Festival buzz–Telluride

Destroyer/Can You Ever Forgive Me conversation

Director Marielle Heller, Melissa McCarthy –“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Nicole Kidman, Director Karyn Kusama –“Destroyer”

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache

Director Pamela E Green, “Be Natural”

Robert Redford, Director David Lowery, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck,  writer David Grann

Writer David Grann, Director Ed Zwick, subject Liz Gilbert, Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell

Patima Tungpuchayakul, Tun Lin, Jeffrey Waldron, Shannon Service, “Ghost Fleet”

The wonderful thing about film festivals is the discoveries…the films you haven’t heard anything about and filmmakers that can share their stories in person. Kicking off the fall festival season, most of us can’t afford to travel to Venice and Toronto Film Festival can be overwhelming. Telluride is a trek — but you don’t need your passport! Here in this tiny mountain town, film lovers begin to build the award season buzz.

It’s challenging to try to see as many films as you want, often you’re too far back in line or there’s a limited amount of seats. That builds an excitement over which films to try to see and everyone seems to have a strategy. As you stand in line with filmmakers, film fans and festival lovers, the one question asked is “What’s been your favorite film?” This year at Telluride, the buzz was for First Man, Can You Ever Forgive Me and Roma. The smaller films that were getting high praise were Shoplifters, Cold War and Girl.

There was talk of this being Nicole Kidman’s year. She has two disparate roles; as the Baptist wife with tall blond hair and lacquered nails in Boy Erased and unrecognizable as the drab damaged detective in the dark L.A. noir, Destroyer. Melissa McCarthy was also almost unrecognizable in person; til she smiled. She’s lost a lot of weight and was a charming guest which made her performance as the hard-drinking forgery artist all the more impressive. The New Yorker writer David Grann was in many conversations as two films, The Old Man & The Gun  and Trail by Fire were based on his articles. The many conversations and interviews, in the park and after the film screenings, add to our enjoyment of the films by revealing layers of meaning and interesting anecdotes shared by the filmmakers.

Two documentaries that I had the pleasure of seeing made my top 10 list. Ghost Fleet, about slave labor in the international seafood industry, stars the heroic Patima Tungpuchayakul. She started a human rights organization to protect children in Thailand from forced labor but she and her husband have spent the last few years traveling to sea in the attempt to free the captives on commercial fishing boats. Many never leave the ships and die at sea but thousands have been rescued and returned home.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache is a fascinating documentary with inventive effects and title sequences that move the story at break-neck speed. Director Pamela E. Green has been researching the first woman filmmaker for more than 10 years and her film uncovers amazing details and reconnects many of her contemporary ancestors. A must-see for anyone interested in this forgotten trail blazer of cinema. Alice Guy-Blache directed thousands of films in France and the United States and even ran her own movie studio. Be Natural is a resounding call to rewrite our history to restore Alice Guy-Blache to her rightful place as the first woman filmmaker.

What films made your Top 10 at Telluride? What films will build audience anticipation as the Fall Festival Season continues…we shall see.

Based on a true story–Films at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

43 films screened over 4 days for the 45th Telluride Film Festival. 10 of those 43 were excellent documentaries, but another 12 were films based on true stories. The most Hollywood of these, First Man is the star-spangled story of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by the talented Damien Chazelle (La La Land). It was very well-received. Trail by Fire, directed by Ed Zwick  and driven by amazing performances by Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, was absolutely riveting. I’m so glad I saw it before it starts being dismissively described as the anti-death-penalty film. It deserves a wide audience.

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, directed and shot most of his autobiographical film, Roma. Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as “writing his personal story with a camera”, which seems quite apt. It’s a lovely black & white period piece revealing an upper-middle class family’s daily struggles through the eyes of their caring maid. Each scene is populated with so many details of their lives — we get to visit a turbulent time in Mexico City and in this young woman’s life. There’s so much drama and tension that the 2 1/2 hours flies by. I’m thankful that it’s a Netflix film and I’ll be able to watch it again.

