In retrospect, my first full film festival day at Telluride, though utterly delightful, sounds more like I’m attending a food festival than a film one.
I’m in line by 9:30 a.m. to get on a bus that hauls us up high in the Rockies to attend the Patron’s Brunch, whose glorious mountain-meadow setting and bountiful buffet I look forward to all year. Alice Waters, co-director Tom Luddy’s old friend and colleague – they drew the name for the famed Chez Panisse from the Marcel Pagnol films that Tom was projecting in 16mm at their dinner parties – is responsible for the “everything fresh and local” philosophy. I staggered to a table, laden down with one plate bearing silky smoked Colorado salmon on a properly schmeared bagel, topped with tomato, red onion, and the surprise of spicy cress, and another laden with tender greens, sliced ripe tomatoes, exemplary fruit salad, cheesy frittata, pork and herbed chicken sausages, and grilled toast topped with hand-churned butter and two spreads made from local peaches and berries. Oh. My. God. (I was too lazy to stand in line at the egg-cooked-to-order station. I regret that decision in retrospect, but I was getting plenty to eat.)
Mark Cousins, here with his personal essay film “What is this Film Called Love?” after last year’s triumphal international festival tour with the 15-hour documentary “The Story of Film,” that began in Telluride, followed Anne Thompson and me to a somewhat slanted but blue-checked-clothed table on the lower meadow, and the random-seating gods smiled at us, because we were joined by Bay Area litterateurs Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, and Guest Director Geoff Dyer and his wife, gallerist Rebecca Wilson. Eggers, more famed now as an author (“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”), publisher (McSweeney’s), and sreenwriter (“Away We Go,” with wife Vendela Vida, and “Where the Wild Things Are”), began his career as a graphic artist, and he designed this year’s poster for Telluride, with a silhouetted bear filming a moose. (Little did he know it, but this year has been heavy on bear sightings, and we are warned after late-night screenings to walk home down the well-lit main street rather than take shortcuts through back alleys.)
If you wonder about the conversation of these highflown litterateurs, it tended towards exclamations of pleasure and occasional confusion as they examined the contents of their heavily-stuffed swag bags (yet another reason to purchase a Patron’s pass, along with priority entrance to screenings, obviating not only long waits in line but also any fear of being turned away, especially at the smaller venues). Vendela generously gifted me with her one-pound box of See’s chocolates, which I knew would delight my See’s-loving housemate Hilary Hart, who returns to the SHOW every year to help manage the Galaxy.
I was having so much fun bumping into old friends like Serge Bromberg, in Telluride to present his program of film rarities, “Retour du Flammes,”; Eugene Hernandez and Scott Foundas of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, both glowing with pride about the unusually dense and exciting programming for this year’s New York Film Festival in honor of its fiftieth anniversary; and screenwriter Larry Gross, with wife Rose Kuo, Executive Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and their son Julian — not to mention lamping celebrities such as Laura Linney, there for “Hyde Park on Hudson,” Sally Potter, with one of the stars of “Ginger and Rosa,” Alessandro Nivola, and Ben Affleck (thereby giving away the Sneak Preview of “Argo”) — that I only tore myself away moments before the wedding of Paolo Cherchi Usai, longtime friend of Telluride, Senior Curator of Motion Pictures and Director of the L. Jeffrey School of Film Preservation of George Eastman House, as well as co-founder of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.
I’d shared the trek across the Southwest with Paolo, his bride-to-be Renate, an Italian publisher of cinema books (as well, as her old friend and co-publisher told me, of the Italian version of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and its wildly successful sequel) and his merry band of assorted Italians and Australians, including best man, director Rolf de Heer (who was awarded the Telluride Silver Medallion in 2010). Tears flowed at the beautiful ceremony, tucked away around the corner from the main part of the feast, whose guests included film historian Leonard Maltin and his wife Alice, professor and author Annette Insdorf and her husband Mark Ethan, who also got married at Telluride, and pianist Donald Sosin and his wife singer Joanna Seaton.
Afterwards the line for the busses carting people down the hill were so long that I despaired of ever getting down in time for the annual press conference, but I caught a break and a ride with Jason Silverman, editor of all the SHOW’s publications, tucked in the back of his car between Berkeley professor and author Mark Danner and director Peter Sellars, who talked so vividly about “The Attack,” “The Gatekeepers,” and “The Act of Killing” that I immediately added them to my way-too-long want-to-see list.
