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2022 Telluride Film Festival Pre-Report – What a Difference a Year Makes

Once again I find myself at the threshold of enjoying and reporting on another Telluride Film Festival experience. But the strange atmosphere that hung over last years festival has given me pause to reflect on how things changed for that first in-person festival after the outbreak of Covid and what we can expect in the next few days as we anticipate a more “normal” festival...

Once again I find myself at the threshold of enjoying and reporting on another Telluride Film Festival experience. I figured out recently that my little group and I have been coming to these festivals for nearly half of their existence, and I plan to attend much further into the future. 

But the strange atmosphere that hung over last years festival has given me pause to reflect on how things changed for that first in-person festival after the outbreak of Covid and what we can expect in the next few days as we anticipate a more “normal” festival, or at least attempts at a return to what special blend of normal was ever a Telluride event. But, can this or any festival achieve normalcy these days? It depends.

Year to year, nothing’s the same but things are familiar

This year’s trip to Telluride inevitably will be compared to the oddity that was being here last year. Last year the airports weren’t nearly as crowded, everyone was masked (some begrudgingly) but generally there was a solemn sense of concern over health and well being in most dealings. Travel and social interactions were rife with worry and fear over this disease.

[2021 Telluride Film Festival Report – Attending Film Festivals in a Time of Pandemic]

This year, the airport experience was quite different, crowded, only about 10% of the people were masked (some begrudgingly) and there was an almost cavalier blindness given to the still potent dangers of Covid’s impact on our interactive lives. I think I was just as nervous about the confined places and forced interactions this year as last, but, I have to admit, it was easy to start to feel a complacency wanting to surface. The infection rates are still dropping in most places in the world, but, it hasn’t yet “gone away” even if some chose to ignore it to return to “normal”.

Telluride Airport, Telluride Colorado 2022. Photo by Christopher Schiller, used with permission

Telluride Airport, Telluride Colorado 2022. Photo by Christopher Schiller, used with permission

But once our plane made, what I have adopted calling the, “left at the rock” final approach to Telluride airport (still a thrill, even if it is no longer done in puddle-jumper prop planes flown by the most expert pilots in the business,) I began to relax. I was in Telluride, after all, a place where the real world seems so distant. (And in many ways, it really is.)

Telluride – the town and the festival are not one in the same, but…

Every year we aim to arrive in town a few days before the festival festivities begin. This meets multiple goals. It allows our bodies to acclimate to the high altitude before we press them, walking between venues as fast as feasible. But it also allows us to see the town as it is for the locals, the calm before the storm, as it were. It is important to remember that film festivals are held in places that have a completely different existence for most of the rest of the year. It is an invasion, in a very real sense, into the lives and daily operations of communities. If a film festival is to succeed anywhere it needs to find that sympathetic balance between having a successful event and treating the place the event is held with proper respect and regard.

Early morning Telluride, CO prior to the Telluride Film Festival. Photo by Kathryn S. Schiller, used with permission

Early morning Telluride, CO prior to the Telluride Film Festival. Photo by Kathryn S. Schiller, used with permission

Many a failed film festival can trace its failure to the lack of cultural understanding of what a burden a deluge of film festival activities does to a town’s psyche. The good festivals usually have very good hearts and recognize this need for a symbiotic relationship. Those long running festivals have found the right balance of supporting the places in which they are hosted and nurturing a continued mutual benefit. This is why you’ll find many festivals investing capital and efforts in local projects and ideas that may have little direct connection to running a festival but maintain a strong connection to supporting the festival’s acceptance in the town having to deal with all the bother. It’s a hand in hand relationship, one that the Telluride Film Festival and the town of Telluride have worked hard to maintain over the decades, not without a few hiccups but always with the best spirit of cooperation.

Over the horizon, the mountains surrounding Telluride, CO. Photo by Kathryn S. Schiller, used by permission

Over the horizon, the mountains surrounding Telluride, CO. Photo by Kathryn S. Schiller, used by permission

So from the quiet, peaceful streets and calm morning air, I contemplate just what kind of storm may be brewing, coming over the mountains for this year’s Telluride Film Festival.

What kind of fest will it be?

Because of Telluride’s long history of keeping its schedule and list of invited filmmakers and special guests close to its chest, it’s always a guessing game to predict just what kind of fest will unfold and who we’ll see filling those empty streets in a few days. 

There are some in our profession who love to play the guessing game and over time quite a number of them have gotten really, really good at reading the tea leaves and guessing quite accurately. An early and perennial favorite of mine is my friend, Michael Patterson with his Michael's Telluride Film Blog who has been doing it a while, but, there are many others that like to play the game just as well (I’m rubbish at it, too many long shots) even if it does ruffle the feathers of the programmers at the fest a bit.

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But it is always certain that the films that are picked will nearly all be awards contenders and certainly all are great on their own merits. Looking at the possibilities this year, there’s a different feel for what films could be starting their festival rides right to the awards season this year. I look at all the possible films and, for once, find it hard to get too excited about films I could potentially see here. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to some, like the possibility of seeing Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light if it plays here. And I always love Mia Hansen-Løve’s works so I hope we get One Fine Morning. And I’m always up for Mark Cousins’ documentaries, however many he may bring this year. But there aren’t any films that are generating that pre-buzz that I’m used to hearing in normal years.

[Intimate Connections to Character and Location with ‘Bergman Island’ Writer-Director Mia Hansen-Løve]

Why that is (and whether it’s an accurate assessment of the arena) is anyone’s guess. It could be that this is the first full crop of films that had their entire creation under the cloud of Covid worries. Many of last year’s films had started at least conceptually before all production procedures had to change. Maybe the dampening mood of a global pandemic has tempered either the fires of the filmmakers or the enthusiasm of audience expectations. It’s hard to say. And I won’t know until I start watching the films that make it here what I really think about their quality. I’m often pleasantly surprised by films I hadn’t expected to be so good. That’s what makes coming to this festival so rewarding.

Blank slate, blank page, am I nervous?

So, as usual, I sit here a few days before the films are announced without a clue what I’ll be writing about in the coming days. As a writer it is daunting to know you’ll be producing something soon, but, what that will be, what themes will I find, what gems will I uncover, I haven’t a clue. 

I plan on writing as I have the last few years missives from each day of the fest as it unfolds. Circumstances beyond my control may unravel those plans, but, I’m sure I’ll be writing something. Hopefully, it will be about wonderful films and marvelous experiences. At least that’s been the results so far over the years. But as always, it depends.

2022 Telluride Film Festival will begin on September 2nd and ends on September 5th. 


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