DISPATCH FROM TELLURIDE: Buzzing About Movies, New and Old, in Colorado
by Eugene Hernandez
The Telluride Film Festival is all about buzz -- filmmakers from around the world travel to this rather remote mountain village in Colorado to screen a film and spark a conversation among attendees. When directors, writers, actors, and a mix of film industry types come to Telluride, they know that audiences will jam screening rooms and, for better or worse, talk endlessly about the films. Because festival directors Bill Pence and Tom Luddy don't reveal the annual film lineup until their guests have arrived in town, the best way to plan a day at the movies in Telluride is to simply listen to the growing buzz, invariably locals and visitors will be talking about the movies and offer some fresh insights.
A range of weather, from brilliant sunshine to a biting cold, wet snowstorm, and some occasional rain, didn't deter the 2,500 pass holders and other moviegoers who again spent their Labor Day weekend here. Fest organizers simply cracked open boxes of plastic rain slickers and distributed them to patrons, sometimes opening theater doors a bit early to get audiences out of the elements.
"People form new relationships in the Telluride lines," festival co-director Bill Pence told me last week, "People say, one of the things they like most is talking about the films."
Based on eavesdropping and informal polling of friends and colleagues, among the more talked about new movies in Telluride this weekend were Roger Michell's "Enduring Love," the story of a man whose life changes significantly after he witnesses a tragic accident, Sally Potter's poetic story of a woman engaged in a sensual affair, Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein's documentary about the lives of soldiers on a recent tour of duty in Iraq, Lenny Abrahamson's story about the misadventures of Irish lads "Adam and Paul," Lodge Kerrigan's powerful portrait of a man struggling with inner demons and the loss of his daughter "Keane," Istvan Szabo's film about a leading stage actress who falls for a younger man, Zhang Yimou's romantic and action-packed "House of Flying Daggers," Bill Condon's look at the life of the famous doctor "Kinsey," Pedro Almodovar's provocative new film "Bad Education," and a surprise sneak screening of Marc Forster's "Finding Neverland."
Its safe to say, though, that the most talked about movie in Telluride this year was Todd Solondz' "Palindromes" (along with Lodge Kerrigan's, one of the most distinctive and powerful films that I saw this weekend). Indeed, audiences seemed more divided over Solondz' latest than any other movie in the festival. To say that some hated the film would not be an exaggeration, yet equally vocal opinions in favor of the movie could also be heard. In "Palindromes," Solondz is back in New Jersey looking at the life of an awkward young girl who is literally related to the infamous Dawn "Weiner Dog" Weiner from his 1995 film, "Welcome to the Dollhouse." A striking development in the lives of the Weiner family opens "Palindromes," quickly leading us to the story of Aviva, a young Jersey girl facing a roster of issues and experiences, including abortion, statutory rape, murder, utlra-conservative Christians, physical disabilities, and sexual abuse. Fans of Solondz' previous films will likely embrace his latest, yet others might simply say that he has gone too far.
Joining actress Ellen Barkin, who plays Aviva's mom and said that she is more proud of her work in this movie than in any other of her career, Solondz acknowledged during a Q&A session that this is an "emotionally, politically, and conceptually" charged movie, one that he hopes will screen in Texas, Idaho, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and "many places between New York and Los Angeles." He added, "I am curious to know how people from other parts of the country, the main part, would read it."
People here in Telluride were buzzing about "Palindromes" all weekend. In a movie line, a group of about 10 locals engaged in a lengthy discussion of the movie. While during a separate fifteen-minute gondola ride up the mountain to the Chuck Jones Cinema, another group debated the movie, some passionately in favor of it and others disgusted and dismissive of the film. Next up for the fest are screenings at festivals in Venice, Toronto, and New York.
[A number of the premieres from this year's event will screen at upcoming festivals in Toronto and New York, among others -- indieWIRE will publish festival coverage of a number of these films in the coming weeks.]
GONDRY IN THE SPOTLIGHT
A program of work by film and video director Michel Gondry was a big hit in Telluride. Gondry joined former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell on stage to talk about his work with numerous bands. Videos screened, all available on the recent DVD of Gondry's work, included clips with Bjork, The White Stripes, Cibo Matto, Kylie Minogue and others. While films clips from "Human Nature" and the recent "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" were also shown. Especially entertaining was a short film, shot last year for the DVD, in which Gondry appears on screen with a personified piece of his own excrement. The hilarious movie defies appropriate description here but is just one of Gondry's many distinctive works.
"I always try to go to a place where I feel insecure," Gondry said, in describing his films and videos. Indeed, looking at a wide range of the musician and director's work reveals an artist with incredible imagination and creativity. Chatting outside a movie theater the following day, Gondry said that he was en route to the film festival in Deauville for a screening of "Eternal Sunshine."
TELLURIDE AT 31
Described by festival co-director Bill Pence as the brainchild of film curator James Card of George Eastman House, the Telluride Film Festival launched thirty-one years ago. Pence, a theater owner and part of Janus Films, has run the fest ever since with Tom Luddy, formerly of the Pacific Film Archive. Pence and Luddy's longevity with this festival, along with the partnership of Pence's wife and festival managing director Stella Pence, has resulted in an event that can only be described as the ultimate film retreat, an intensive cinematic summer camp. Run with precision, but with plenty of friendly flexibility and personality, this festival should be the model for the U.S. weekend resort festivals that have cropped up over the past decade. Its program is lean, but diverse and weighty, its venues top notch and expertly staffed, and it's setting simply beautiful.
Locals seem to embrace and support the annual event here in Telluride, one of many annual festival and events that take place in this town. After hours, festival attendees mix with residents at bars and restaurants. The festival organizes few private parties, and those that do exist are apparently kept quite exclusive, in favor of larger events open to all pass holders. An opening day feed was held on Colorado Ave, the town's Main Street on Friday, while yesterday afternoon planners fired up the grill for the annual Labor Day picnic in the town park.
"Telluride is small enough that the entire town becomes the festival," boasted Bill Pence during the conversation with indieWIRE last week.
[For more coverage of this year's Telluride Film Festival, visit Eugene Hernandez' weblog, which was updated over the weekend during the festival.]