Michael Winterbottom, Noah Baumbach, Sally Potter, Roger Michell, Ken Burns and Sarah Polley are headlining the 39th annual Telluride Film Festival, which kicks off its yearly four-day run Friday, August 31. A cineaste’s paradise, Telluride also has programmed films from international filmmakers Ramin Bahrani, Jacques Audiard, Liz Garbus, Thomas Vinterberg, Pablo Larrain and Michael Haneke.
“Balance is the most important part of our program,” says Julie Huntsinger, festival director along with Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer. “We reflect what’s out there, we reflect what is going on in cinema. It’s always a nice surprise to us when we have a particularly Telluride year, where there are new names. We chose the very best of what is out there, and we have exactly the program we want.”
So the line-up, released by tradition just the day before the festival begins, includes “Everyday,” Winterbottom’s look at a woman struggling to raise four kids with a husband in prison; “Frances Ha,” Baumbach’s black-and-white New York comedy starring Greta Gerwig; “Ginger and Rosa,” Potter’s period drama about two girls growing up in blue-collar 1960’s Britain; “Hyde Park on Hudson,” Michell’s look at a few crucial days in the life of FDR, starring Bill Murray and Telluride favorite Laura Linney; “The Central Park Five,” Burns’ investigation of the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger crime and its fallout; and “Stories We Tell,” Polley’s family quasi-documentary. Many of these films, plus Ariel Vroman’s “The Iceman,” Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack” and Garbus’s “Love, Marilyn,” will also play Toronto in the following weeks.
“It’s a great place to discover movies,” says Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, which has five films in the Telluride program — Haneke’s “Amour,” Larrain’s “No” and Audiard’s “Rust & Bone,” all Cannes pick-ups, plus Bahrani’s “At Any Price” and the Dror Moreh doc “The Gatekeepers.” “If you have a movie where the subject matter might be a little difficult, or where it doesn’t have a star or name director, but it’s a really great movie, Telluride is a great place to start word of mouth. You have a lot of people from the business there, you have a lot of journalists, film historians, bloggers, exhibitors. People come to Telluride because they love movies and they want to be the first to discover something new.”
Luddy, Meyer and Huntsinger have done their annual dance with their counterparts at Toronto, Venice and New York, and come up with a strong independent film program with depth and breadth. (Huntsinger will only cop to losing out to the NYFF in the tussle for David Chase’s feature directorial debut, “Not Fade Away,” which Paramount Vantage will release in December.)
“Toronto and us really have achieved such a great balance,” she says. “There are times that they put their foot down on a particular film, the same thing goes with Venice, and even New York a little bit — I think because it’s their 50th anniversary, there were a few things that they got territorial over this year. But we are very respectful of New York’s opening night. We’re so close with them, and we talk with them all the time.”
Additional Cannes grabs in the Telluride program include “The Sapphires,” “Paradise: Love,” “Amour,” “No” and Vinterberg’s “The Hunt,” which is tied to a tribute to Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. “I’m so happy that he’s going to get this moment at Telluride, because everybody will see that this guy is someone we all need to pay a lot more attention to in the other language that he works in,” says Huntsinger. “That’s the ‘wow’ moment we will have. And it’s particularly Telluride, because some people may say, ‘I have no idea who that guy is.’ After Telluride they will know exactly who he is.”
Mikkelsen also stars in Telluride programmer “A Royal Affair,” from writer-director Nikolaj Arcel, which first screened at Berlin. His fellow tributees include Marion Cotillard, who is represented in the program by “Rust & Bone,” and Roger Corman, whose films “The Intruder” (1961) and “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964) will screen over the weekend. In a nod to just how prolific Corman has been over half a century, instead of the typical montage reel of the tributee’s works that shows as part of the ceremony festival organizers have decided merely to screen Alex Stapleton’s 2011 documentary “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel,” since a real display of Corman’s resume would take several days. “We couldn’t do a reel, it was impossible,” says Huntsinger.
Provocation will be part of the mix this year, as well, with screenings of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary “The Act of Killing,” which has Errol Morris as an executive producer, and Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers,” about Israel’s secret Shin Bet intelligence network. But Huntsinger insists that Telluride uses its forum to provide room for debate about the more difficult topics addressed in the films, which this year will include a panel discussion that will explore the violence and conflict in “Act of Killing,” “Gatekeepers” and Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel “Midnight’s Children.” “Another part of our secret sauce is to make sure that we have the appropriate discussions and contextualization of all the films that we show,” she says.
While the festival inevitably has some literary component, this year’s edition is particularly author-heavy. Dave Eggers (“Zeitoun,” “A Hologram for the King”) created the poster art for the fest and will be on hand to sign books and posters; author Geoff Dyer (“The Colour of Memory”) is this year’s guest director; author and acting teacher Jack Garfein (“The Journey Back,” “Life and Acting: Techniques for the Actor”) will screen his two films; and Rushdie will attend the premiere of “Midnight’s Children,” which he adapted. “There’s a lot of wonderful written word going on,” says Huntsinger. “I love stressing that it all begins with the writing.”
While Sony Pictures Classics and the Weinstein Co. are typically well represented, and Focus has “Hyde Park” in the line-up, unusual this year is the absence of Fox Searchlight, which regularly launches its fall contenders at Telluride, including “Shame,” “127 Hours,” “The Descendants” and “Black Swan” in recent years. But the Fox specialty division has an empty fall schedule this year except for its big Sundance pick-up “The Sessions” (formerly “The Surrogate”), and possible sneaks are few (neither “Stoker” nor Danny Boyle’s “Trance” are likely to show).
The 2012 fest is dedicated to Jan Sharp and Bingham Ray, who was great friends with Telluride co-founder Luddy and who passed away during the Sundance Film Festival in January. “He came a lot,” says Huntsinger. “Because the community of real filmmakers and aficionados is so small, everybody has countless Bingham stories. But here, because we’re smaller and the environment is so concentrated, the stories are a little more out there and fun and interesting. But he brought so many movies here.”
That communal, low-key approach has not just provided a luxurious moviegoing environment for cinephiles, it’s also encouraged a lot of creative meetings between executives, filmmakers and producers seduced by the mountain town’s cinema-infused nature.
“The best kept secret is that so much business is done here, substantive business,” says Huntsinger. “It’s not just acquisitions, it’s the front end of the deal. It’s where so-and-so director sits down and has a glass of wine with so-and-so producer at the mid-festival gathering and says, ‘I really like you, let’s do a movie together.’ There’s no velvet rope in Telluride. There’s no back room, there’s no VIP section. Everybody’s watching movies together and everybody relaxes. So a young filmmaker could come and meet executives, producers, directors, or get their short with us. It’s a really great place to be involved in filmmaking.”