What a ride…Telluride!

There are as many ways to enjoy Telluride as there are reasons to go to this glorious mountain town: festivals, skiing, and nature!  For some visitors, it’s the stars…you feel so close to the star-filled sky in this village with it’s Dark Sky policy.  And then, there are the other Stars; the Film Stars that descend on this tiny town for the Telluride Film Festival every year.

Just like any other festival I’ve ever attended, film-goers flock to the screenings with the most glamorous guests.  Even in this rarified atmosphere of film as fine art and a welcome respite from the paparazzi, the screenings that fill up are the ones with the Big Names.  This makes seeing the really good films more difficult.  The bigger budget (and often, more mediocre) Hollywood films, screen multiple times and in all the big venues. When the true gems of the festival create a buzz, there’s little chance to see them in the remaining day or two, especially when those films are screening in the smaller houses!

Pablo Larrain, Joseph Cedar, Isabelle Huppert moderator: Annette Insdorf and Mia Hansen-Love

 

 

2016 was no different, but what a fabulous line-up of films!  The Arrival with Amy Adams was the one film that seemed to always have to turn away the crowds.  Three films that I really wanted to see, I didn’t make it to: Graduation, Toni Erdmann and Through The Wall.  I didn’t attempt to see some of the bigger films that will soon be released but I did enjoy the hot mess that is La La Land.   Amusing, romantic, and fanciful, it’s a fun Hollywood musical.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have great chemistry.   The score and choreography are wonderful. Sadly, it’s suffers from poor editing and the last third of the film is a muddled mess.  Still, it was a delight and I’d give it 4 coupe glasses of champagne (out of a possible 5).

My favorite film of the Fest: Inner Workings, the new short from Disney directed by Leo Matsuda!  Delightful, heartwarming and a complete story in it’s short running time. I’d rate it 5 margaritas (not during work) out of 5!

vqtmtpjy

In the features category, my heart belongs to Frantz! François Ozon has crafted an indelible film full of grief, loss and longing all set in a small German village shattered by the loss of life during WW2.  Using black and white cinematography to bring you into this period; the costumes, setting and acting seem so attuned to the time that it creates a documentary feel…and then when love and vitality touch the lives of the anguished young lovers (played with such sensitivity by Paula Beer and Pierre Niney), color brightens the screen and warms the mood.  I was swept away and found the story to be so rich that I wanted to see it again immediately.  5 German beers!

One film that I did end up seeing twice, and would rather have not seen at all…Bleed For This.  Aaron Eckhart gives a great supporting performance as the trainer to Miles Tiller’s underdog boxer in a soap opera of a tale that’s so loopy — it has to be true.  Ben Younger directs a cast of gum-snapping, beer-drinking stereotypes where alcoholism is cured with a short stay in the pokey.  Did we need another boxing movie?  Really?  1 can of Budweiser.

Una is an emotional roller coaster based on the play, Blackbird.  Almost a one-woman show, Rooney Mara is emotional-wrenching in her role as the young woman left frayed and broken by an encounter she still doesn’t fully comprehend.  As the small cast reveals the shocking details, the audience is along for the intimate, anguished reveal.  Master work by director Benedict Andrews.  5 shots of vodka…no chaser.  You’ll be shaken and stirred!

In the just-for-the-joy-of-it category: Lost in Paris.  Two physical comedians, Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, writer/directors, play characters named Fiona and Dom that keep careening into one another in Paris.  The French actress, Emmanuelle Riva, adds grace and depth to a film of childlike wonder. 3 bottles of French bubbly washed ashore.

Not a fan of the film Wakefield, I felt the character was a caricature of a man losing his grip on reality and Bryan Cranston gave a one-note performance in this unlikeable portrait. For a much more in-depth and believable parent and human being, there’s the soulful Isabelle Hubbert, radiant in her role of a woman who’s life is unraveling in Things To Come, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve.  Her performance has so many layers that you believe that her journey out of chaos will yield only stronger bounds with her family and an affirmation that she deserves a good life. 4 glasses of a good Bourdeaux!

All in all, a stellar year for the Telluride Film Festival.  So many films I wish I could’ve seen that I left with a feeling of yearning.  I look forward to seeing Manchester by the Sea when It’s released as I hear Casey Affleck’s performance is a revelation.

See you at the movies!

 

Moral of the story…seek out those Indies!

