TELLURIDE – Some of the passholders for the 36th Telluride Film Festival will start their experience early this year, diving into the darkened Palm at 2 p.m. on Friday – the earliest start of the program in memory – for a five-and-a-half hour immersion in the gritty world of West Yorkshire.
These poor souls will miss the traditional opening night feed on main street, where those who attend the festival regularly meet up with old friends (and first-timers make new ones). They will simply have to catch up with their old friends later, waiting in “Q.”
The opportunity to see three films made for British television and conceived as a trilogy, back-to-back on the big screen, is precisely the sort of thing that brings a lot of cineastes to Telluride: An experience in a movie theater that you just can’t get anywhere else. The three films in the Red Riding trilogy, inspired by the investigation of the notorious Yorkshire Ripper in the 1980s, are utterly engrossing, full of novelistic detail established in the first film that pays off in the second and third, according to festival directors Gary Meyer, Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger, who this week offered an overview of this year’s program.
But if you’re unwilling to sacrifice the social rewards of the feed, not to worry. The three films in this trilogy will all be shown again, though not back to back – unless they are rescheduled in one of the schedule’s TBA slots, reserved for films that earn so much buzz that they simply have to be shown again.
This is, of course, the beauty of the Telluride Film Festival: One must choose. You can’t have it all. The bounty on the table is simply too much for anyone to do more than indulge in a part of it. But by Monday night, when the festival draws to a close, you are absolutely certain to have been overwhelmed by beauty and inspiration on the screen.
In the festival’s virtually patented category of “only in Telluride” screenings this year, in addition to the Red Riding trilogy, Luddy pointed to L’Argent, a 1928 silent movie from France, in a new restoration, with a new score written and performed live by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The audience will be rewarded with “sound and music” never heard before, Meyer said.
Directed by Marcel L’Herbier, L’Argent is long at 166 minutes, but those minutes fly by, Luddy promises, and the film will be a revelation reminiscent of the revelation the festival delivered in restoring Abel Gance’s Napoleon in 1979. (And that’s saying a lot.) Produced in the years immediately preceding the Great Depression, about a Bernie Madoff type character of the era, L’Argent is not only “visually astonishing,” but may be the “most topical” film on the program, Luddy said.
This year’s guest director, filmmaker Alexander Payne, has programmed more of those “only in Telluride” shows, having selected three “forgotten Hollywood treasures,” Day of the Outlaw (1959), starring Robert Ryan; The Breaking Point (1950), directed by Michael Curtis and adapted from Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not; and Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), which Orson Welles said would “make a stone cry,” and which Payne, in his program notes, says brought him to tears, too. For the aficionado of classical Hollywood, this trio of showings alone more than justifies the price of a festival pass and a trip to Telluride.
Apart from that, for those with a taste for forgotten foreign treasures, Payne has found one from Japan, Inoue Umetsugu’s The Third Shadow Warrior (1963); one from Italy, Luciano Emmer’s Le Ragazze di Piazza (1952) starring the 28-year old Marcello Mastroianni; and one from Spain, the black comedy, El Verdugo (1963).
If some of the Telluride audience is most captivated by the magic of recovering lost works from the past, which is something of a scavenger hunt conducted by the festival on our behalf, others come for a glimpse of the future.
There are two debut performances by young woman actresses that Huntsinger predicted could launch careers we will long follow. In Fish Tank, Katie Jarvis “blows you away” as a child of the housing projects in southeastern England; in An Education, Carey Mulligan, according to Meyer, delivers a debut performance that may well earn her an Oscar. So there are, on the program, two coming-of age-stories from England, each featuring dazzling debut performances: a coincidence, no doubt.
And then, of course, there will be movies premiered here that go on to critical acclaim, big audiences and awards, much like last year’s Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One highly anticipated film on the program is the adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy bestseller, The Road, directed by John Hillcoat and starring Viggo Mortensen. The festival is using the occasion to offer a tribute to Mortensen, one of those actors who, in chameleon-like fashion has very quietly built a filmography, dating back to Witness, in 1985, of memorable performances, including, recently, in Eastern Promises (2007) and A History of Violence (2005), both directed by David Cronenberg.
Other tributes this year go to Anouk Aimee, perhaps best remembered for her role in Fellini’s 8½ and German actress/director Margarethe von Trotta, who will be here with her new movie, Vision.
There is a sneak preview – a film as yet unannounced – that Meyer confidently predicts will be a major sensation. Let’s remember that Juno debuted here as a sneak in 2007.
Telluride’s got nothing against an artful popular movie.
And yet, this longtime festivalgoer predicts that a couple of other movies mentioned by the festival directors could be the breakout surprise.
Huntsinger spoke with great enthusiasm about A Prophet, describing it as a movie made by people at the top of their game that is devastating in its impact. Luddy drew attention to a feature by Werner Herzog starring Nicholas Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – a further evolution of the most durable filmmaker to emerge from the New German Cinema of the 1970s and a Telluride stalwart, into what sounds like his most American movie, and to Room and a Half, which celebrates the life of the great Joseph Brodsky. And Meyer drew attention to London River, about the unlikely relationship between two parents in search of missing children in the aftermath of the London underground bombings of 2005.
I wouldn’t bet against any of these films being one that captures the audience, but it is the nature of Telluride that it could, just as easily, be the one that sneaks up on us.
As for the state of the festival itself in this time of Great Recession, its directors allowed that the festival has taken a hit, particularly in a downturn in corporate sponsorships, but that the audience is as strong as ever; individual patrons and volunteers and staff have stepped up, and the TFF is, on balance, as strong as it’s ever been. The quality of the event has been compromised in no way whatsoever.
Indeed, there are more shows open to the general public for free than ever before, including all of the shows at The Back Lot, the venue at the Wilkinson Public Library, featuring behind the scenes films about filmmakers and musicians.
The people who put the festival on, staff and volunteers alike, have “done more with less,” Huntinger said.
The Telluride Film Festival inspires “dedication that defies logic,” Huntsinger added, which may be as succinct a definition of what it’s all about, onscreen and off, as anyone has offered.