By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire September 4, 2009 at 8:28AM
A cultish (end of) summer camp for well-heeled cinephiles, the annual Telluride Film Festival officially kicked off today here in Colorado, twenty four hours after announcing it's lineup of new and classic films. Folks who travel to this small mountain town every year are quite passionate about this event, swallowing the sometimes high costs of attending and willingly enduring the many hours it can take to get to the remote Colorado village for the Labor Day weekend event.
What's always great about the Telluride fest, beyond the chance to see a strong program of new and old films all weekend, is the low-key vibe that gives folks a chance to connect and hang out in a casual, comfortable setting. Frankly, the bonds you make over movies in Telluride often lead to key friendships.
"It was a challenging year," admitted fest co-founder and co-director Tom Luddy, standing alongside co-directors Gary Meyer and Julie Huntsinger this afternoon in the lobby of the restored New Sheridan Hotel, "We think nonetheless that we have managed to pull off a festival with the same scope as the previous ones."
Luddy touted this year's guest festival director Alexander Payne, an avid film buff who collects 16mm prints on EBay. He's presenting Luis Garcia Berlanga's "El Verdugo," Inoue Umetsugu's "Daisan no Kagemusha: The Third Shadow Warrior," and Luciano Emmer's "Le Ragazze di Piazza di Spagna," films that had to be located and restored to be presented here.
"The experience of Telluride is about the history of cinema," advocated co-director Gary Meyer, "These are films thay you may never get to see again."
It's that sort of "only in Telluride" mentality that drives folks to attend and return to this fest year after year.
Last night at the Sheridan bar next door - a regular fest watering hole - returning folks re-connected and met some of the filmmakers who are screening here. At one end of the bar, Sony Pictures Classics co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard related some favorite stories from their nearly 30 years coming to the fest, while nearby Andrea Arnold and Warwick Thornton, a pair of recent Cannes Camera d'Or winners, were hanging out. Both were at the French festival this year and are here with their newest features - Arnold with "Fish Tank" and Thornton with "Samson & Delilah."
Today's patron brunch, at an outdoor site with a spectacular mountain view, offered more time for socializing before the movies begin this afternoon. Outgoing AMPAS president Sid Ganis sat alongside his wife Nancy on a big yellow school bus for the ride up the mountain. Proud of his four-year run atop the Academy, he said he was ready to pass the baton to new president Tom Sherak. Meanwhile, famed California chef Alice Waters (Chez Panisse) made the rounds, praising the locally sourced foods and homemade butter served to patrons.
Producer Frank Marshall, a frequent Telluride attendee, snapped iPhone photos of fest-goers as they boarded the school bus for the party. Later, brunch guests were quite taken with Carey Mulligan, star of "An Education," a hit at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. She worked the lawn at the party, posing for numerous photos with fellow guests.
Shaz Ebert, the wife of film critic Roger Ebert, was another popular attendee today, sending regrets on behalf of her husband, who can't handle the high altitude here. But, he'll be at the Toronto fest next week.
What's particular noteworthy about the festival is the fact that cinephiles from other fests and film organizations typically travel here year after year to serve as volunteers for the weekened. David Wilson, co-founder of the True/Falks Film Festival, is at the Nugget Theater all weekend, Katie Treanor from MoMA and Hilary Hart from the San Francisco Film Society are again at the Galaxy theater, while filmmaker Barry Jenkins ("Medicine for Melancholy") and IFC Films's Keaton Kail are among those who have returned as festival staff.
Volunteers have already been watching select films from the fest program, getting peeks at "The Road," "Fish Tank" and "An Education" already this week. Meanwhile, last night in the festival's outdoor park theater, locals got a free screening of Claude Lelouch's "A Man and A Woman," starring this year's festival honoree Anouk Aimee.
[For a full roster of this year's Telluride Film Festival, click here.]