I love that this Indiewire post reflects the combined wisdom of 7 writers…and I agree with all of it. I wasn’t a fan of the The Lobster and I was bored with Love and Friendship, but there were some wonderful Independent films released this summer! Two of my favorites are still playing in some markets: Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Captain Fantastic–you must track them down! And treat yourself to the visual wonder of Kubo and The Two Strings!

9 Lessons Studio Films Should Take From The Indie World This Summer

It was the best of times for indies and the worst of times for blockbusters this summer. Here’s what studios need to learn.

FotorCreated

Much has been written about just how dismal this year’s summer movies have been, but one of the silver linings in such a poor season has remarkably been indies. Where blockbusters like “The Legend Of Tarzan,” “Warcraft” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” failed, indies such as “The Lobster,” “Cafe Society” and “Love and Friendship” succeeded. And while studios were certainly rolling in cash when it came to “Suicide Squad” and “The Secret Life Of Pets,” critics weren’t exactly impressed. It was a rough season for studio films, but it won’t be a total waste if executives can learn from their mistakes and start course correcting. Below, we look towards the indie world in order to offer up the biggest lessons for studio films.

1)  World-Building Needs To Be Organic To The Story (“The Lobster”)

One of the critical and commercial indie hits of the summer movie season, “The Lobster” sends a bold message to studios that world-building works most effective (and is better embraced) when the story and the universe unfold naturally, impacting the characters in real time and not shoehorning in facts and details that bombard the viewer and take them out of the movie. Studios’ world-building obsession has created blockbusters crammed with add-on scenes and forced cameos that exist merely to say, “Hey, look! This is the world we’re creating and this is the next movie coming up.” This isn’t world-building, it’s advertising, and the results are as strained as they are awkward, removing the viewer from being invested in the story. “The Lobster” manages to create its own entire universe, complete with its own rules for the way society works and its inhabitants interact, without ever calling attention to its exposition. It’s a natural flow of information that absorbs us into the story while constantly adding revealing layers to the characters. If only blockbusters could be so smart. – Zack Sharf

"Ghostbusters"

2) “Ghostbusters” Failed, But Audiences Still Love Female-Led Comedies  (“Bad Moms”)

One of the most troubling narratives to emerge from the summer movie season was all the “controversy” surrounding Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot, most notably how the film became a litmus test for the future of female-led comedies. “Ghostbusters” was not the box office success Sony needed, and reports say it will cost the studio at least $70 million, but that in no way means audiences aren’t hungry for more comedies with women front and center.

Just look at “Bad Moms,” which hails from up-and-comer STX Entertainment, an indie production and distribution company with its sights clearly set on the mainstream. Earning positive reviews and north of $90 million at the box office and counting, this raunchy mom comedy, starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn, is the official sleeper hit of the summer. “Bad Moms” proves that people will keep coming to the theater if your comedy delivers the laughs (regardless of gender), and it should encourage studios to keep on giving women the chance to get raunchy. – Z.S.

3) Hire Indie Directors And Don’t Compromise Their Vision (“Pete’s Dragon”)

When “Pete’s Dragon” director David Lowery spoke to our Eric Kohn about making the jump from his festival favorite “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” to a big screen — and big budget — version of the beloved Disney property “Pete’s Dragon,” he emphasized that the studio made it clear that they were making a David Lowery film. That’s sort of the dream result of an indie director like Lowery going blockbuster, a story we see time and again, and not always with the best results (Colin Trevorrow made a gajillion dollars with “Jurassic World,” but that film doesn’t really speak to much of a personal vision or brand, and Marc Webb frittered away some of his best moviemaking years trying to relaunch a Spider-Man franchise that just, well, wouldn’t).

Lowery is the outlier here, an indie filmmaker with his own vision and style who was able to translate that to a massive new feature, seemingly enabled and encouraged by the studio system that employed him. Disney’s dedication to hiring indie directors — Alex Ross Perry directing a “Winnie the Pooh” film still, admittedly, sounds sort of like a fever dream — is great, but they’re really making strides when they allow those directors to be themselves. Lowery was able to do just that this summer, and the result is one of the year’s best films, full stop. – Kate Erbland

"Love & Friendship"

4) Kate Beckinsale Is A Major Movie Star — Don’t Forget It (“Love & Friendship”)

