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Aspen Filmfest to screen 25 films

A coming-of-age movie musical set in the 1960s to 30 Beatles' songs; a father taking care of his daughters as his wife serves in Iraq; a four-year-old child art prodigy who could rival Picasso; an Irish musician playing country and western music to salvage his unfilled dreams; and two stellar screen talents in a special sneak preview comprise a sample of the highly diverse, culturally rich gems of the 29th annual Aspen Filmfest.
Feature film dominates with 17 of the 25 entries, providing a rich tapestry of incredible performances from the U.S. and abroad. Aspen Filmfest will be held September 25-30, with screenings at the Wheeler Opera House and the Isis Theatre in Aspen and the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.

"I am always amazed at how ordinary people achieve extraordinary feats in complex times, and these movies proudly embrace what being human looks, sounds and feels like - at their messy, awkward, joyful, troubling, humorous, complicated best," observes Executive Director Laura Thielen. "All the filmmakers celebrate their characters' dreams and triumphs while never shying away from their contradictions and shortcomings. They are portrayed by a rich diversity of actors, all playing an amazing gamut of human emotions, at times outside their comfort zone and film personas."

John Cusak turns in an achingly poignant performance as a Mr. Mom to his two daughters while his wife serves in Iraq in Sundance's Audience Award winner, and Filmfest's late addition, Grace is Gone. Laura Linely and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver marvelously calibrated performances as siblings who are suddenly plucked from their self-absorbed lives and forced to take care of their father, Philip Bosco, in the closing film The Savages. Vince Vaughn ditches his comedic persona in director Sean Penn's road epic Into the Wild. Frank Langella is superb as an elderly, reclusive novelist who succumbs to graduate student Lauren Ambrose in Starting Out in the Evening. Michael Caine and Jude Law become locked in a devious, and deadly, duel of wits in Kenneth Branagh's bold update of Sleuth. And engaging performances by a talented ensemble cast make Small Engine Repair a gem of a film.

Crowning this year's program, Oscar-winner Julie Christie will be honored with Aspen Filmfest's Independent by Nature Award in recognition of her lifelong contributions to modern cinema.
Renowned interviewer and journalist Charlie Rose will be onstage with Christie at the award ceremony on Saturday, September 29 at the Wheeler Opera House. A gala dinner follows at The Little Nell to benefit Aspen Film, a non-profit organization. For benefit tickets please call 970-925-6882 x 105. Christie also gives a beautifully nuanced performance in the cinematic poem of love and loss in the unusual love story Away from Her, which is one of Filmfest's two free community screenings.

"We also have excellent performances by some really big cats - lions and leopards to be exact," Thielen says. "We are honored to have National Geographic Explorers-in Residence, award-winning wildlife filmmakers and ardent conservationists Beverly and Dereck Joubert in person at a special presentation on Friday, September 28, at 5:30 p.m., showcasing their latest documentary Living with Big Cats, narrated by Jeremy Irons. They will talk about researching and capturing wild Africa on film, revealing a side of the natural world and its most majestic inhabitants that is usually hidden from us." As an extra bonus, filmgoers will be treated to another of the Jouberts' multi award-winning documentaries, Eye of the Leopard, at the second of Filmfest's free community screenings.

Also on Friday night at 9:00 p.m., co-producer/actress and part-time resident Judith Light will be joined by director Robert Cary, producer Herb Hamsher and writer Robert Desiderio on stage at the screening of their moving new film Save Me. This emotionally evocative story tells how love, faith and truth can shape and change character.

Additional guest appearances continue on Sunday, September 30. Writer/director Niall Heery, coming from Ireland, will appear at the screening of his film Small Engine Repair. He paces this character-driven story like a bittersweet ballad. (He will also be present at the Carbondale screening on Thursday, September 27.)

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins will be on hand later Sunday evening to attend her funny and moving family drama The Savages. She achieves a rare storytelling feat, making us laugh and cry at the same time. It's no wonder that this, her second feature, is gaining strong critical acclaim.

Documentaries have always been the pride of the Aspen Filmfest and this year is no exception, with many recognized award winners from the festival circuit among the seven chosen. The featured documentaries comprise an eclectic mix of compassion and perseverance around the world. We visit civil war torn Northern Uganda to discover a remarkable tale of the transformative
power of music and dance in War/Dance. In the remote borderlands of Thailand, we encounter a Thai boxer turned devout Buddhist who devotes his life to saving troubled youths in Buddha's Lost Children. We examine the heart-warming story of the complex relationship between an Israeli filmmaker and his father as they retrace the elder's WWII campaign through Italy, Germany and Holland in Souvenirs. We visit a dilapidated Danish country estate owned by a retired priest who dreams of converting it into a Russian Orthodox retreat in The Monastery. We return to the United States and revisit the 1968 Democratic Convention in the archival/animated hybrid Chicago 10. We explore the many-faceted debate of what makes art, and question the media's creation and destruction of "everyday celebrity" and the ethics of documentary storytelling in My Kid Could Paint That.


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