New fall film releases and foreign language titles from the studio specialty divisions were the hottest tickets at the 34th Telluride Film Festival this weekend in the tony Colorado Mountain town. Sean Penn‘s “Into The Wild” was by far the most popular screening among the few thousand attendees who traveled to the festival for a long Labor Day weekend of moviegoing, according to an insider at the festival. Other titles that drew the most interest from the roster of nearly 40 features were Todd Haynes‘ “I’m Not There,” Julian Schnabel‘s “Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Noah Baumbach‘s “Margot At the Wedding,” Stefan Ruzowitzky‘s “The Counterfeiters,” Eran Kolirin‘s “The Band’s Visit,” and a widely buzzed about sneak preview of Jason Reitman‘s “Juno.”
Notably, a number of sleeper hits this weekend — including Baltasar Kormakur‘s “Jar City,” Kevin Macdonald‘s “My Enemy’s Enemy,” and Li Yang‘s “Blind Mountain” — seemed to catch Telluride organizers by surprise, drawing large crowds to smaller theaters and stirring complaints from holders of pricey fest passes. All around town this weekend and in media reports on the event attendees groused about being shut out of screenings despite paying nearly $700 for a pass. Countering some reports, festival co-director Gary Meyer told indieWIRE today that the festival maintained its cap of about 2,500 total passes (and the number of high-end $3,500 all access passes stayed the same). After a day of internal post-mortem meetings, Meyer said that greater demand for certain titles left some fest attendees stranded.
FIlms from Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight seemed to strike a chord among attendees, as did movies from other specialty units. Based on an informal survey of buzz among attendees, Jason Reitman’s “Juno” from Searchlight was a big hit, stirring considerable positive notices (also singled out often by attendees was Tamara Jenkins‘ “The Savages“), similarly Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit,” Ruzowitzky’s “The Counterfeiters,” and Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Parronaud‘s “Persepolis” from SPC all were quite popular with Telluride attendees. The Weinstein Company had Hayen’s “I’m Not There” at the fest, while Paramount Vantage was representated by buzz titles “Margot at the Wedding” and “Into The Wild.”
On Tuesday, as attendees headed home, complaints about Telluride crowding seemed to intensify. One frustrated Telluride fan who purchased a Festival Pass told a full shuttle van of attendees how she waited for more than an hour at one of the festival’s smaller venues and despite being the 3rd person in line, she said she shut out due to the large number of festival patrons and sponsors who showed up for the screening. Separately, at the Montrose airport, a first time attendee complained aloud about the pass problems saying he would not return to Telluride next year because he simply found it too hard to get into the movies despite the amount of money he spent to attend. Indeed, the cost of the $680 pass is steep and if the average festival attendee seems to get into about 15 films, that works out to about $45 a film.
The considerable public outcry — reported as a front page, above the fold story in the town’s local Daily Planet newspaper on Tuesday — is rare for the Tellurude Film Festival, which has fostered a passionate following among industry attendees and general audience members alike, many of whom loyally return year after year for the intimate annual event.
Festival faithful, however, seem committed to Telluride. Some attendees surveyed randomly said they avoided getting shut out by simply choosing to see the higher-profile films at the festival’s larger venues, often spending up to 90 minutes in line to secure their seats. And moviegoers who opted for the very first screening of the festival, Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” and the very last, Penn’s “Into The Wild,” at the 500 seat Palm Theater were met with available seats at both showings.
Similarly, attendees who steered clear of the new, star-driven titles in favor of archival films and a new strand of documentaries at the tiny Backlot theater could often walk up just moments before a screening and gain access. Festival brass strongly encourage attedees to boldy sample an array of films from Telluride’s small, carefully curated lineup. Those who strategically did just that, saving the bigger films for the TBA slots on the final days of the festival, didn’t do much waiting and typically were not shut out.