The Press Conference, led by co-directors Tom Luddy, Julie Huntsinger, and Gary Meyer, was typically enthusiastic but uncharacteristically brief, as they wanted us to get up the mountain (via a dazzling 12-minute gondola ride) in time to get to the first sneak screening of “Argo.” I was tempted to go see “Stalker,” introduced by Geoff Dyer, again – it’s been many, many years – but even though my usual pledge is not to see any big American movie that’s opening within minutes, I couldn’t resist.
I was rewarded with not only Affleck’s charming introduction but the company of my pal Hannah Eaves, and an early look at a beautifully-directed, fast-paced, incredibly tense and authentic-feeling action adventure movie, based on fact, about the (spoiler alert!) successful extraction of 6 American employees of the Embassy in Iran who hid out in the house of the Canadian ambassador while their colleagues were held hostage (eventually for 444 days, as the movie reminds us) in the American Embassy, under horrible conditions. The audience loved it, and after “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” and now “Argo,” the word around town was that Clint Eastwood has a worthy successor as Hollywood’s most-respected actor/director. (And just in time, as Clint starts to talk to chairs in public.)
I myself hoped that a sequel would be forthcoming, starring the jovial comic duo of John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who played the Laurel-and-Hardyesque pair helping to mastermind the escape’s cover from Hollywood.
As I exit, I see Janet Peoples, co-screenwriter of “Twelve Monkeys” (whose inspiration, Chris Marker, died on his 91st birthday, July 29, and is one of the dedicatees of this year’s festival, along with also-recently-deceased Bingham Ray and Jan Sharp), in line for Michael Winterbottom’s “Everyday,” and I’m tempted to join her, but Im even more tempted to see Hannah’s 18-month-old, Zazie, awaiting us at the bottom of the mountain with Hannah’s husband Jonathan Marlow, one of the founders of the cinephilic streaming service Fandor. We are also just in time to stroll through the Opening Night Feed, a party to which all passholders were invited.
The lines at the multiple food-laden tables were unusually short, as there was multiple competition from no less than six screenings at the same time. The theme this year was Indian, and I couldn’t resist loading up a plate with fruited rice pilaf, stewed lentils, curried vegetables, spiced lamb kebabs, raita, and multiple fresh chutneys, and sampling everything, even though I was due to dine with Paolo at his wedding dinner just a couple of hours later. What can I say? The flesh is week. It was the best food I’d ever had at the feed.
On the way out to see the Roger Corman tribute at the Sheridan Opera House (built in 1913, and the original site of the festival), I grabbed probably too many tiny pistachio doughnuts from their stands topped with colorful elephants rendered in cake and pastry.
The Corman tribute featured an hilarious documentary, “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel,” but I had to duck out while it was still going on and before they awarded the 86-year-old producer-director-distributor-actor-talent scout-ageless wonder (to quote the program book) his Silver Medallion to attend the wedding dinner at the 221 South Oak Restaurant, where we had a private room, an amazing parade of courses, and views into the bar room where dinners were being held for Gael Garcia Bernal and director Charles Ferguson. A surprise treat was a trio of lady musicians who played for Paolo and Renate’s first dance. Renate’s daughter Matilda made the rounds of the guests, hading out sugared Jerusalem almonds. The whole evening was like an Italian movie, which took something of the sting out of the knowledge that I was missing the only screening of a rare 1965 Italian movie, “I Knew Her Well,” introduced by Telluride lifer Alexander Payne, across town at the Pierre (not to mention nearly twenty, count ‘em, twenty other screenings over the course of the more-than-three-hour dinner.)
An atypical day at Telluride: three feasts, a big Hollywood movie opening on October 12, and only part of a tribute.
The next day was much more typical: I saw “The Attack,” a Lebanese-French film about a sucide bombing in Israel; “Final Cut: Ladies and Gentleman,” a witty, amazing compilation of film clips assembled into a universal romance, and probably unreleasable outside of film festivals due to rights issues; “Pordenone Presents: Hands Up” (a rare silent film by forgotten comic Raymond Griffith, with accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton; a tribute to Marion Cotillard complete with clip show, interview by Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy, and a surprise appearance by director James Gray, who flew in to Telluride just to be part of the evening, bringing a clip from his and Cotillard’s next movie, once called “Low Life,” but now known as Untitled James Gray Project, in which Cotillard plays a Polish immigrant to America, forced into life as a prostitute, as well as a screening of Jacques Audiard’s audacious “Rust and Bone,”; and a midnight screening, pushing the limits of caffeine, of Sally Potter’s beautiful, 60s-set “Ginger and Rosa,” starring Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Allessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, and Timothy Spall. No bears were seen on the brightly moonlit walk home at 2 a.m.