Standing in the rain for an hour sharing an umbrella with a stranger was worth it to see The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery). It was a treat to see Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in person. They have delightful chemistry in this sweet film about a bank robber and escape artist who can’t retire from the thrill of the chase. Redford stated that this is indeed his last acting role, though he’ll still produce and maybe direct. That gave the film a lovely sentimental feel as there are photos of a younger Redford used to illustrate his character’s past. Casey Affleck is particularly good as the detective trying to catch the bank robbers who develops a rapport with the gentleman criminal.

If you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll to get a kick out of The Favourite. Queen Anne rules the 18th Century English Court but it’s her consort who’s making the real decisions. Played with petulance, emotional neediness and disdain, Olivia Colman is a powerful and fickle Queen. Vying for a place in her bed and in her court are the penniless lady, Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin to the powerful Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Great roles for three powerful performers and I enjoyed the wicked banter and court intrigue. There are many extended close-ups of Olivia Colman’s face and it’s amazing to watch the emotional storms sinking her sanity. I could’ve done without the showy camera flourishes as it took me out of the story but the costumes (Sandy Powell) are sumptuous.

My final film of the festival was Boy Erased. This family drama is based on Garrard Conley‘s memoir brought to the screen by another multi-hyphenate talent, Joel Edgerton. He directs the screenplay he wrote; he also has a starring role as the director of a religious gay conversion center.  Lucas Hedges, portraying another damaged young man (Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) gives another emotionally revealing performance. When he’s forcibly outed at college after a traumatic incident, his Baptist preacher father (a solid Russell Crowe) convinces his mother (Nicole Kidman) to admit him to the conversion center. The loving relationship between mother and son is sorely tested when she learns what’s happening as staff try to sublimate the sexual urges of the clients. It’s an emotional journey with another great Nicole Kidman performance as she reconciles her love for her son with her love and duty as a Baptist wife. I’m looking forward to seeing The Miseducation of Cameron Post for the female viewpoint (directed by Desiree Akhavan) on conversion therapy set in an earlier time but still dealing with this shameful practice.

More Telluride reviews coming soon…

So you want to go to the SHOW…

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The 45th Telluride Film Festival, the cinema smorgasbord in the tiny Colorado mountain town, is a true labor of love. Hundreds of volunteers transform schools, a conference center and a skating rink into theaters. Volunteers come from all over Colorado and many from out of state. In exchange for 30 hours of work over the four days of Labor Day weekend, SHOWCorps volunteers enjoy swag (t-shirt, backpack, water bottle, snacks, treats) and most importantly, a Staff Badge.

Why dedicate your vacation time and make the trek up to the mountains to share a hotel room or sleep on a couch or camp in the cold? It’s a long weekend of working in theaters, at events, in the tents and information booths. A demanding job for those schlepping all the trappings of the SHOW! We do it because it’s a chance to reconnect with our friends that we may only see once a year. We do it for the joy of being around other film aficionados; discussing film, seeing film, experiencing film conversations with filmmakers and guests–up close and personal. Stars can walk the streets free of paparazzi and they can relax a little, shielded from requests for selfies and autographs.

Telluride Film Fest Swag

A Festival pass is your entry into the Passholder Line. There you stand with other film buffs waiting patiently for your Queue so you can rush off to grab another coffee or scarf a scone/a falafel/anything to keep from eating more popcorn. No pass and you’re doomed to join the Ticket Buyer line. Occasionally, after all the Passholders have gone in, there are seats that can be sold at a premium price ($35) to those with the fortitude to wait. This is your only choice if you didn’t shell out the big bucks for a Festival Pass or join the ShowCorps.

This year, there seemed to be an increase in complaints from everyone from all the ranks about the number of full screenings that they were turned away from…a crushing disappointment if you’ve waited in the rain or made it ALMOST to the front of the line. Has Telluride Film Festival become too popular? Is there space to add another venue or increase the size of any of the screening halls? What I do know is–the volunteers and staff that create this Cinema Heaven so close to the stars; they will keep coming every year. And so will I.

