It may still feel like summer, but fall has definitely arrived with the roll out of Filmfest, Aspen Film’s flagship event. Along with the changing leaves, the season brings a refreshing shift in the movie world’s perspective, turning from blockbusters on steroids to more adult fare, including Oscar hopefuls. This 39th edition of Aspen Filmfest offers an exhilarating double-fistful of features and documentaries spanning festival award winners, critical favorites, and fall previews.
Of Films We’ve Seen, We Highly Recommend These Five
Pick of the Litter
Wednesday, September 26, 12 p.m., Isis Theatre, Aspen
For a valley equally crazy about canines and good works, Pick of the Litter is a blue-ribbon choice. John Hardy and Dana Nachman’s documentary charmer follows a litter of labs over the course of two years as they travel the road of fostering and training to become guide dogs for the blind. For both the dogs and their dedicated handlers, a big question looms: Who will make the cut? You’ll find yourself rooting for your favorites and be in for a few surprises as this puppy pleasure wiggles its way into your heart. Watch the trailer here.
The Price of Free
Thursday, September 27, 12 p.m., Isis Theatre, Aspen, and Sunday, September 30, 5:30 p.m., Crystal Theatre, Carbondale
Another Sundance prize winner, The Price of Free profiles Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, the noted anti-human trafficking activist, and his mission to end child slavery in India and provide refuge and education for the children his organization rescues. Watch the trailer here.
Leave No Trace
Thursday, September 27, 5 p.m. screening, 7 p.m. filmmaker discussion, Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
Debra Granik’s (Winter’s Bone) quietly piercing drama about an Iraq vet and his teenage daughter living off the grid is one of the most lauded films of the year. Watch the trailer here.
Post-screening, step beyond the perennial—and usually tedious—book vs. film debate (namely, which is better?) for an inside look into the adaptation process. In this special co-presentation with Aspen Words, author Peter Rock (My Abandonment) and film producer Linda Reisman (Leave No Trace) will discuss bringing Rock’s novel to the screen.
Read more about Leave No Trace here: Five New Must-See Movies
On Her Shoulders
Friday, September 28, 12 p.m., Isis Theatre, Aspen
With this Sundance winner, Alexandria Bombach (Frame by Frame, Filmfest 2015) returns to the Aspen screen with another portrait of courage. As the inadvertent spokesperson for her people, Yazidi refugee Nadia Murad finds herself suddenly thrust into the international human rights spotlight when she undertakes a whirlwind tour of political chambers and talk shows leading up to a critical U.N. hearing on refugees. A survivor of ISIS horror in her native northern Iraq, Murad has little time to grapple with the aftermath of her own trauma, so urgent is the need to argue the Yazidis’ case. With clear-eyed compassion, Bombach’s camera captures the sacrifice and unfathomable fortitude of a young woman caught in the tides of our time. Watch the trailer here.
Sunday, September 30, 5 p.m., Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
In his first English-language film, Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) tackles addiction and its impact on a family in this heart-rending father-son odyssey based on David and Nic Sheff’s best-selling memoirs. This fittingly relevant and thoughtful closing night choice explores the pernicious hold and emotional fallout of the disease. At its center are achingly true performances by the remarkable Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) and Steve Carell as his devoted father. Watch the trailer here. (Following the screening, Van Groeningen will receive this year’s Independent by Nature Award.)
Five Films We Haven’t Seen (Yet) But Want To
Tuesday, September 25, 5:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
Last spring Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida, Best Foreign-Language Oscar) won best director kudos at the Cannes Film Festival for his strikingly wrought Iron Curtain tale. Set in 1950s Eastern Europe and Paris, Cold War follows two musicians whose tempestuous love affair spans a decade. Critically lauded for its black-and-white cinematography, art direction, and a soundtrack brimming with period music, this film is definitely worth seeing on the big screen. Watch the trailer here.
Tuesday, September 25, 8:15 p.m., Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
Viola Davis stars in Steve McQueen’s much-anticipated heist drama, an update of Lynda LaPlante’s 1983 British series that he co-adapted with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects). In his first feature since 12 Years a Slave, artist-filmmaker McQueen (a 2015 Anderson Ranch keynote speaker) steps out of the art house with this revenge thriller. We expect this opening night selection to be smart entertainment with a twist: an infusion of McQueen’s trenchant commentary on race, gender, and class. Watch the trailer here.
This Mountain Life
Friday, September 28, 2:30 p.m., Isis Theatre, Aspen, and 5:30 p.m., Crystal Theatre, Carbondale
Filmgoers may remember Just Eat It (2014), Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer’s exposé on food waste by way of their own unusual six-month experiment. In this latest months-long adventure, the filmmaking duo explore British Columbia’s awe-inducing Coast Mountains and the equally inspiring people who live in them. Given Just Eat It’s unique sensibility, This Mountain Life has certainly piqued our interest. Watch the trailer here.
Saturday, September 29, 4:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
We’ve been waiting since May to see Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s newest film and the winner of the top prize at Cannes. Filmfest audiences may recall his film Like Father, Like Son (2013). A master of quietly observing small moments that accrue and deliver in surprising and resonant ways, Kore-eda’s humanism shapes another family-centered story of contemporary Japan through the eyes of its most marginalized. Watch the trailer here.
Sunday, September 30, 2 p.m., Isis Theatre, Aspen
How often do you get to experience a movie without the roadmap of reviews, stars, and media hype? This surprise screening is never what you expect, but it usually comes with some kind of pedigree (the cast, the director, a major festival accolade) that makes it well worth it a gamble. We’re in the dark but imagine that this year’s pick is no exception.
Filmfest runs September 25–30, with shows in Aspen and Carbondale. Tickets ($15, Aspen Film members, $20 general public; $20 Aspen Film members and $30 general public for opening and closing night features) are on sale now through Aspen Show Tix.
New this year is a Flex Pass ($350) valid for 10 ticket vouchers during any one of Aspen Film’s signature festivals; it includes a year-round membership. Also available: a Super Screener Pass ($150) for young professionals (35 & under), which includes access to all programs, panels, and receptions.
For the complete program and to purchase Aspen Filmfest passes or a year-round membership, visit aspenfilm.org.