Kate Beckinsale is one of many actresses Hollywood has forgotten what to do with, and this summer she proved why that’s a damn shame. Ever since tackling the role of Selene in 2003’s modest hit “Underworld,” Beckinsale has been kept in a purgatory mostly full of vampire sequels, middling genre fare (“Van Helsing,” “Total Recall”) and dopey horror-thrillers (“Whiteout,” the upcoming “The Disappointments Room”). She’s often the best part of these movies, but then a movie like “Love & Friendship” comes along to remind you that Beckinsale doesn’t need an arsenal of weaponry or cheap thrills to leave you speechless. With the elegance of Jane Austen and the wickedly clever cadence of Whit Stillman in her pocket, Becksinale reminded audiences just how commanding, magnetic and irresistible her talent can be. Lady Susan is no easy character to pull off — a venomous flirt who you still need to end up falling for — but Beckinsale perfected the art of being a charismatic firecracker. Hollywood would be wise to remember this kind of talent. She’s capable of so much. – Z.S.

5) People Only Want To Play Video Games, Not Watch Them (“Hardcore Henry”)

There’s still a residual hope that video games can become the can’t-miss adaptation fodder that their comic book counterparts have largely become. “Hardcore Henry” wasn’t tied to any specific preeexisting property, but its regenerative main character and first-person POV was one of the purest attempts to replicate the feeling of playing a video game while sitting in a movie theater. The $14.3 million box office draw didn’t quite rise to the fervor that met the film’s TIFF Midnight premiere last fall, sputtering in wide release with a historically dismal opening. “Assassin’s Creed” will be a helpful litmus test to see if this generation of video game movies has any domestic staying power, but after tepid critical response to “Hardcore Henry” and “Warcraft” being a misfire on multiple levels despite its talented young director, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the efficacy of translating this medium-specific experiences to the big screen, regardless of who’s at the helm and the size of its budget. – Steve Greene

6) Cast Older Actresses In Lead Roles (Sally Field, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith)

If you want to score with adult audiences, cast any number of women stars over 60 who keep pulling Baby Boomers to the multiplex. And “Florence Foster Jenkins” star Meryl Streep (age 67) isn’t the only one. Among the top indie grossers of 2016: “Eye in the Sky” (Bleecker Street, $18.7 million), Gavin Hood’s taut thriller starring Helen Mirren (71) as a British corporal fiercely chasing down terrorists with the help of American drone pilots; “Hello, My Name is Doris” (Roadside Attractions, $14.4 million), a romantic comedy starring Sally Field (69) as an older woman pursuing a younger office colleague; and “Downton Abbey” star Maggie Smith (81) in the dotty Alan Bennett role she originated decades ago, “The Lady in the Van” (Sony Pictures Classics, $10 million).

Last year, Sundance 2015 launched two $7 million hits starring Sam Elliott as the romantic interest of 72-year-old Blythe Danner (Bleecker Street’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) and (at one time) 76-year-old Lily Tomlin (Sony Pictures Classics’ “Grandma”). Studios would do well to remember that the core loyal demo who still has time to go out to movie theaters is older. Netflix gets it: Tomlin costars with Jane Fonda (78) in comedy “Grace and Frankie,” and the streaming service is reuniting Fonda with her frequent costar Robert Redford in the film “Our Souls at Night.” The studios deploy Mirren (“Red,” “Fast and Furious 8”) in supporting roles for the same reasons they hire her fellow-senior Morgan Freeman—she adds power and gravitas. Where’s that femme sequel to “The Expendables?” – Anne Thompson

7) Make Animation Look And Feel Exciting Again (“Kubo and The Two Strings”)

“Kubo and the Two Strings” may not have played a tune that multiplex audiences were eager to hear (the movie underperformed at the box office, raking in $92 million less than “The Secret Life of Pets” in its opening weekend), but Laika’s stop-motion masterpiece was music to my ears. In a world overrun with generic, soulless 3D animation — all round and plastic and insufferably cute — it was impossible not to be dazzled by the tactile quality of this story about a young boy on a quest for his samurai father’s armor. Kubo’s journey was as heartfelt as it was handmade, and this stunning late summer spectacle should serve as an urgent reminder that a little human touch goes a long way. – David Ehrlich

Hell or High Water

8) Patience Is A Virtue (“Hell Or High Water,” “The Childhood Of A Leader”)