 

 

Ticket in hand, why is it so hard to get to my theater seat? Film Festival navigation 101

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Red carpet for filmmakers to walk…no, not YOU! You go get in line!

Movie-goers are accustomed to purchasing tickets online a few hours before a show or at the door. Then you show your ticket and waltz right in to get your popcorm and find your theater seat. Easy peasy.

Film Festivals are an animal of another color. Tickets must be purchased well in advance or you risk finding out your film is at RUSH (Sold Out expect for the brave souls waiting to purchase last minute tickets). Once you pick up your tickets and make it to the theater, what do you find? Lines, lines, lines. Usually there’s a Members Only line, a general admission line, a Will Call line and a Rush line…all of one screening. There are always more than one screening, so the lines are long and often intimidating.

Telluride Film Festival has giant queues but hands out queue cards and patrons are very good about lining up in order and respecting their place in line. At Mill Valley Film Festival, the lines snake around the block but filmgoers are discussing what films to see and are usually pretty amicable. Denver Film Festival has a problem in their signature theater, the SIE Film Center because the lobby is so small. The screening rooms are also small but if one show runs late and two shows are trying to load, oy vey!

Another issue for all film festivals is getting from one screening to another. Telluride Film Festival has an app that lets you estimate the time from one screening location to the other and what your chances are to get into that film. For other film festivals where you must get in a car (or a Lyft) and drive across town (or to another town for MVFF), you must carefully plan your screenings to leave time for traffic, parking, etc. For instance, yesterday I had a screening at the SIE, After an hour in line, I was finally seated, and the screening only started 10 minutes late. But my next screening was at the Denver Pavilions and it was 5:30pm! Yes, I made it to the parking lot in time but the line to PAY for parking was 12 deep and full of Friday night dating couples. There was no way to make it inside to my screening.

This year, I’ve missed a lot of screenings due to filmmaker Q&A’s going long, movies starting late and films booked back to back with no room for dilly dallying. Good thing there’s always another film in a few hours…and a coffee shop or bar to discuss the last screening. As a programmer, I know I’ve scheduled films too close…as a film attendee, I know I’ve purchased tickets to screenings that in hindsight, I’d need a teleporter to make on time. So take a word of caution, leave time for lunch or cocktails and space your films appropriately!

Happy Festivaling!

 

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!

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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!

 

Telluride Film Fest 2015

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This is only my second year at TFF and there have been some changes.
It’s a stellar program this year,  staff are as friendly and welcoming as always and I love the poster and marketing materials.
But the festival is not feeding the majority of staff. This perk has been withdrawn.

There is no Clubhouse and though we do have free coffee, tea and kombucha at a food truck parked in a small empty lot, staff meals will be sorely missed.
It was a chance to build camaraderie with the other departments and discuss film – going strategy. We all know it was expensive and we were told a week before arriving that they had not been able to find space (with a working kitchen) that could accommodate 800 plus staff and volunteers.

So it’s upscale Lunchables (prosciutto, cheese and pretzels), popcorn and soda to power us through the four days.
There is still the Opening Night Feed and the Labor Day picnic but it may be a soggy affair with all this rain.

Still, the swag bags this year are impressive: backpacks filled with snacks, suncreen, chapstick and a cool waterbottle. Plus a hat, t-shirt and commerative poster. 10% off at a few markets in town. And biggest staff benefit is still in place: pre-festival screenings that we can’t talk about but that also help keep staff out of the queues on Opening Night!

So there’s been a little grumbling and grousing around here. Everyone I’ve spoken to would still not miss it for the world, and is hopeful that there will be a better solution next year. Even staff that do get feed with their punch cards are trying to brainstorm improvements to present at the Wrap Meeting.

For now, excuse me while I pop up some corn…

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.

http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/eight-reasons-why-the-imitation-game-and-the-theory-of-everything-are-oscar-rivals-20140910?utm_source=iwDaily_newsletter&utm_medium=sailthru_newsletter

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