changed throughout the war. Mintz observed some relevant parallels, saying, “This is on the same dirt and soil that adults are fighting a war [in Ukraine] today.”
Festival passes, and individual screening tickets can be purchased at www.aspenfilm.org, where you will find a complete listing of films.
Tickets for Crystal Theatre screenings may also be purchased for cash at Beer Works (647 Main St in Carbondale).
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