Despite being drab and lifeless, many of this summer’s blockbusters trafficked in extreme violence that leveled metropolises: the mystical gods of “Suicide Squad” terrorized Midway City, Krang tried to level NYC in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” and the aliens of “Independence Day: Resurgence” sent the London Bridge falling down. But none of it resonated, given that all of these sequences boiled down to screeching CGI madness. What really succeeded were indies which valued quiet scenes over mayhem, so when violent moments broke out, they packed a true punch. Brady Corbet’s meditative “The Childhood of a Leader” took the relatively radical step of…introducing characters and letting them talk to each other. By the time a handful of stones in a child’s hand pulled the rug from under us, our voyeurism was shattered. And although David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” was a bank robbery tale, gunshots burned because they upset the rest of the film’s shaggy calm. Texas never looked so lovely as the night before our central characters’ biggest heist, as they’re drinking beer, wrestling, laughing and bullshitting. By creating quiet moments between characters you root for and empathize with, these films hit so much harder than thousands of faceless citizens fleeing extraterrestrial doom. – William Earl

9) Trust Actors Who Want To Direct (“Captain Fantastic”)

Actors have been moving behind the camera to direct films since the beginning of the motion picture industry, but rarely does the end product turn out as well as actor-writer-director Matt Ross’ crowdpleaser “Captain Fantastic.” The feel-good dramedy starring Viggo Mortensen as a radical father raising six children in isolation in the woods should serve as an important reminder that actors who can communicate a distinctive vision for an emotionally powerful story should be given the opportunity to realize that vision, even on the large scale of a studio film. In the case of “Captain Fantastic,” a performance-driven film that relies on the chemistry of an ensemble cast, having a director that has been in an actor’s shoes was arguably a huge advantage. Ross has also no doubt learned from working with some of the top directors in the business, including fellow actor-director George Clooney (“Good Night and Good Luck”), Whit Stillman (“The Last Days of Disco”), Terry Gilliam (“12 Monkeys”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Aviator”). Prior to winning best director in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes for “Captain Fantastic,” Ross directed the 2012 Sundance entry “28 Hotel Rooms.” – Graham Winfrey 

“Ab Fab” really Sad, Bad

images

Absolutely Fabulous, Sitcom
A show brilliant in its uncensored bad behavior and satirical humor, this series features Edina and Patsy, two hard-drinking, drug-taking, completely and outrageously selfish middle-aged women. Their cruel humor focuses on the hypocrisy of today’s society, much to the chagrin of Edina’s more moral and conservative daughter, Saffron.
First episode dateNovember 12, 1992
Final episode dateJuly 23, 2012
absolutely fabulous, the movie
Directed By: Mandie Fletcher
Written By: Jennifer Saunders
A film that strives to be a bigger, bolder version of it’s 30-minute sitcom series, Ab Fab is sadly, just louder, sadder and more frenetic. Granted, I have never found inebriated women falling down a laugh riot. Watching this film felt like recovering from a hangover with vapid people shouting inane things while wearing outlandish outfits…without the benefit of a cocktail or painkillers to relieve the headache.
Even if you’re a fan of the sitcom or a fashionista, the jokes are tired and the cameos do little to liven up the action. The best moments are the fantasy sequences when Edina (Jennifer Suanders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumleyare shown as powerful, desirable women.  Yes, they are still completely selfish hedonists but they’re also a lot of fun.  And the clothes are fabulous: tacky, loud and outlandish. If you haven’t seen the sitcom, you’d be hard-pressed to understand who many of these characters are, how they’re related or why they’d even put up with this chaos. Bubbles (Jane Horrockssteals the show with her outfits and snide comments but I found I was more exasperated than Saffron (Julia Sawalhawith the broads behaving badly schtick.
There are moments of levity. Watching the two of them hoover drugs and swill champagne while trying to think of outlandish solutions to their dilemma is amusing. Once the pair abscond with Lulu (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and more importantly, her Daddy’s credit card — the movie gets a needed boost from the beauty in Cannes. Plus there’s a sweet subplot with a marriage proposal that shows a much-needed, softer side to Patsy. A more daring approach would have been to show a genuine relationship develop there; character growth instead of just wish fulfillment.
Any genuine emotions expressed by the characters are negated by undermining the moment with a lazy reveal (it’s an empty bed, she’s really alive, she’s not a she) and a quick change of scene to more frenetic action. There’s lots of razzle dazzle and lord knows, no one is looking for substance beyond two sozzled, aging broads who genuinely seem to care for each other…but you may find yourself wishing for at least one of those champagne flutes with a topper of vodka!
Rating: one flute out of five

2015 Films: a strong year for Women in Film!

image

60 plus films this year. The plus is from all the films I was fortunate enough to see with my Press Badge…

I’m not a huge fan of lists. How does anyone classify the BEST films of the year anyway?!                                     It’s all about access and timing and personal preference. I felt this was a great year for women, both in front of and behind the camera. True, there are no women-directed films in the running for the coveted Oscar for Best Film. But there was a lot of strong work out there. And there was a welcome focus on the need for women and minorities to be SEEN and be given a place at the table.

