Why Telluride Film Festival is now my favorite…

I’ve been working film festivals for 20+ years and this year, I finally made it to the Telluride Film Festival.  Why, oh why, did I not make it sooner?!!The Show--TFF41

The scenery is phenomenal.  The program is extraordinary.  The comradery between staff and volunteers is so congenial as to be contagious to attendees…and did I mention the glorious sunsets and the STARS?  Both the literal ones that sprinkle in the deep black of night, and the world-famous (members of the Film Legend Club) walking casually down the streets of Telluride.  There is something about the brevity of the festival (only four days this year!) and the numerous screening venues that all movie-goers must trek to (gondolas, bicycles, a leisure stroll down the main street) to view the amazing films that adds an intensity to the experience.  I had read that there was a controversial announcement that Toronto International Film Festival wouldn’t screen ANY film that had it’s festival premiere elsewhere (ie @ Telluride, which opens the week before TIFF!) but one of the festival favorites was at both: The Imitation Game.

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Show Locations

There is no way any film lover can see ALL the films at Telluride but the festival staff does try hard to make the most popular films accessible by having repeated screenings.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing that there was one more day…maybe two…to make it to a few more screenings!  But isn’t it better to be left wanting more?

Films I missed that I really wanted to see: Dancing Arabs, Red Army, ’71 and Wild Tales

Films I could have missed: The Homesman (Why, Hilary Swank, why?), Foxcatcher (why, Steve Carell, Why?)

And my favorites: the thrilling Imitation Game, the surprisingly-good Birdman and the gripping Look of Silence!

TBA Schedule

Was it really only FOUR days? Telluride Film Festival 41

So many remarkable things happened in such a short period of time during my trip to Telluride, that it felt as if I’d been gone for weeks rather than days!  Beginning with the amazing setting and incredible weather that left me wandering dazed along the mountain paths reluctant to even venture indoors–and ending with warm embraces from people who’d been mere acquaintances days ago!

I really lucked out with my assignment: concessions at the lovely Sheridan Opera House.  Suzanne Cheathers was the manager and, in her first year in the position, a total delight to work with — it was a tiny staff in a tiny venue and we quickly all became close (in both proximity and spirit!).  Hearing of my white-knuckle drive late at night to my B & B in Rico, Suzanne invited me to stay with her instead!  Working in such a small venue, the screenings had an intimate feeling and many of the shows were once-in-a-lifetime occasions: restorations, silent films, documentaries with filmmakers in attendance.  I enjoyed seeing Too Much Johnson, Joyful Laughter and Ed and Pauline (directed by Christian Bruno & Natalija Vekic) about Pauline Kael!  And the documentary that Gina Leibrecht finished after Les Blanks’ death called How to Smell a Rose.The Sheridan Opera House

There is no way to see all the films you want to at the Telluride Film Festival but I was so glad I stayed for the late screening of The Look of Silence, the companion film to Joshua Oppenheimer’s extraordinary The Act of Killing.  This film is unlike anything in the documentary world in it’s exploration of truth and consequences.  Listening to Joshua speak about his filmmaking crusade, a journey years in the making and hearing how he put himself at risk was extraordinary.  Then to watch Adi, the subject of the film, struggle with tears and deep despair, try to explain his motivation in being in the film–wow, what a remarkable experience.

The buzz of the festival surrounded a few films: Wild Tales, Dancing Arabs, Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater and my favorite of the festival: The Imitation Game.  Two films with big stars drew mixed reviews: Foxcatcher and Homesman and sadly, not many seemed to like Wild.  An oft repeated joke was “I wasn’t wild about Wild”,  I found the panels, free to attend and outdoors in the park, one of the highlights.  Packed with talent and star-power, it was a gathering of people that you’d never see together at any other event: national and international directors and stars chatting away about their influences and inspirations!  Ethan Hawke was so impressed with the array of talent on the panel he sat on, that he could barely talk about his film–he kept saying how overwhelmed he was! 2014-08-30 12.36.09 2014-08-31 12.45.18 2014-08-31 12.45.35 2014-08-31 12.45.58

The program was not just remarkable, it was also unusual in it’s presentation.  Key films with expected audience-draw (and often star-studded) played in the larger venues but the additional screenings of each film were driven by attendance.  A surprise hit like Wild Tales (a darkly-comic film of six stories from Argentina) was moved from a small venue to a larger one and even replaced Birdman, which has more star power!  Additional screenings were added on the last day of the festival — left deliberately open for To Be Announced Screenings — that were driven by how packed the first screenings.were and how many people had to be turned away.  Saturday, two films had repeat screenings in the packed slate of films, Sunday, there were 10 films with repeated screenings and Monday was almost entirely, repeated screenings of some of the most well-attended films…

