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‘Manchester By The Sea’ Leads The Buzz, And Other Telluride Film Festival Standouts

Other talking points include "Moonlight," "Into The Inferno," and the Oscar campaigns (plural) for Isabelle Huppert.

Kenneth Lonergan and Rooney Mara

The Telluride Film Festival is a master class in multitasking. It’s easy to envy people like director Rian Johnson and podcaster Karina Longworth, who are staying with producers (and part-time Telluride residents) Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy; they have the luxury of watching rare classics like Fritz Lang’s “Spies” on the big screen.

For others, it’s a frenetic time.

At the film festival opening day Patron’s Brunch, last year’s tributee Rooney Mara (“Carol”) rubbed elbows with Kenneth Lonergan and this year’s tributee Casey Affleck. Mara is back with acquisition title “Una,” adapted by Australian director Benedict Andrews from the David Harrower play about a woman reconnecting with an older man (Ben Mendelsohn) she had sex with years before. Several distributors are checking out the film, which has found a rapturous reception in its premiere.

Affleck gives the performance of his career in Kenneth Lonergan’s family drama “Manchester By the Sea” (November 18, Amazon/Roadside Attractions) which has grown men reaching for their handkerchiefs. Thus Saturday’s Affleck tribute is part of the release plan, which includes chasing a few Oscars. In terms Oscar buzz, “Manchester” is currently at the head of the pack.

"The Eagle Huntress" father and daughter with their hunters.

“The Eagle Huntress” father and daughter with their hunters.

At the brunch, IFC’s Jonathan Sehring escorted Oscar-winner Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”)  —whose terrific father-daughter movie “Graduation” (2017) played in Cannes and wasn’t Romania’s official foreign-language submission— as well as Isabelle Huppert, whom Sehring plans to promote in Mia Hansen-Love’s Berlin-prize-winner “Things to Come” (December 2), which is bound for Toronto and NYFF. (Sony Pictures Classics is also pushing Huppert for Paul Verhoeven’s Cannes hit “Elle.”)

Sehring said he is definitely backing an Academy campaign for Ken Loach’s Cannes-winning “I, Daniel Blake,” which is playing Toronto. If enough Actors Branch voters feel compelled to watch the tearjerker about a construction worker trying to survive when he is too disabled to work, Dave Johns has a chance. (Think Mike Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies” or “Vera Drake.”)

Chilean director Pablo Larrain gets a Telluride tribute Sunday with his new film about the great poet “Neruda” (for which The Orchard outbid Sony Pictures Classics), starring Gael Garcia Bernal. Larrain’s waiting to hear if Chile will submit it for the Oscar. “No” was nominated, and “El Club” scored a Golden Globe nom, so Chile may go in another direction. (He’s also revealing his first English-language movie “Jackie” in Toronto, starring Natalie Portman as the First Lady, who is dealing with the aftermath of JFK’s death. The film is seeking a buyer.)

Isabelle Huppert and Pablo Larrain.

French star Isabelle Huppert and Chilean director Pablo Larrain.

Anne Thompson

At the opening night Colorado Avenue feed on Friday, director Werner Herzog checked out the Mongol father and daughter holding their trained eagles on their arms for a photo op. Sony Pictures Classics is pushing the movie for a documentary Oscar. Director Otto Bell told me his crew carried so much gear up into the Altai Mountains to shoot “The Eagle Huntress” (October 28), a powerful female empowerment doc about the first woman to compete with her eagle in her local village’s annual contest, that they had to leave some heavy pieces behind due to prohibitive weight overages.

Herzog faced other challenges while making his latest Oscar doc candidate “Into the Inferno” (October 21, Netflix) (which I saw at the Werner Herzog Theatre, of course), an entertaining tour of the world’s great volcanos, from an ancient explosion that almost wiped out humans, to another giant volcano that could still do the job. They almost lost a drone flying over one burbling crater projecting plumes of magma. He and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer travel to North Korea, which is obsessed with one volcano that threatens to destroy the childhood cabin of their beloved Supreme Leader, Kim Yong Il, who died in 2011.

"Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins.

Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins.

Barry Jenkins unveiled “Moonlight” (October 21, A24),  his follow-up to 2007’s “Medicine for Melancholy.” Jenkins was prodded by producer Adele Romanski to pick something to direct. Long attracted to a play by Tarell McCraney, he figured out a three-act structure for this story of a damaged Miami black boy who is bullied for being “different,” turns into a scrawny, taciturn teenager who explores his sexuality with a male classmate, and finally, grows into a beautiful man who deals drugs. And, he cast three different actors to play the roles, as well as Naomie Harris as the boy’s crack-addict mom, Andre Holland as the old school chum who reaches out to him, and “House of Cards” star Mahershala Ali as a Cuban-born drug dealer who takes the boy under his wing as a surrogate father. Jenkins finds the universal outsider in this story of buried identity. The movie scored two standing ovations on Saturday.

At an after-party, Plan B principal Dede Gardner (“Selma,” “The Big Short”) said she reconnected with Jenkins when he was hosting the theater where they debuted “12 Years a Slave” at Telluride. At their meeting he pitched several things, but Plan B liked “Moonlight” and when it was ready, took it to A24, which plans to take it slow on its first fully financed production. But look for this movie to grow awareness via early attention from the Gothams and Indie Spirits, for starters, with year-end critics awards and a SAG ensemble a long-shot possibility. Ali, especially, could pop as a supporting actor contender. A24 did it with “Room” and they could do it again.

At Sony’s Telluride dinner, Peter Simonischek, the charming and funny star of Maren Ade’s German Oscar submission “Toni Erdmann” (December 25, Sony Pictures Classics), a well-regarded Vienna theater actor, admitted that he still has the eight sets of fake teeth he wore for the movie, and as a joke put the choppers on during a rehearsal as Prospero in “The Tempest” —and was asked to wear the teeth for the show!

As festival attendees screen more movies and spread buzz (“Wakefield” is like suburban angst drama “The Swimmer,” “Lost in Paris” conjures up the magic of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton), I’m hyper-aware there’s only two more days to cram in the rest of this rich program. Some movies will just have to wait for Toronto.

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