Films that surprised me in 2015:

Mad Max: Fury Road: I was blown away by this film and found it to be the best in the franchise. With a woman in the lead to boot! This was one that you really needed to see on the big screen. Charlize Theron was brilliant but all the performances were fully-realized.  Here was full-throttle action with a feminist bent and I loved it.

Best Sequel: Pitch Perfect 2, with a great cast and almost as many funny moments, this film was directed by Elizabeth Banks. A little light on the “feels”, it could’ve used a little more emotional resonance and a little less of Hailee Steinfeld, playing the up-and-coming new member.

Grandma: Lily Tomlin has had a great year, on television and in this film. Her scene with Sam Elliott is a master class in acting. Paul Weitz pulled wonderful performances from the whole crew and the story was simply told; yet nuanced. For once, a young woman’s choice to have an abortion was not demonized, nor was it played as a choice she should be saved from…

Films that resonated with me:

Carol, The Danish Girl, Mustang, Sworn Virgin, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and Ex Machina: What do they all have in common?  A central character that’s a complicated woman; someone coming into their own and overcoming tremendous odds.  Death, loss of a child, loss of a childhood innocence, loss of husband as he becomes a she…even escaping sexual slavery to claim an identity.  All of these films feature an incredible performance by a leading lady or young lady that is worthy of a second viewing and gives me hope for women in film.

Heart of a Dog: Laurie Anderson’s meditation on love and death was a tone poem that worked cinematically. It left me feeling mournful but also uplifted.

I enjoyed the costumes and cinematography in Cinderella. I felt the best super hero movie was the unassuming, and full of heart, Ant Man.  Brooklyn was a charming film that I hope everyone will get to see. Saoirse Ronan continues to give such heart-felt performances and is radiant in this film.

I was saddened that so many of the Holiday-release films were so violent or depressing and I’m sorry that more people did not go to see Joy. The trailer was a mess and I don’t think they did a good job marketing the film. But hopefully, Jennifer Lawrence’s win at the Golden Globes will bring more people to this empowering film.

There were so many wonderful films in 2015 and as we all catch up on the ones we missed, I hope you’ll find some that challenge, delight and surprise you!

See you at the movies!

Telluride Film Festival 2015 — Films that linger in your mind…and some you wish you could rinse away

Telluride, ColoradoOne of the wonderful things about the Telluride Film Festival is it’s eclectic film program. Restored classics, silents accompanied by music, documentaries and foreign films all vie for attention beside the Hollywood Fall offerings that are trying to garner Oscar buzz. Sadly, there are too few days and too many film-goers, so you are forced to pick and choose. That often means missing some of the smaller, often better films because there’s no way to get into the smaller screening rooms without a pass.

I was grateful that I got to see Todd Haynes’ Carol, early on. This beautiful film with it’s amazing costumes by Sandy Powell and lush cinematography gave me a lovely art-directed-to-the-gills retreat from some of the harsher films.  Black Mass was a film I wouldn’t have chosen to see and the violence left a brain scar.  Yes, Johnny Deep was unrecognizable and there should be a make-up award in the works.  But who needs to see that violence, especially against hapless women, in a trite story that’s been told countless times… Do we need another gangster film?

My favorite films transported me to another place and time. Carol is set in 1950’s America and it’s production design is remarkable.  Viva was filmed in present day Havana, in the rough and tumble of a poorer neighborhood.  Both films have characters willing to hide their true nature to keep their families intact.  In Carol, Rooney Mara is a shop girl who falls in love with an older, sophisticated woman (played by Cate Blancett).  In Viva, Hector Medina is young hairdresser and aspiring drag performer who’s father returns and tries to control his life.  In both films, the stars give such honest performances; revealing a vulnerability that it draws you into their stories.  It’s their faces that you remember, the joy at realizing a dream and finding acceptance or finding love.  Different places, different times but a struggle for acceptance that most people can relate to…and rejoice in.