Telluride is not an easy place to travel to.  There’s a tiny airport with expensive flights, nearby towns are still a mountain-drive away and festival passes sell out quickly.  This keeps attendance to a manageable size and provides a certain cache to the festival.  Press have to buy passes to attend and paparazzi are discouraged.  Jon Stewart felt comfortable walking around town talking to visitors.  Screenings are packed with filmmakers such as Ken Burns, Mike Leigh and Francis Ford Coppola and you may find yourself sitting next to Leonard Maltin or Werner Herzog!  Staff return to favorite positions year after year and form a team of volunteers that are fiercely proud of the festival and protective of it’s reputation as a world-class event.  Telluride Film Festival is an amazing event in an amazing place made possible by the generous patronage of some well-heeled cultural icons and the dedication of a hard-working crew of hundreds.The Show--TFF41

Trip to Telluride–festival fervor and what I should’ve remembered to bring…

This was my first time to Telluride, CO and my first time to the Film Festival!Staff badge

Google Maps claimed it was 6 hours, 19 minutes from Boulder.  I clocked more than 7 hours in the car.  Amazingly, my ’97 Chevy Cavalier with 214,000 miles made the journey over and around the mountains pretty well.  I started off at 6am with a glorious sunrise on the Flatirons and was soon climbing into the mountains.  Taking I-70 to I-50 just in case my car did decide to overheat — I drove thru rain, then freezing rain near Vail (30 degrees!) and thru many tunnels.  There was a lot of road construction, lovely wild sunflowers on the sides of the road and even rafters on the river!  It was a strange trip traveling 70 miles an hour and having locals race around me but then slowing to 35 mph in the construction zones and over the winding roads.  It was an appropriate way to celebrate my anniversary of arriving in Colorado–one year ago today!!

I arrived minutes before the new staff meeting so I parked in the median (for Festival Staff only, and SOOO not meant for me) and raced into the Sheridan Opera House.  Lots of newbies, many from both coasts.  Fun to learn some of the Telluride Inscrutables: Vespucci, Brigadoon, Felix… My afternoon was soon a race from venue to car to venue to food to screening.  I quickly realized that the one sweater I brought was not going to be enough.  And why did I not think to bring a flashlight?!  The stars are just amazing but it’s DARK here and there are BEARS!

The most incongruous, but interesting moment, was hearing an EMT (and the coroner of Telluride) talk about “edibles” and how to handle any “freak outs” or overdoses.  With marijuana legal in CO, there have been far too many instances of out-of-state visitors trying edible marijuana and having panic attacks or full-blown psychotic episodes!  Who knew?!  We all felt better informed and it’s good to know that there are safety measures in place for all sorts of emergencies here–even hazmat teams for accidental (or purposeful) use of bear spray.Werner Hertzog Theater -- once the ice rink!

The staff screening was Birdman directed by Alejancro Inarritu.  I really enjoyed it — a unique soundtrack of percussion and an unusual blending of stage and screen; surreal and fantastic! There are some believable and heart-felt performances by Edward Norton, Emma Stone and a remarkable performance from an actor who’s not been on the big screen in a long while: Michael Keaton!  

A feel-good film about fame, family and truth-telling, Birdman is a wonder of cinematography and editing!  Inarritu cast the film in such a way as to play with audience’s perceptions of the actor’s and their previous roles and reputations.  There were multiple levels of meaning in having a former “Batman” playing an action hero (“Birdman”) in need of a come-back role.  The film has an ending that can be seen as a dream or derided as too-Hollywood-feel-good and some may feel over-whelmed by the shifts in tone and flights of fancy.  To me, it felt as if it was left for personal interpretation and I look forward to discussing it with you!

Rating: 3 highballs–but not to be consumed on stage!

Bechdel Rating: passes

Things to bring to Telluride on YOUR visit: warm clothes, sunscreen, hiking shoes, a flash light — if at all possible, come up a day early to acclimate and enjoy the scenery!  A place to stay in-town is preferable to driving 40-minutes on winding, elk-infested mountain roads to stay in Rico…even if it’s way cheaper! 

Gorgeous setting for a film festival