Author Judy Blume isn’t just a culture changer. Effervescent and wise, the 85-year-old writer of YA lit (before it was a hot genre) is the star of “Judy Blume Forever.” Entertaining and revealing, the documentary by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok is the fitting and fun (and occasionally infuriating) opening night offering of the Women + Film Fest, which runs April 13-16.
It’s also timely: Earlier this week, the writer, who lives in Key West, Fla., pointedly criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his stance on the banning of some books in public schools.
The 14th installment of one of Denver Film’s most successful and enduring branded festivals features notable films (Sundance documentary winner “The Eternal Memory”); filmmakers (Kelly Reichardt and Maite Alberdi); and compelling subjects (sex researcher Shere Hite, Black Barbie and the abortion pill Plan C), while also bringing community members into the fold of one of the area’s largest year-round arts organization.
The festival “has been instrumental in allowing us to bring our community together to celebrate stories by and about women for everyone for two decades now,” said Denver Film CEO Kevin Smith in an email. “It truly has been a fantastic reflection of our mission to create entertaining and transformative experiences through the power of diverse voices in film.”
“I’m really excited about and proud of the event as a whole and all that we’ve put together,” says programming manager Ambriehl Turrentine, pointing out the festival’s Saturday marketplace, which features the wares of local, women-owned small businesses. Not that she was giving short shrift to the films. This year’s slate offers a well-curated mix of documentaries and narrative features as well as a slate of shorts that Turrentine touted. Here’s a cheat sheet.
Programmer’s choice: “Blue Jean,” directed by Georgia Oakley. Variety deemed this narrative feature about a lesbian physical education teacher only recently out when Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Party’s anti-gay Section 28 ruling takes effect. “A frank, piercing debut … that crisply evokes that climate of politically propagated homophobia without preserving it in amber.” Section 28 prohibited local authorities — in select schools — from “promoting homosexuality.” Screening is at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 14.
Support your local filmmakers: “Girl Talk,” directed by Lucia Small. The high school girls in this documentary definitely do not “beg to differ.” They are too fierce for that. Plus, that approach wouldn’t get them far in the male-populated world of competitive debate. Local film producers Dia Sokol Savage and Stephanie Sunata will attend the screening at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 16.
Critic’s pick: “Judy Blume Forever.” Directed by Pardo and Wolchok. Sure, the documentary provides a deep dive into the life and groundbreaking work of the author of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” But the filmmakers make clear that new generations keep finding truths in her treatment of puberty. Among the interviewees singing Blume’s praises: Samantha Bee, Tayari Jones, Molly Ringwald, Jacqueline Woodson and Lena Dunham. But it’s Blume herself who shines so brightly as she aims a searing light on the ongoing movement to ban books. It’s also a terrific primer before the big-screen adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” that opens at the end of the month. Screening is at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 16.
On this critic’s must-see list: “The Eternal Memory,” directed by Maite Alberdi. The deftly observant and compassionate Chilean director Maite Alberdi returns to the subject of human connection and frailty in her follow-up to the wonderful documentary “The Mole Agent.” In this Sundance Film Festival winner, she follows the relationship of journalist, national hero and cultural critic Augusto Góngora and his wife, Paulina Urrutia Fernández (an actor, academic and former minister of culture), after Góngora’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Closing night film at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 16.
“Monica,” directed by Andrea Pallaoro. Gifted actor Patricia Clarkson portrays the estranged mother of the titular character, a Midwestern trans woman (Trace Lysette of “Transparent”) who returns home after years away. Lysette will attend the screening at 4:15 on Saturday, April 15.
“Showing Up.” Kelly Reichardt and muse Michelle Williams make a comedy! That’s enough right there. But the terrific Hong Chau (“The Whale” “The Menu”) also stars in this film about a sculptor readying her work for a show and figuring out an elusive life-art balance. (2:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 16.)
IF YOU GO
Women + Film Festival. Narrative features, documentaries and shorts, in-person Q&As, Saturday marketplace and more. April 12-16 at the Sie FilmCenter. 2510 East Colfax Ave. denverfilm.org.
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