TELLURIDE '99: Show Continues with Dogma, Adrienne Shelly, and Directing Actors
Show. That’s what they call the film festival here. It’s the simple one word descriptor plastered all over Telluride on banners, catalogues, and posters. No galas, no celebrations, no fetes, only one word — no article — just Show. And Show got off to a steady start yesterday (Saturday) with a packed schedule amidst a welcome surprise of continued sunshine.
In the morning, “Mifune” director Soren Kragh-Jacobson met with Werner Herzog, director of such classics as “Aguirre: Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo” at the County Courthouse for a casual conversation about Dogma 95 and the freedoms and limitations of the back to basics Danish filmmaking movement. The pairing of the two may at first seem strange — especially since Herzog admitted he hadn’t even seen the film — but the German director felt justified in monitoring the Q & A because of his recent participation in an officially sanctified Dogma 95 film. Herzog plays the title character’s father in Harmony Korine’s “julien donkey-boy,” screening in Venice next week. Said Herzog in his slowly haunting drawl about the casting choice, “[Korine] saw me as a something of a predecessor of the Dogma films, as somebody who made raw, direct cinema.” But Herzog felt skeptical of the narrowly defined rules of the movement, citing the lack of scoring music as an especially regretful loss of the process. “I do not know how much of this religious fundamentalism of the rules are followed,” worried Herzog.
But Soren first maintained the main ethos around Dogma 95 is to have fun, dismissing any sanctimonious overtones. He explained that for their limited budgets (roughly $800,000 they can get without too much government or producing interference), it’s a liberating way to make a film. The oldest member of the Dogma 95 group, Soren found for “Mifune,” his eighth feature film, “It was nice to come down to the basics and find out what filmmaking is all about. You don’t have to worry about the money. What it’s all about? It’s about a good story and good acting.”
Those very tenants could be found in Adrienne Shelley’s “I’ll Take You There.” As the only American independent film in the festival, the movie proved to be a top notch, crown-pleasing sample of the Amer-indie scene. The quirky comedy follows the depressed and broken Bill (Reg Rogers), recently abandoned from his beautiful, seemingly perfect wife, and the ensuing journey to get her back. Ally Sheedy co-stars as his unlikely love interest along the way, and Alice Drummond plays a sharp-tongued, but endearing grandmother that had Telluride audiences gushing.
The Friday night world premiere was a packed affair. (The petite, blond director remarked pre-screening to the standing room only crowd, “If it was up to me, I wish you all had cots.”) Even the film’s producer Jim Stark gave up his seat to Variety critic Todd McCarthy who just barely arrived in town for the screening. Audience response has been roundly positive around town, though domestic distributor interest is still up in the air. Artisan’s acquisitions exec Jeremy Barber was in the audience, but Shelly told indieWIRE that he likes the film, but it lacks the “Pi“/”Blair Witch” edginess of the company’s recent successes. With Shelly’s background as Hal Hartley’s early ingenue (“Trust” and “The Unbelievable Truth“), the director is hoping the Sony Classics team — who distributed Hartley’s “Henry Fool” — will take an interest in her film.
If not, one pleased audience member told her he’d start up a new company and distribute the film himself. And after leaving her morning screening, Shelly was approached by a wealthy-older trio interested in financing her next film. “How do you go about investing in these kinds of movies?” the woman naively asked. “Just stand in the middle of the street in New York and you’ll get attacked by filmmakers,” said Shelly, before eagerly exchanging cards. In other acquisition news, Paramount Classics picked up domestic rights to Patrice Laconte’s new film “The Girl on the Bridge” just prior to its festival screening here (for more on the film, see the indieWIRE review.)
Later that afternoon, a panel on directing actors put together quite possibly the oddest assortment of thespians ever gathered together on one stage: French legend Catherine Deneuve, 1978 Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth (“The Straight Story“), Reg Rogers (“I’ll Take You There”), and theater and film stalwart Peter Riegert (“Local Hero“) who was just in town for the love of the festival. Director James Toback (here with “Black and White“), clad in a black suit and wearing black sunglasses, was also on hand to discuss his unique brand of improvisation.
After the “purity” and “naturalness” that Toback found in shooting his 1989 documentary “The Big Bang,” he says, “The idea of scripting things for actors and telling them what to do seemed almost embarrassing to me. So the next two movies, ‘Two Girls and a Guy‘ and this film, ‘Black and White,’ I’ve taken a totally different approach, conceiving the role with the actors.” “Invariably,” says Toback, “I was getting all new kinds of bold, inventive stuff from people.” He concluded, “You always have control in the editing room. A director’s sitting there for 5 months with all this footage and he can do whatever he wants. He’s God. So why do you have to play God before you get in the editing room?”
Farnsworth charmed the crowd discussing his relationship with David Lynch. “I didn’t do over 2 takes any time through the film. So I appreciate that, because after the second or third [take], I’m not much a pro,” said the septuagenarian. “The more I get, the worse I get.” But it was Riegert who perhaps best summed up his preferred directors: “My favorite directors are the ones that hire me.”
Saturday night, Telluride is sure to be abuzz with the surprise added world premiere screening of Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown” where thousands of pass members will try to get into the Max, a 700 person theater that’s actually a high school auditorium. Anticipated premieres today (Sunday) include “Jesus’ Son,” “Me Myself I,” and “Orfeu.”