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Telluride Film Festival, Diary One: Big Anticipation for the 40th Anniversary

Telluride Film Festival, Diary One: Big Anticipation for the 40th Anniversary

I look forward to the one-two punch of my favorite fall film
festivals (say that five times fast), Telluride and Toronto, all year long, but
this year I feel woefully unprepared for the two orgies.  Telluride, a cinephile’s dream, haven for the
film obsessive, an overstuffed four-day weekend designed to be shorter and more
focused than the ten-day or longer omnibus festivals, but this year a whole
day longer in celebration of its 40th anniversary.  And Toronto, a gluttonous banquet of over 370
films, spread out over ten days, evolving over the years into a whirlwind of
hype and celebrity, much less user-friendly than in years past, but still an
excellent place to take the pulse of just what’s going on in world cinema.

I don’t feel ready, physically or psychically. I remember how I reacted with surprise,
naively, many years ago when I read an interview with Mick Jagger in which he
talked about how he had to work out for strength and stamina in preparation for
an upcoming Stones tour.  I guess I
thought dancing and running across stages was enough exercise in itself.  For at least a few days before a film
festival, I’ve learned over the years, it’s a good idea to take care of
yourself.  And I’ve been sleeping badly:
I wake the day I leave early enough to watch the last two hours of the entirely
enjoyable BBC America adaptation of Alan Furst’s “Spies of Warsaw,”
and then a brisk 82-minute 1947 film noir, “Framed,” starring Glenn
Ford, Janis Carter, Barry Sullivan, and Karen Morley, before the taxi arrives
at 7:30 a.m. to take me to the Oakland airport to catch the Telluride charter

If I hadn’t been surprised to find a list of Telluride’s
feature films in my emails — usually I don’t find out the Telluride schedule until
the little SHOW booklets are handed out, mid-morning, the day after I arrive —
I would have been able to make a few deductions from glimpsing some of the
flight’s passengers.  Seeing documentary
filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller means their new film, “The
Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,” will be shown. Joyce Maynard — her
novel, “Labor Day,” is the basis for the new film by Jason Reitman,
starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. 
The culinary gang — Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and Dieter Kosslick,
whose Berlinale festival proudly features a section called “Culinary
Cinema” — reminds me that they’re showing “Slow Food Story,”
about Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement. 

I end up sitting on both the two-hour plane ride to Montrose
and the ensuing two-hour bus ride to Telluride with the wonderful San
Francisco-based film polymath (scholar, curator, author, professor, and now
editor of “Film Quarterly”) B. Ruby Rich, who’s en route because
she’s one of the six Guest Directors from the past who each get to present a
film this year (usually the Guest Director has a slate of a half-dozen). The
others are Don DeLillo, Buck Henry, Phillip Lopate, Michael Ondaatje, and
Salman Rushdie), and Ruby, author of “Chick Flicks,” is the only one
showing a film directed by a woman. Ruby tells me she’s showing “One Way
or Another,” a 1974 film by a young Afro-Cuban filmmaker named Sara
Gomez.  She shows me the paragraph she
wrote about it for Telluride’s catalogue, and I ask why it says she died (right
after making the movie) of an “alleged asthma attack.” Whereupon I
learn that in mystical santeria circles, it’s thought that Gomez died so that
her extremely ill young daughter would live.

It’s been a long day, and I’m dropped off after four at the
place I’ve stayed at for many years, the House of Women as I think of it fondly
— six of us will be there for the long weekend, but I’m the only one there at
the moment.  It’s lovely, returning, but
bittersweet — the owner has put it on the market, so this is probably the last
time we’ll all be together.  I rush off
to the Press Office, but it’s closed, so I walk towards the Telluride Town
Park, which I usually visit just once at the end of the festival for the Labor
Day picnic, but tonight is the site for a free concert featuring the Punch
Brothers, whose music, produced by T-Bone Burnett, is featured in “Inside
Llewyn Davis,” the Coen brothers’ film that was a big hit at Cannes,
nominated for the Palme d’Or and winning the Grand Prize of the Jury.

En route I run into Geoff Dyer, last year’s Guest Director,
and Gary Meyer, co-director of Telluride. “I was wishing you were one of
the six Guest Directors coming back,” I told Dyer. “Well,” he
said cheerfully, “here I am.”

At the concert, I run into Variety’s Scott Foundas, director
Allan Arkush, and screenwriter Larry Lasker, Telluride regulars, all. I’m
thrilled that Geoff Dyer joins me, and we have a nice chat — he’s here to
interview Ralph Fiennes onstage, at screenings of “The Invisible Woman,”
which Fiennes directed and stars in as Charles Dickens. (And have a good time.)
I’m less thrilled when he calls me by a name not my own, but, hey, it started
with “M,” so that’s close enough for jazz. 

We’re both thrilled by the five Punch Brothers (unrelated)
— guitar, cello, violin, banjo, and (wait for it) mandolin — are all dressed
nicely, mostly in unironic retro suits and ties, and seemed as thrilled to be
in Telluride, playing for us, as we are to be hearing their set of bluegrass,
both contemporary (their own songs) and classic (Jimmie Rodgers’ “The
Brakeman’s Blues,” “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” familiar
from the Coens’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, and still vivid in my
memory after more than a dozen years).

There’s an extra bass present, in rumbling thunder that
follows occasional flashes of lightning, which presage the heavens opening.
Many leave, but stalwarts, me among them, stay for three last songs in
ever-increasing, eventually torrential, rain.

I stagger home, drenched but happy. After a two-hour nap, it’s time to seriously
deconstruct the program book, cross-reference it against what’s showing in
Toronto, and weigh my options. And get
some more sleep. It’s going to be a long

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