By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire August 30, 2008 at 8:22AM
One day into the 35th Telluride Film Festival, attendees were buzzing about what the dearth of narrative American films here means for the fall crop of new features that typically are launched into the fall and the annual awards season. While last year the festival showcased "I'm Not There," "Into The Wild," "Juno," and "Margot At the Wedding," this year there are few to no American breakthroughs expected. Telluride's highly selective programmers typically screen the latest studio and Indiewood offerings, previewing some of the best autumnal roll outs, but the fact so many new American films didn't make the cut has insiders here anxious that new work in Toronto next week will be mediocre.
"[Telluride] is back to its roots this year as a result of the writers strike," explained fest director Gary Meyer, during a conversation with indieWIRE on Friday. Last year's work stoppage hurt production and has forced die-hard festival attendees here to turn their attention to a crop of new work from international filmmakers, many of them hardly known in this country.
Festival organizers here are particularly high on the work of Nae Caranfil, a Romanian director who has yet to make a mark in America. Telluride's Tom Luddy came upon Caranfil's work via Francis Ford Coppola and then watched his films at a recent Thessaloniki International Film Festival tribute, learning that the director is quite popular in his home country. "Unlike the minimalistic and dark Romanian films we know," Luddy told indieWIRE, "They are funny, very different, very entertaining."
To showcase Caranfil's work, organizers created a spotlight to screen his 2001 film "Philanthropy" and the debut of his latest, "The Rest Is Silence," this year's Romanian submission for the best foreign language film at the Academy Awards.
With executives from Sony Pictures Classics and IFC Films, the two leaders in the theatrical distribution of new foreign language films in attendance, Telluride organizers are hoping that their showcase of Caranfil's work will resonate with buyers, journalists as well as other buyers and programmers.
"This is a chance to discover an interesting and important filmmaker," Tom Luddy said yesterday at a media event, "He is somebody on the rise." While the co-director noted to indieWIRE later, "We are not a market but we are happy that there are important distributors that come to this fest. We hope that one of them sees the Caranfil films."
Organizers also have high hopes for "Firaaq," the directorial debut of leading Indian actress Nandita Das, well-known for her work in Deepa Mehta's "Earth." The film explores the February 2002 attack on a train carrying Hindu militants and the subsequent assaults on Muslims in Gujurat, India. Author Salman Rushdie, back at the Telluride Film Festival this year, will moderate tomorrow night's Q & A with the filmmaker.
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Tim Disney's "American Violet," one of the few new American films in Telluride, garnered decidely mixed buzz in the early hours of the festival. Based on the true story of an African-American single mom caught in a drug sweep, the film follows her fighting for justice against a corrupt system. It features an ensemble cast that includes Will Patton, Tim Blake Nelson, Alfre Woodard, Charles Dutton and Michael Keaton. While some locals seemed charmed by the movie after early screenings, industry insiders and journalists were much more critical. Notably, however most seemed upbeat about the debut of Nicole Behaire, the film's unknown star who recently who recently graduated from Julliard.
On Saturday, attendees were offered two surprise screenings. A former Warner Independent Pictures project, Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire," was added to the festival. Now at Fox Searchlight, the film is described as a "rags-to-riches fairy tale" set amidst an Indian TV version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Also added was Marc Abraham's "Flash of Genius," starring Greg Kinnear and Lauren Graham in "the true story of a David who took on the Goliath of the Detroit auto industry." On Saturday night, Telluride attendees will also get their first look at Paul Schrader's black comedy, "Adam Resurrected," starring Jeff Goldblum.
indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez is reporting all weekend from the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.