The Festival always opens with a “feed”, held on Telluride’s main street, Colorado Avenue.
I adore Isabelle Huppert. I think she is the greatest actress working. No matter what the film, she is interesting to watch. She is an actress who is not afraid of taking risks. I watched her performance in the new film Things to Come by Mia Hansen-Løve at the Telluride Film Festival in which she plays a university philosophy professor at a crossroads in her marriage and, in some ways, in life.
The film is imperfect, and sometimes relies on clichéd characterizations, especially when it comes to Huppert’s chosen field of philosophy. But even in scenes which are badly directed, you can see where she chooses to focuses her gaze and somehow make the scene come alive. We want to know her. Later on, it was interesting to watch the stars in the eyes of Rooney Mara, who seemed like she was trying to channel Huppert (in addition to trying to get her phone number).
A lunchtime Telluride Film Festival seminar with Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, whose Neruda premiered at Telluride and actress Isabelle Huppert.
Everyone says Clint Eastwood looks good. He does look good. He was in Telluride with his new film, Sully, about the airline pilot who landed a malfunctioning commercial airplane in the Hudson River and thus saved the lives of the passengers. Eastwood is 86 and still working. I think the reason for his youthful looks is simple — he keeps working and lives in a beautiful place (Carmel-by-the Sea, where he was mayor for a time.) He obviously loves women, having been linked with dozens of movie stars including Catherine Deneuve, Inger Stevens, Jean Seberg and Susan Saint James, going through two marriages and now in a relationship with Christina Sandera, who is 33 years his junior. Marital fidelity does not seem to be a constant theme in his life’s journey.
But what is interesting is that the always hardworking Eastwood came out of mostly B-movies and television westerns to become an excellent director — something that does not happen very often. Most actors who go on to direct films turn out works that are mediocre at best. But Eastwood’s films like Unforgiven, Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, and Letters from Iwo Jima are all substantive, conceptually intelligent works, with a high degree of craftsmanship and assured direction.
The Telluride Film Festival is located in a very beautiful, magical place — essentially a box canyon, at almost 9,000 feet, surrounded by beautiful mountains. It’s hard to get to Telluride. The Telluride Regional Airport is the second highest airport in the world. For the past two years, no commercial airlines fly there — the pilots need special certification, which the airlines deemed too expensive. Flying into Telluride — which I’ve done in the past — is not for the faint of heart. The plane goes between two mountains, then makes a rapid descent onto a short plateau (which, from the air, looks like an elongated postage stamp) at the end of which is a drop of several thousand feet into nowhere.
This majestic beauty of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado — sometimes accented by beautiful rainbows after an afternoon storm — is something one sees only when emerging from the darkness of the numerous screening venues. A high school gym, an ice rink, a Mason’s Lodge are transformed by the Telluride Film Festival into state-of-the-art, technically superior theaters, which, over the course of the four days of the festival (which always runs over the Labor Day weekend), unspool a highly selective menu of premieres and revivals, guest panels and appearances. A couple of years ago, even Werner Herzog, emerging from a theater, was caught making selfies against the backdrop of a rainbow hugging a mountain.
Left to right, actors Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes and writer/director Barry Jenkins, with actors Janelle Monae and Mahershala Ali. The actors are all of Barry Jenkins’ second film Moonlight.
A different guest director each year has a choice of six slots to present films of his or her choice. Past guest directors have included novelists Salman Rushdie and Don DeLillo; this year’s guest director was Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum, Diplomacy), one of the founders of the German New Wave. Schlöndorff has worked in France, Germany and the U.S. His film choices at Telluride included the great Louis Malle feature The Fire Within (Schlöndorff had worked with Malle as an assistant) and the unknown but truly impressive East German feature I Was Nineteen by Konrad Wolf, based on Wolf’s own experience as a German-born soldier coming to Germany with the Red Army at the end of World War II. Schlöndorff also screened Les Enfants Terribles, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville to whom Schlöndorff had also been assistant — a sibling love-relationship — and based on a play by Jean Cocteau.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.
The Telluride Film Festival always includes several tributes. This year, Casey Affleck was honored at a screening of the new feature film Manchester by the Sea, for which an Academy Award nomination for Affleck’s performance is being rumored. Amy Adams stars in Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, the Québécois filmmaker who has made a significant career for himself in Hollywood (Sicario, Prisoners). Although Villeneuve did not make it to Telluride this year, his Sicario and his brilliant Canadian film Incendies were shown at Telluride in previous years.
The third tributee was Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. Although only 40 years old, Larraín has quickly emerged as a director to watch. His films, often steeped in the political past of his country, shift from the allegorical to the intensely personal, as in his Tony Manero, Post Mortem, No, and the terrific The Club — a brilliant take on redemption in a film about a group of defrocked priests living together in isolation in a small town, the rationalizations of their acts and the systematic way in which the Catholic Church protects them. The subject of Larraín’s newest film, Neruda, is the great Chilean poet and writer Pablo Neruda. The film focuses on a moment in Neruda’s life in 1948 when he was a senator and was hunted by the political opposition, ultimately being forced into hiding and exile. Neruda is a dense and beautifully layered suspense story which is relatively objective about Neruda’s own personal failings in his marriage and personal relationships.
Noontime seminar is held every day in the town park; the Telluride Film Festival’s theme is always “SHOW”. Pictured here, left to right, are Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, moderator Annette Insdorf and Aaron Eckhart.
