TELLURIDE – George Clooney and Tilda Swinton have worked together on two films: Michael Clayton, in which they play legal adversaries, and Burn After Reading, in which they played illicit lovers.
They will meet again in Telluride this weekend, where both will receive tributes from the Telluride Film Festival.
And it is part of the TFF’s charm that neither knew that the other was going to be here until … well, possibly until they read these words.
Who else will be in Telluride this year?
(That is, in addition to the old familiar crowd consisting of we who wouldn’t dream of spending the Labor Day weekend anywhere else?)
This is the question that can never be answered before noon on the Thursday before Labor Day, no matter who is asking it: not a producer wondering what other films will appear on the program along with his or hers, not a film distributor or the director of another festival who would like to calculate release or programming strategy, and not even any of the three filmmakers who are set to receive tributes.
Those few who do know something prior to noon on Thursday are sworn to secrecy.
But now it can be reported: Clooney, Swinton and, the third tribute of TFF 38 goes to Pierre Etaix, a French comedian who made a series of movies in the 1960s, who is virtually unknown in the United States and was largely forgotten even in France, but is very likely on the verge of rediscovery.
Indeed, Etaix, “a comic genius,” may well be one of the hits of the festival, festival Co-Director Gary Meyer predicted this week.
Rediscovery of the prematurely forgotten film artist is one of Telluride’s frequent magic acts (Abel Gance!), along with the discovery of something new that is at risk of being otherwise overlooked, and the sense of discovery that comes from recognizing something special that is not unknown but is, perhaps, insufficiently heralded.
This year, as we have come to expect, the TFF program appears to be well-stocked with entrants in each of these categories – to note at random, from the rediscovered category, a program entitled “Trip to the Moon and Beyond, “which includes a screening of a true film historian’s treasure. Long rumored to have once existed, but if so believed to have been lost, film preservationist Serge Bromberg first found and then restored a color print of Georges Melie’s 1902, A Trip to the Moon, which until this weekend you may have seen only in black and white, possibly back when you took a course in film history in college.
To some, such a program more than justifies the trip to Telluride. Others will be looking for the next Slumdog Millionaire, a film that was headed straight to video (the studio that produced it having decided not to release it theatrically) before it was “discovered” at Telluride en route to international acclaim culminating in ten Oscars, including Best Picture of 2009.
We will know only in hindsight which title in this year’s program that might be, possibly Swinton’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (“People love it or hate it,” Meyer said), or Clooney’s The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne, who was the Guest Director of the TFF two years back. But those predictions could be far too easy, since they are the subject of tributes, after all. How about, instead, what Meyer calls a “difficult masterpiece,” A Separation, from Iraq and about that country’s Islamic legal system? Or perhaps it will be an “audience pleaser,” The Artist, set in the period of the transition from silent to sound movies, and “silent” itself.
If you have attended more than a few of the festivals of the last 38 years, you no doubt have watched the release of films that you first heard of here as they enter theaters over the next year (or even longer), and are reviewed and heralded, and oddly, those titles no longer seem so novel, the movies and the filmmakers and actors no longer seem so obscure.
Continuing to peruse this year’s schedule, there is a new Herzog documentary, Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life, about the death penalty as it is imposed in Texas, but also the return of Wim Wenders, also a product of the New German Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, with Pina, a documentary about the dancer Pina Bausch, containing 3D sequences that put the audience amid the dancers.
It may not be hard to anticipate the eagerness with which some festivalgoers will look forward to Martin Scorsese’s Living in the Material World, a documentary about the Beatles and George Harrison. But three-and-a half-hours long?
“The movie is captivating,” Meyer said, and in that, perhaps, resides the sort of surprise served up by TFF. I, for one, an primed to believe that there will be more to this film than one might reasonably predict.
With more than 38 major programs on the schedule, more than it is possible to consume in a three-day weekend, odds are good that the film that reaches you the most deeply has not been noted in this cursory preview.
It may not even be among the 38, since there will almost certainly be a “sneak preview” or two this weekend, as well.
“People come to Telluride and are surprised by what’s on the program,” Meyer said. “And then we like to have a few more surprises for them after they get here.”