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Telluride Highlights

Telluride Highlights

The air is thin, the lines are long, and the choices maddening, but the Telluride Film Festival remains one of the world’s greatest movie events. This year’s Labor Day Weekend gathering—the 41st, to be exact—was no exception, offering exciting new films from around the globe, revivals, discoveries, world-class guests, and spectacular scenery. My family and I feel lucky to be invited. 
I can’t begin to cover the whole festival, but I will mention a few highlights: Paolo Cherchi Usai’s lively, informative presentation of the Orson Welles footage from Too Much Johnson, with piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin…a tribute to Hilary Swank, who gives a truly great performance opposite Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman, which Jones also co-wrote and directed …and a beautiful new documentary called Keep on Keepin’ On, by first-time director Al Hicks, about two great musicians and the unique bond that fuels them both. The film’s executive producer, Quincy Jones, was beaming like a proud papa alongside one of those musicians, brilliant young pianist Justin Kauflin. You’ll be hearing more about the film, which opens in theaters on September 19.
To sum up the rest of the weekend, I thought I’d present my personal photo album.

This view never gets old: Colorado Street looks just as it did when Telluride was a mining boom town in the late 19th century. Because it’s a National Historic Landmark, it can never change or lose the charm of a Western street that dead-ends into mountains dotted with waterfalls. What a beautiful sight.

Jon Stewart was one of this year’s most talked-about guests. A self-professed “film festival virgin,” he presented his debut feature as writer and director, Rosewater. Demand to see it was so great that several repeat showings were scheduled, all of which sold out. Gael García Bernal plays Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari, who was accused of being a spy and thrown into solitary confinement following the elections in 2009. The real Bahari participated in q&a sessions along with Stewart and Bernal.  

I take pictures whenever I see interesting people together: esteemed casting director-turned-producer Fred Roos was here to celebrate Apocalypse Now, and Hilary Swank was feted for her career, including her newest film, The Homesman. I think her performance is strong enough to merit another Oscar nomination.

Here’s another interesting duo: actor/filmmaker Gael García Bernal, star of Rosewater, and writer-director Mike Leigh, who brought his latest feature, Mr. Turner, a biography of the great 19th century British painter J.M.W. Turner (played by Leigh regular Timothy Spall).

Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu is a frequent Telluride guest, even when he doesn’t have a film in the running. This year he debuted his eagerly-awaited Birdman, a “wild ride” of a movie which features Michael Keaton in a dazzling, tour de force performance. The film is bound to provoke discussion and debate when it opens in October. Incidentally, the full title of the picture is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

One of the festival’s most unusual screening venues is the Chuck Jones Cinema, which is reached by taking a gondola ride up a steep mountainside. Every year, an ordinary-looking conference center is magically transformed into a beautiful theater that pays tribute, outside and in, to the late, great animation director (whose daughter Linda was in attendance this year, as usual). Here is a whimsical sign posted in the middle of the village.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a festival sponsor. Current Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (who was just re-elected for a second term) posed for me with Reese Witherspoon, the star of Wild, which debuted on the first day of the festival. Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, who endured a grueling hike along the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote a best-selling book about her experience. It’s a great part for the actress, who also produced the film. The real Cheryl Strayed was also in attendance.

An outdoor panel with a formidable lineup of filmmakers: Mike Leigh, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, Walter Murch, moderator Annette Insdorf, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, Volker Schlöndorff, Francis Ford Coppola, and Ethan Hawke. One topic was film vs. digital capture. Leigh confessed that he fought off digital for years but succumbed for his latest feature—and thought it turned out fine. Hawke told a funny story about working on Sidney Lumet’s final film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. He and Philip Seymour Hoffman were disappointed to learn that Lumet was going to shoot it digitally and told him they were hoping for the gritty feel of Dog Day Afternoon. Said Lumet, “You guys want it to look cool and vintage, right?” They said yes, and he responded, “Well, wait twenty years and it will look cool and vintage.”

One of the nicest surprises of the weekend, for me, was Ethan Hawke’s documentary Seymour: An Introduction, an intimate portrait of pianist Sidney Bernstein, who has been a mentor and inspiration to countless young musicians. Seeing it in the jewel-box setting of the 1913 Sheridan Opera House, with a simpatico audience, was a deeply moving experience. Having Bernstein and Hawke onstage afterwards, with moderator Kim Morgan, was icing on the cake. I’m delighted to learn that the film has been acquired for distribution by Sundance Selects.


Another Telluride scene: Francis Coppola relaxing at the sidewalk café outside the New Sheridan Hotel. He was there this year to celebrate his masterful Apocalypse Now, along with a handful of his collaborators.

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