My other favorite film was Ixcanul, the story of a Guatemalan teen who’s pregnancy threatens a family’s livelihood.  There’s a wonderful mother/daughter bond and an unusual filming style with static shots that capture extended scenes of daily life This charming film is full of touching moments.  The director, Jayro Bustamante is raising funds to turn a chicken bus into a rolling movie theater to screen the film for Mayan audiences who would otherwise not get to see it.

There’s was an interesting coincidence at TFF, two of the films I enjoyed, Viva and Mom and Me were both directed by Irish men.  Paddy Breathnach, directed Viva in Spanish and Ken Wardrop directed his film by way of the internet.  He found his subjects thru research online and traveled to Oklahoma to film his documentary.  It’s a delightful film about the loving relationships that some men have with their mothers.  It made me wonder why he didn’t make the film in Ireland where there would seem to be many “momma’s boys” but it also made me wish that all countries had such supportive Film Boards as the Irish Film Board!

Time to Choose is another great documentary, with a hopeful message about Climate Change.  Director Charles Ferguson lays out three areas where we’re really failing in the care-taking of our planet and offers advice on how changes to improve our world will also improve individual lives.  It was a pleasure to have a film about such a dire topic presented with facts and figures and heart-breaking footage, but also with concrete steps we as individuals can take.  It’s all about educating consumers to wield the almighty dollar and fight for change.

I didn’t see many of the Hollywood films as I was trying to focus on the smaller independent and foreign films.  I found Steve Jobs a bit exhausting.  Great performances by Kate Winslet and Michael Fassbender with snappy dialogue but almost assaultive in it’s rapid-fire delivery.  It’s interesting that the documentary Jobs is in theaters now. The discussion with the filmmakers and stars was a hoot.  Aaron Sorkin kept stealing the show but Kate Winslet was very funny.

I wish I’d gotten into see Suffragette as I really enjoyed the talk given by Meryl Streep, director Sarah Gavron and writer, Abi Morgan.  It’s so wonderful to see a female-dominated cast and production crew working in Hollywood.  One of the producers, also a woman, stood up to tell a young aspiring female director “Don’t let anyone tell you–you can’t.  They told us we couldn’t film in the House of Parliament and we hustled and we fought and we DID.  Don’t let them tell you, you can;t.  Tell them you CAN.”

I really enjoyed Marguerite, directed by Xavier Giannoli with the fabulous Catherine Frot. Set in 1920’s France, this fun film about a wealthy patron of the arts who thinks she can sing opera left the audience singing opera on their way out of the theater.  Great costumes and fabulous sets, the supporting actors all gave wonderful performances.  I was surprised to learn that it’s also been filmed by an American studio and was just picked up for distribution by Paramount at a private screening in Toronto.  This version stars Meryl Street and Hugh Grant: Florence Foster Jenkins

I was lucky to see nine films in my six days in Telluride.  I thought Laurie Anderson’s directorial debut, Heart of a Dog was a lovely meditation on the acceptance of death.  I really enjoyed the documentary on Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut, and was glad that I left after the beginning of Wake in Fright — killing kangaroos is not for me. There was only one I regret seeing, Black Mass, and many more I wished I could’ve seen.  Overall, I’d say the TFF program was not as strong as last year but the trip was worth it to spend time with some of my favorite people.  The festival has some serious issues that it needs to address in the way it treats it’s staff and patrons but it’s a great festival and such a special place to see a wonderful and eclectic program.

The Good, The Bad, and the Soggy — 42nd Telluride Film Festival

Yes, they call it The Show. As in, let’s go out to the barn and put on show!  With 800 plus volunteers and staff and 9 venues plus an open-air screening and discussion space in a park, TFF should really be referred  to as The Circus!SHOWMedallion_FinalAs a returning volunteer, part of the Show Corps, I get an insiders view of the machinations that this festival undertakes every year.  The crew transforms the small town of Telluride into a showplace for film.  They create a theater out of an ice rink, three theaters inside schools and every meeting hall and library screening room is utilized.  Banners and flags line the streets, lights are hung everywhere and concession stands are created in parking lots.  There’s even the Big Tent; the Brigadoon, that is the gathering spot for Passholders, Patrons and Sponsors.

