A generally warm, bright weekend here in Colorado has kept Telluride attendees' impulse to enjoy the outdoors at odds with their desire to see new movies. But, festival-goers have jammed fest venues anyway, buzzing recently about numerous films, new and old. Brian De Palma's "Redacted" and Sean Penn's "Into The Wild" have stirred audiences at the Telluride Film Festival over the weekend, while the event also cast a spotlight on famed French composer Michel Legrand.
De Palma Deja Vu: "Redacted"
Sure to stir debate and emotion wherever and whenever it plays, Brian De Palma's powerful new anti-Iraq war polemic, "Redacted," spawned heated discussion among those who caught a pair of surprise screenings here at the Telluride Film Festival. Made for $5 million on HD, the film follows U.S. troops who are monitoring a checkpoint in the Iraqi holy city of Samarra. Utilizing crafted web-based video images and some instant message conversations, the film mixes footage from a faux French documentary, mock surveillance footage and would-be home movies shot by one of the soldiers to explore a brutal rape and murder incident involving a group of U.S. troops.
Fittingly joining a Telluride Q & A via iChat from a hotel room at the Venice Film Festival, De Palma explained that he read about an incident in Iraq that reminded him of his 1989 Vietnam War film "Casualties of War." "Certainly, we've learned nothing from the lessons of the past," De Palma said, his own image filling the screen at the Masons Hall Cinema in Telluride, "I was struck by the similarity of the two incidents, they were exactly the same."
After meeting HDNet's Laird Adamson one year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, Brian De Palma researched the story extensively, and found powerful photos of Iraqi casualties along with blog posts and video diaries from U.S. soldiers. "The whole story is right there on the Internet," De Palma said, adding that it offers a counterpoint to the stories and images presented by the Bush Administration or traditional media.
"As a filmmaker, you know that images can be manipulated to say anything you want and your ability to make them seem real makes your lie convincing," De Palma told the Telluride audience. "Since the Bush Adminstration has been doing this for years, why can't I have a chance to tell another side of the story?"
During the screening, some audience members noticeably averted their eyes during graphic moments and after a striking coda of Iraqi casualty photos, one attendee began wailing loudly before being gently escorted out of the theater by a companion. Probed about the film's stance, and addressing the issue of whether the film demonizes U.S. soldiers, DePalma countered emphatically, "Hey, it's a big bad war out there and we need all the help we can get. If I can make a fiction film that will help, more power to me." Concluding the thought, he added, "We are all on the same team, we hate this war and want it to end."
"A piano is my house," said legendary film composer and prolific pianist Michel Legrand in Telluride, where the triple Oscar winner was awarded a "Telluride Medallion" for his acclaimed lifetime of work in the movies. The creator of some 200 film scores, ranging from the French New Wave to numerous Hollywood productions, Legrand sat at a piano as he talked with Leonard Maltin. "For me, music is a like a second dialogue," Legrand said, after playing a tune for the audience.
Pondering his life in film, Legrand modestly surmised, "I wanted to surprise myself and change some of the bad habits in film, I succeeded sometimes and failed many times."
Legrand composed "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Never Say Never Again," and "Yentl" in Hollywood, among numerous other films and managed to create the score for "Summer of '42" in only a couple of days.
At a dinner with French director Jacques Demy earlier in his career, it was filmmaker Agnes Varda who insisted that Legrand work on her husband Demy's 1961 film, "Lola." The film paved the way for some 10 films Legrand composed for Demy, including "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort." He also worked on seven with fellow legend Jean Luc Godard, including "A Woman Is A Woman" and "Band of Outsiders."
Reflecting on his time working on the French New Wave films, Legrand commented, "We were making love in films for ten extraordinary years."
Penn and Herzog: Wanderlust
"The dominant aspect of this movie was a wanderlust that I felt," explained Sean Penn on Sunday in Telluride, discussing his new film, "Into The Wild," with author Jon Krakauer and filmmaker Werner Herzog. Conversation moderator Scott Foundas noted that it is this sense of wanderlust that bonds Penn's film with Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World," an exploration of Antarctica. But, for Penn, there is even more to it, namely the inspiration he took from Herzog.
In making "Into The Wild," which stars Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless (whose journey to remote Alaksa was documented in Krakauer's nonfiction book of the same name), Penn explained that he was particularly influenced by Herzog's history of total immersion when making his films. "We more and more are representing the story and not making it," Penn said of filmmaking, praising such Herzog films as "Fitzcarroldo" and "Aguirre, The Wrath of God." "I tried to do that [also]."
Pondering McCandless' incredible story of withdrawing from his seemingly stable life to pursue the journey north, the three men considered the concept of risk-taking. While Herzog hesitated at the idea of encouraging reckless behavior by young people, Krakauer noted, "Young men and women will be reckless... I think you can't tell young people not to take risks."
Asked about the striking travelogue footage captured to tell McCandless' story in "Into The Wild," Penn quipped, "Looking at the footage in the edit room [I thought], 'Jesus, I am an American', because I keep getting told I'm not." The remark elicited hearty applause from the large crowd that had gathered in a town park for the free discussion.
Branded "an instant American classic" by writer Larry Gross in the Telluride Film Festival's notes on the new film, Penn's "Into The Wild" has been a hot ticket at the festival, filling Sunday showings. The weather changed late in the day but an outdoor showing of the film continued despite a storm. And despite the buzz, some have criticized the movie because of the subject's apparent reckless abandonment. Responding to detractors, Penn said Sunday, "I'd rather that people feel anger than not feel anything from the movie."