The Telluride Film Festival seemingly appears overnight against the gorgeous backdrop of rugged mountains. It lasts just four days but in fact it takes more than a month of intensive labor to transform the elementary school, high school, hockey rink, library, the park in the middle of town and a masonic temple into theaters. Now in its 41st year,up until recently this hallowed Labor Day weekend event has long been a quiet fixture on the festival circuit. As most of the festival world knows, the escalating word of mouth about the quality of Telluride’s unofficial premieres caused the Toronto International Film Festival to issue an ultimatum to those hoping to land choice spots in the fall line-up: if you choose to screen at Telluride first, your film will be pushed back on TIFF’s slate. Realistically- Toronto has little to fear from Telluride besides buzz. It’s true that Telluride’s reputation for picking the films that go on to Oscar honors first continues to grow with each passing year but that is where the threat to Toronto ends. By virtue of being a small town located at the end of a box canyon in Southwest Colorado, it can only accommodate an extremely limited amount of festival goers. Unlike the ever-expanding Toronto or Sundance, Telluride will remain modest by virtue of geography, the resoluteness of tradition and the absolute secrecy of its line-up.
Telluride does not deal in press credentials or red carpet premieres. Casual dress and and low-key interactions encourage an easy-going atmosphere. Telluride doesn’t come close to edging out the sheer breadth of Toronto’s run of films or the accommodations that they provide to the industry elite. There will never be a competition between them beyond a brief headline. Toronto enjoys 10 days of extensive coverage from around the world from those who buy, sell and professionally talk about movies. Telluride is a festival lovingly curated for the dedicated cinephile or curious wanderer who happen to have the means to travel to a remote mountainous location for intimate viewings and conversations. Yes, advance critical acclaim can sometimes be a strong factor in the burgeoning of a film’s success but Toronto remains the unmistakable juggernaut in that arena in terms of press access and public visibility. There isn’t any reason the two festivals can’t continue to co-exist happily, sharing big and small films alike while provoking important conversations about the status of contemporary cinema in their different capacities. Toronto begins just 3 days after Telluride ends and with the movie going masses still largely unaware of Telluride’s existence or influence (perhaps less now that TIFF has blown it up in the media) – this little festival should be afforded the freedom to continue to screen a condensed version of the best of what Toronto goes on to offer just a short time later. Telluride has always been its own entity- integrating cinematic past and present while forging discussion about the future of the moving image. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into the putting on the SHOW (as it is affectionately known by festival employees and veteran patrons) and at TIFF that shouldn’t be pushed to the wayside in this ludicrous frenzy over Oscar predictions and bragging rights.
Telluride’s schedule is kept under wraps until just one day before the festival, so pass holders have to hold their breath and go in blind faith when making the purchase. Some of the movies (like last year’s Gravity and Prisoners) turn out to be big releases that are perhaps selected more for the independent history of the directors involved but the majority of Telluride’s schedule remains the same- loaded with the best of the coming year’s art house breakthroughs and peppered with restorations of classic cinema. Turner Classic Movies remains a huge sponsor and each year screens a handful of films that are rediscovered as significant achievements. Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow, John Frankenheimer’s Seconds and Williams Wyler’s Dodsworth are just a few movies that Telluride audiences have been treated to. A silent film or two usually plays with a live accompaniment at The Galaxy Theater for those looking to expand their horizons. There are also plenty of free events for the public to take advantage of with panels of filmmakers and actors happening several times a day at Elks Park before the area is turned into The Abel Gance Outdoor Cinema for evening screenings.
Telluride has made Canadians Guy Maddin (independent filmmaker of The Saddest Music in the World and My Winnipeg) and critic Kim Morgan (who is also married to Maddin) its guest directors to hand pick a few films for limited viewings. Choosing new guest directors each year broadens the cinematic reach of the festival’s leanings beyond the current releases. Maddin’s abstract and surrealist style will hopefully lead him to select more avant-garde pictures.
