While the Telluride Film Festival didn’t officially begin until after the annual outdoor feed on the town’s main street Friday evening, moviegoing kicked off even as some of the 3,000 or so festival attendees were still arriving in town. On Thursday night, festival-goers gathered at the outdoor Abel Gance cinema to see a screening of Norman Jewison‘s “Thomas Crowne Affair” from 1968. The film features music by Telluride honoree Michel Legrand. Meanwhile across town, festival staffers attended an orientation and were given a special screening of Todd Haynes‘ “I’m Not There,” one of the buzz films of the festival so far. And yesterday afternoon, festival patrons and press got an early look at fest title “The Band’s Visit” from Israel.”
Haynes and Dylan, Freedom and Identity
Introducing the first pubic screening of Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” on Friday night here at the Telluride Film Festival, rock critic and Bob Dylan expert Greil Marcus prepared the audience saying, “Even if everyone in this room loves it, you will be arguing about this film for a long time.” Indeed, not even 24 hours after the first showing ended, festival-goers have been buzzing about, and debating, Haynes’ innovative, exhilarating look at the life of an American icon. As has been well-documented, Haynes explores Dylan’s life through seven distinct characters performed by six different actors. And the film essentially offers a deep examination of music, cinema and popular culture rooted in the 1960s.
In “I’m Not There” — with access to anything that Dylan said, sang or wrote — Haynes has actually created multiple movies, each distinctly designed and shot, and then woven them into a two-hour and 15 minute film that is even greater than the sum of its parts. If you get up to go to the bathroom during this movie, Haynes quipped on Friday, you could miss 15 chapters of the story. Notably, other than an on screen statement at the start of the film that reads, “Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan,” the musician’s name is never spoken in the film. The different personas of Dylan each have different names.
Cate Blanchett portrays a version of Bob Dylan at his most familiar, in the mid-’60s during his infamous transition from folk to rock music, while Richard Gere plays Dylan as a ‘Billy The Kid’ type who lives in a Fellini-esque Western town, and Christian Bale is Dylan as a seemingly reborn Christian preacher man. It continues from there, with roles for Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin.
“Great actors want to do unconventional things,” explained Haynes, in a conversation with Greil Marcus on Saturday morning, saying that despite a notoriously dense script for this film, “All I was really focused on was trying to find a narrative and cinematic parallel, on some level, to what Dylan did to popular music in his era, not that it’s ended and not that it’s a singular turn.” Continuing he said, “I think I knew from the outset that I would fail ultimately because the ’60s were such an extraordinary time of audience openness to new ideas — expressing ideas and political ideas — and the hunger for newness and a suspicion of things that make money. That’s not true today.”
Today, Haynes emphasized, artists and performers cannot be as elastic as Dylan was with popular songs and achieve both artistic and popular success. “It would be a miracle,” Haynes said, “If the popularity that marked Dylan’s life would be something that we could experience today.”
“I am drawing from film tradition for each of the stories,” Haynes noted this morning a few hours before leaving Telluride for his movie’s Venice Film Festival debut. And those looking for links from his own filmography won’t have to go far, finding clear connections to both “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” and “Velvet Goldmine,” which each also explore popular culture.
Noting that the idea of freedom, a key concept in “I’m Not There,” is the ability to escape a fixed self, Haynes also reflected on similar themes in his own work. He said that his films explore the “dilemma of identity” that for becomes a “straightjacket.” Concluding the thought he said that characters in his movies, “demonstrate different kinds of rebellions against those constraints.”
Personal and Political: “The Band’s Visit”
First-time Israeli feature director Eran Kolirin briefly welcomed guests to a private patron and press screening of “The Band’s Visit” on Friday afternoon at the Telluride Film Festival, his Cannes award-winning film unveiled as a surprise showing for the fest’s special guests. Saying that introducing a movie is a bit like meeting a man or woman for the first time, Kolirin admitted that sometimes there is a connection, but other times there isn’t. This crowd-pleaser, which was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics in Cannes, clearly worked for many in attendance and had attendees buzzing favorably after the showing.
The film is the seemingly simple, often quiet story of an Egyptian police band that mistakenly ends up stranded overnight in a small Israeli town. Kolirin, a filmmaker with long lost dreams of being a musician, said he conceived of the film after imagining a uniformed man singing an Arabic song. He developed the story from there.
Made amidst the current cultural and political stalemate between Israel and Egpyt, the story takes on greater meaning in its depiction of band members bonding with local residents in the small town. Asked during a Q & A session about the recent wave of strong Israeli cinema, the film’s producer Eilon Rachkovsky noted that filmmakers back home seem mostly done “dealing with political issues all the time.” But, politely interrupting his colleague, director Eran Kolirian clarified, “I have to disagree, this is a political movie.”
EDITORS NOTE: Additional coverage from Telluride will be published throughout the weekend on indieWIRE.com, with more dispatches on indieWIRE editors Eugene Hernandez’s personal blog.