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In Search Of That “Only in Telluride” Moment

In Search Of That "Only in Telluride" Moment

Looking for some of the must-see movies at the Telluride Film Festival? Follow the clique of famous filmmakers and film aficionados who often travel in a small pack to screenings here.

A cadre including Bertrand Tavernier, Todd McCarthy, Scott Foundas, Tom Luddy, Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, Alexander Payne, Thierry Fremaux, and others gathered early Sunday morning outside a Colorado middle school gymnasium, eventually filing into the temporary Galaxy theater for a meaty program of classic 3-D shorts and clips.

Serge Bromberg was the emcee for a show that started with the rather wacky Frenchman taking a disposable lighter to a small strip of nitrate film. It immediately burst into flames, stirring the few hundred folks that had gathered at the Galaxy for what festival fanatics here call an “only in Telluride moment.”

Bromberg is a cult figure here at the Telluride Film Festival, a Labor Day weekend event that carefully caters to a mix of upscale attendees and die-hard film aficionados alike.

New films like Darren Aronofsky’s “The Black Swan” and Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” — surprise screenings here this weekend — draw media and industry attention, but more on those movies later. It’s the one-time-only events and screenings of movies you probably can’t see anywhere else on a big screen that make the festival worth the money and keep me coming back every year. At times a weekend at the Telluride Film Festival can be like sitting in on a film course one could only dream of. Other times it’s like traveling to a summer camp for film geeks. Either way it offers a few days to escape and restore a passion for cinema.

Sunday’s two-plus hour program of short films and rarely seen clips, all on 3-D, were introduced with commentary and comedy by Bromberg. He also sat in at the piano to accompany silent work. A cinema archivist and activist with a wry sense of humor and an engaging stage presence, Bromberg had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Among the highlights were “Motor Rhythm,” a 1940 musical short that depicts the building of a Plymouth, part by part, and Disney animator Ward Kimball’s “Adventures In Music: Melody,” which explores the music of everyday life.

Early experiments in 3-D by Lumiere and Melies, some created by accident, revealed a rich history of stereophonic cinema leading up to shorts like Chuck Jones’ “Lumberjack Rabbit” from the ’50s, one of just two Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny shorts that were made in 3-D, and John Lasseter’s “Knick Knack” from the ’80s. The 3-D Pixar short was shown in an edition that Bromberg said is rarely screened (a female character’s breasts were apparently toned down a bit in the version that most folks have seen).

After tasting the 3-D treats on Sunday, aficionados headed down the block to the Sheridan Opera House where Serge Bromberg led a Q&A with UCLA Film & Television Archive head Jan-Christopher Horak. UCLA was awarded a Telluride medal for its preservation and archival work during a program that included about an hour of films saved and restored by the Archive.

Stanton Kaye (left) with Telluride’s Tom Luddy this weekend. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

The UCLA Archive also delivered “Brandy In the Wilderness” to Telluride this weekend. A low budget black-and-white American indie from the late 1960s, the film feels a bit like an early version of a Mumblecore movie. Mostly unseen and forgotten, “Brandy” was the second film by largely unknown American filmmaker Stanton Kaye.

A follow-up to his successful first feature, “Georg” (1964), “Brandy” is an homage to the French New Wave in which the Kaye aimed to reflect on screen his own off-screen relationship with a woman. “It was meant to be a looser version of a diary film,” he said on Saturday afternoon here in Telluride, adding, “It was only my second film, so forgive the look of it.”

Despite the promise from his two acclaimed indies, Kaye gained little additional attention outside of small film circles.

“We all looked at him, in those days not as simply ‘avant-garde’ but as a huge talent who had the drive to do things, and was charismatic talking about literature and poetry and art,” Telluride co-director Tom Luddy told the LA Weekly a few years ago. “We thought he’d be the next Orson Welles — Francis Ford Coppola revered him.”

Kaye is a longtime friend of Luddy, who convinced the filmmaker to bring “Brandy In The Wilderness” to the fest this year. Much to their own surprise, the UCLA Archive had the film (and its original elements) in a vault and not only agreed to dust it off for the Telluride screening, but decided to restore the film itself.

“When I was nineteen I made a very successful film, but all of that success just fucked me up,” Stanton Kaye said this weekend. He embarked upon an ambitious new feature film after “Brandy,” but never finished it.

Programs of nearly lost films this weekend here at the Telluride Film Festival were enough to make film preservation activists out of those who caught the showings. Fortunately, screenings and one-time-only programs presented by the festival and its clique of devotees often find their way to wider attention.

“There are big parts of the history of cinema that are missing,” Serge Bromberg implored in Telluride. He’ll continue pounding the pavement for cinema in Los Angeles tomorrow (Tuesday, Sept. 7th) to present this weekend’s Telluride program of 3-D rarities in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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