What follows is a list of the new films that could very likely be programmed at the festival based on past affiliations or loyalties. Restorations and silents are harder to predict and so are omitted.
Queen of the Desert
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Synopsis: “A chronicle of Gertrude Bell’s life, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.”
Director Werner Herzog has been a longtime patron and visiting filmmaker at Telluride- coming into town in the last few years with the likes of Into the Abyss, Encounters at the End of the World, and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call- New Orleans. So synonymous is he with the festival that last year a new theater was dedicated in his name. Queen of the Desert seems like a good jump back into dramatic form for him with an odd ensemble composed of Nicole Kidman, James Franco and Robert Pattinson. Kidman’s Fur (a fictionalized version of events in the life of photographer Diane Arbus) played Telluride back in 2007 to muddled reviews but a strange, over-the-top biopic that pairs the eccentric Herzog and the adventurous Kidman feels like a shoe-in to show up.
Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Synopsis: “A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.”
Iñárritu has previously brought his films Babel and Biutiful to Telluride. Having repeatedly attended the festival without any film in tow; Iñárritu is a known admirer of the gathering. Michael Keaton, a once immensely popular actor who has faded into the background of film for a quite a few years that is now suddenly being thrust back into a leading role sounds wonderfully similar to the journey that Bruce Dern made to Colorado just last year with Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. It would be exciting to see Keaton get a tribute at the festival (3 individuals from cinema are honored each year with a retrospective of their work) to raise awareness of the tremendous output he contributed before borderline disappearing from the silver screen.
The Imitation Game
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Written by Graham Moore
Synopsis: “English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.”
Although Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of the cast have never been to Telluride, WWII subject matter has time and again shown up in Telluride. From the suspenseful Flame and Citron to the crushing In Darkness– movies about this period are given ample chances to prove their worth. Turing being gay and living under strict societal confines during upheaval immediately brings to mind Cumberbatch’s heartrending acting in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as a man who must break-up with his secret lover to ensure the safety of his loved one. Matching analytic thought with a race against the clock might be a welcome departure from slower works that are playing.
The Theory of Everything
Directed by James Marsh
Written by Anthony McCarten
Synopsis: “A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.”
James Marsh visited with his part of the Red Riding Trilogy in 2009 and has not returned since but biographical drama is right up Telluride’s alley. Being a movie that looks as though it’s trying to meld cerebral and sentimental (as last year’s selection The Invisible Woman attempted)- it wouldn’t be surprising if it popped up on the schedule. The pedigree of the supporting cast (the great Emily Watson and David Thewlis) matched with a relatively unknown actor (Eddie Redmayne) portraying Hawking certainly deserves a look. Marsh has wavered between documentaries projects (Man on Wire, Project Nim) and drama (Shadow Dancer, The King), so this true-to-life biography seems to satisfy both of his inclinations with the added tension of capturing the depth of Hawking’s intellect grappling with physical limitations and a relationship.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Ebru Ceylan
Synopsis: “Aydin, a former actor, runs a small hotel in central Anatolia with his young wife Nihal with whom he has a stormy relationship and his sister Necla who is suffering from her recent divorce. In winter as the snow begins to fall, the hotel turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities…”
The winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes is frequently presented in Telluride. Michael Haneke’s Amour, Cristian Mungiu’s brutal 4 months, 3 weeks & 2 Days and 2013’s Blue Is the Warmest Color all have found their way to TFF. Winter Sleep‘s tale of anger and isolation falls directly in line with the heaviness of the previous films that have been selected. The sheer length of the film (196 minutes) also fits well with the festival’s history of endurance cinema that is only for the most gung ho viewers who don’t mind letting a large chunk of their precious time get eaten up by just one film. The Red Riding Trilogy and Carlos (running time approximately 330 minutes) were screened all at once while Blue Is the Warmest Color ran multiple times with a running time of 179 minutes.
The Telluride Film Festival runs August 29th- September 1st.