German filmmaker Werner Herzog has been a regular at Telluride since 1976; his new documentary film, Into the Inferno, co-directed with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, shows Herzog at his best, as he and Oppenheimer travel the world to show us active volcanoes, and the relationships and mythologies people living close to them have evolved. Informative and beautiful, this is Herzog at his best: sharing with us his sense of wonder at the molten rock beneath our feet which occasionally erupts onto the surface.
The strength of documentary filmmaking worldwide was also demonstrated by Fire at Sea, directed by Gianfranco Rosi — the film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival this year. Set on the tiny island of Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, the film shows the lives of ordinary people — the host of the local radio station and a conflicted but compelling young boy whose father is a seaman — and the enormous challenge the island faces with desperate refugees, many of whom, sick and dying, have to be rescued from boats sinking in the sea. 400,000 refugees, most from Africa, have passed through Lampedusa. The film puts an intimate face on the tragedy, gripping the world of which we, isolated in the Western Hemisphere, have little personal understanding or compassion.
The festival began with a feast — an all-day screening, with intermissions, of the restored Pagnol trilogy: Marius, Fanny and César. The films, produced by Marcel Pagnol in the 1930s in Provence, follow the romance of Marius, the son of a barman with Fanny, who sells shellfish in front of the bar. When Marius runs off to sea leaving Fanny pregnant, she is desperate for a husband who materializes in the form of Panisse, a card-playing buddy of the bar owner, César (played by the incredible actor, Raimu). Alice Waters was there to help introduce the screening. Her famous Berkeley eatery, Chez Panisse, is named after Panisse, the character in the film, and she provided the Provencal-inspired snacks during the intermission.
The remarkable thing about Telluride is the lack of hustle and the accessibility of all the filmmakers, who have a rare chance to be “normal” people in a festival context. There is no other film festival in the world in which it’s Sean Penn ahead of you in the line to get coffee at Cowboy Coffee, the coffee “trailer” on Colorado Avenue, Telluride’s main street. Richard Gere, Emma Stone, Gael García Bernal, Tom Hanks, Ben Younger, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney and Jennifer Garner were some of the other stars making it to Telluride this year.
Actress Amy Adams, star of the new sci-fi picture Arrival and recipient of a 2016 Telluride Tribute, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker and filmmaker Damien Chazelle, whose musical La La Land premiered at Telluride.
The discoveries at this year’s Telluride included La La Land, a Jacques Demy-style (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) musical by Damien Chazelle set in Los Angeles and starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling; François Ozon’s Frantz, a post-World War I drama in which Anna, the fiancée of Frantz who died in the war, searches for him in Paris; Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, directed by Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar and starring Richard Gere as Norman, a New York gambler and fantasist who meets up with an idealistic Israeli politician to support the Jewish homeland.
Two silent films with live musical accompaniment were featured at Telluride this year: the restored Variety by E. A. Dupont, and Fritz Lang’s Spies. The Romanian feature Graduation by Cristian Mungiu (just a great, great film!) and the German comedy Toni Erdmann, both big hits at the Cannes Film Festival, showed at Telluride.
A growing section of films, many shown in the “Backlot” venue (at the Telluride Public Library), focus on the movie business. Bright Lights, a film about Debbie Reynolds, turned out to be a big surprise. Showing Reynolds, largely ignored by the Hollywood establishment despite her starring role in Singin’ in the Rain until it was almost too late, in all her idiosyncratic splendor along with her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Bright Lights turns out to be a surprisingly honest and revealing portrait of a difficult family, the dynamics of which were largely set by Reynolds’ bad taste in men. Eddie Fisher, her first husband, ran away with Elizabeth Taylor, the second husband, a businessman, turned out to have a gambling addiction, and the third husband, no one wants to even speak about. I moderated the question-and-answer session following the screening, and Carrie Fisher, especially, no stranger to addictive behavior herself, turned out to be frank and funny, perceptive and cynical, making the film about something larger than Debbie Reynolds, but about an industry which sets the price of stardom at personal emotional struggle.
Aisholpan Nurgaiv is the Mongolian nomad who becomes the first woman to train eagles for hunting foxes at Telluride Film Festival for the premiere of Otto Bell’s film, The Eagle Huntress.
Bertrand Tavernier, a great French filmmaker (The Clockmaker, A Sunday in the Country, Round Midnight) is not only a first-rate director, but a great lover and historian of cinema. His history of American cinema, regrettably still untranslated, happens to be one of the best books ever written about American film. To see his A Journey Through French Cinema lasts 3 1/2 hours, but I wanted it to last at least another five hours more. Personal, intimate, filled with beautiful clips and informed commentary, the film takes us lots of places, where, as Americans, we haven’t been — to the films of Jacques Becker and Jean Grémillon, the actors Jean Gabin and Eddie Constantine, the screenwriter Jacques Prévert, composers Maurice Jaubert and Joseph Kosma. I never knew, for example, about Jean Renoir’s shocking relationship with the Vichy regime (this from the director of La Grande Illusion!), or the difficulty Gabin, a resistance hero, had re-establishing his career after the end of the war. Filled with little-known facts and pointed insights, Tavernier takes us on a beautiful trip, which, at the end, I wanted to last forever.
The Telluride Film Festival always concludes with a Labor Day Picnic at the Town Park.
Milos Stehlik is founder of Facets Multimedia.