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TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL Begins, Bringing Magic Back to Colorado Mountains

TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL Begins, Bringing Magic Back to Colorado Mountains

The 44th incarnation of the world-renowned Telluride Film Festival began with its usual under-stated fanfare on Friday, bringing to the idyllic Colorado Mountains the usual lineup of stars, awards hopefuls, and diehard movie fans. Only the rest of Labor Day weekend will tell how far the event organizers have hit it out, but the slate of options and early returns portend well for the gathering.

Telluride Film Festival has always prided itself in its smaller and egalitarian but somewhat exclusive nature. The fest is small as it boasts of a more selective menu of movies and of having no red carpets and no paparazzi like most other fests, from Toronto, to Cannes, to New York. And it is egalitarian because there are no dedicated press screenings, and the glitterati bump elbows with the mere mortals in their seats, in line for a film, on the gondola, and on the street.

The result of this working conflagration of factors has indeed always been, in the years I have attended, the desired effect of a more relaxed but also more buoyant atmosphere. No one comes here who is not a true fan of the movies and, as festival co-director told the press at the opening of the fest, “very few [bad people] come here.” It always amuses us mere mortals when the stars are all around you. This year the Mexican, two-time Oscar winning director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu walked next to my car as I was parking it, and a while later, actress Kate Mara stood behind me for popcorn. That was just the first night.

Amusingly, the lineup of the movies is not revealed until the day prior to the start of the festival. Today the press found out that the reason for this was that the late Jeanne Moureau had promised to attend for one of her movies and had to cancel due to a commitment at the last minute, such that the organizers decided never to run that risk of embarrassment again. Fitting, and touching given the recent departure of the great French actress.

But, let’s face it, even the nicest of romanticized setting would do them no good if they did not count with what is arguably their most potent asset: an unparalleled curating team that is able to discern and construct an array of offerings that will carry festival attendees across generations, across cultures, and across genres.

At the forefront of all this has been their penchant for selecting Best Picture winners in recent years, with Moonlight premiering here last year, for example, and dozens others in the past few years alone. Indeed, aspiring actors wishing to launch an Oscar campaign would do well to make a pit stop in these mountains on Labor Day weekend, as Emma Stone, Casey Affleck, and Mahershala Ali all did last year.

This year, for example, Darkest Hour, a likely Oscar vehicle for Gary Oldman, is making its world debut here (our review here), and the festival is bringing from Venice other movies with Oscar potential such as Alexander Payne’s Downsizing (our review is here). Annette Benning also has an Oscar hopeful opening here, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird with Saoirse Ronan is also opening to Telluride audiences first.

But Telluride is, to be fair, more than just about the award contenders (though there is no denying that they have their finger squarely on what the critics and awards bodies like). They have an array of revivals, student programs, and retrospective and tributes, that really are a treat for avid movie fans. This year, for example, they are presenting a restoration of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film “The Cotton Club Encore,” with a new director’s cut.

They also present a guest director, this time around it is the brilliant mind behind The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer, to present some of his favorite films. These include classics like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Night of the Hunter. It is a holistic experience within which the only regret is that there is not enough time to see it all.

Telluride Film Festival is well aware of the way in which movie attendance is changing, and even dying. They recognize this but also understand that there are people who love the art form, and are doing their part to keep it alive as something we can all share in in our own different ways and perspectives and into the future. Let us all hope that they continue to succeed. We will be reporting back through the weekend as to what takes place.

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film ‘The Lost Weekend’ is pure coincidence

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