This year there was a great App called “The Show” that was a big help in navigating the festival.  There was a calendar feature with TBA’s loaded every night between 8-9pm.  The films were listed alphabetically and by theater with a handy Talking Heads section for Conversations and discussions in the park. The best feature is Show Seats: a reckoning of the real time availability of seats in a particular theater based on how many “Q” cards have been handed out. A great gauge for whether a trek down to the Palm theater is a waste of time or if there’s a chance to see the next screening.

poster

The poster and  t-shirt have a great design and color, with a bear wandering into town to check out the old-fashioned theater venue.  Apropos, as there were bear sightings early in the week.  Badges also featured upgraded design with photos more prominent and bar codes for scanning at theaters for the new app feature, Show Seats.

Besides the two days of on again, off again rain, what really put a damper on this year’s festival was staff morale.  Having not found a space big enough to host our Clubhouse this year, the festival decided to do away with volunteer meals.  This meant there was no gathering spot with free wi-fi and clean bathrooms, no place to retreat for breaks and to build camaraderie with other staff….but also a general feeling that sponsor dollars were being spent on a $10,000 cake while staff was expected to be happy with 10% off at two markets.

Training Day staff meal was pathetic.  A 45-minute wait for a food truck meal of veggie burger or meat patty, fries, salad and curry soup with crowded benches in an empty lot.  Food was served with garbage and recycling bins lining the waiting area.  There was another meal for everyone but the amount of food at the Opening Night Feed was embarrassing: one skewer of veggies or chicken, a corn muffin, a grilled corn cob and a delicious jicama salad that was doled out sparsely.  The Labor Day picnic had more salad options but the ice cream ran out quickly. When volunteers have traveled so far and many of them are camping, having no staff meals meant some grumpy workers!

There was also far less training.  New staff were given general orientation but at the All Staff meeting (which lasted 45 minutes last year), there was a teary welcome and acknowledgement of the sacrifices and hard work put in by staff by Julie Huntsinger, festival director–with no mention of the lack of meals and the short notice of that decision.  Then a benediction from festival patron Ken Burns, a heart-felt message from long-time staffer,  Peter Sellars and a staff photo.  As we gathered in groups divided by venues, there was some quick direction by each manager and that was that.  All of concessions was grouped into one large cluster outside with the manager quietly handing out manager binders and no mention of any new changes or updates or introductions.

The rain must’ve kept folks away the first two days, when staff was told to stay away from premieres, because both Sunday and Monday, all the films seemed to be at capacity.  Staff was shut out.  I stood in three lines at three of the smaller theaters and was turned away.  Even some of the larger venues like the Palm and Chuck Jones had to turn both staff and Passholders away.

The festival went cashless this year.  Meaning that to purchase concessions or single film tickets, you needed plastic.  The problem with this new policy is that the iPad were difficult to charge, did not always get on a wi-fi signal and ticket sales had to have a signature. When there are 70 people waiting to get into the Warner Hertzog theater and there’s only ONE person with one iPad, well, you can imagine that it was a long wait.  And the show started before everyone who wanted a ticket to purchase one.  Empty seats in the theater and unhappy festival attendees–what an awful combination.  I hope there’s a solution next year!

Outdoor screenings and talks were drippy affairs and with no screen up to project the discussions on….fans had to strain their necks on the sidelines or crowd the stage at the end to actually see the people on stage.  With Amazing Grace cancelled, the documentary, Sherpa was given a boost by being moved indoors to fill that spot on the program.  The final screening outdoors of Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, an experimental autobiography/meditation on death was sparsely attended.  And many staff were just too exhausted and/or fed-up to attend the Closing Night Party.

Were there less films in this year’s program or just fewer standouts?  Besides the big Hollywood screenings: Carol, Black Mass, Spotlight, Suffragette, Steve Jobs, Room and 45 Years,there seemed to be fewer documentaries. The festival buzz was strong for Rams, a dark comedy about Icelandic sheep farmers and Ixcanal, the Guatemalan coming-of-age film about a young girl and her parents.

I adore the newest Pixar short, Sanjay’s Super Heros and enjoyed seeing a new Bill Plympton short.  I was sad to not see the Student Short program which I heard was outstanding, but glad to miss some of the more esoteric fare and the avante garde cinema like The Picture, with random close-ups paired with a cacophony of sound created by the Alloy Orchestra.  It was first time I saw entire rows of film-goers exiting the theater.

More about the films in another post…suffice it to say, it was an off year for this film festival.