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Telluride Film Festival Report

A recap of the 41st Telluride Film Festival can take many forms. You can just concentrate on the films headed to the awards races. You can revel in the rediscovered classics or "lost" gems. You can recount the seeking out of the under-the-radar showings as you tried to be one of those to discover the first ripples of surprises that'll make a significant splash soon. Or you can mix and match your viewing experiences, interspersing it with the almost unreal, picturesque setting within which they set the scene. Any form you chose, your Telluride Film Festival experience will be a special one to treasure.

The Telluride FIlm Festival unique experience

I have been attending the Telluride Film Festival for about 14 years now. It is by no means the only film festival I attend or have attended over the years, but, truth be told, it is by far my favorite experience. Not to say that I don't enjoy other film festivals immensely. I attend some other festivals regularly and enjoy each individually for what they offer. I am always looking for new festivals and returning to ones I have visited in the past, indulging in the unique qualities of each in turn. But I keep returning to Telluride.


The curators and programmers of Telluride, currently led by two directors, the veteran Tom Luddy and hyper-productive Julie Huntsinger and senior curator Gary Meyer, take great pains in providing the best quality presentations possible. Every festival takes on a flavor influenced by the people running it and Telluride has a unique taste all its own. In my eyes there is usually a darker, serious tone undercurrent to the offerings with a strong European bent to the selections. Not to say they don't spice it up with a few lighter moments here and there (like this years surprise hit WILD TALES).

One constant theme I always find among the offerings is that quality reigns supreme. Consider that the limited time period, always held over the Labor Day weekend and only once run longer than 4 days (never again, I'm told) there are only so many slots to be able to show films. Most of the prestige festivals that are mentioned in the same breath as Telluride have over a hundred new films unspool during their runs. Telluride has only a couple dozen. And even so, those few films are invariably the creme of the crop. It is a rare event where I regret a film I've seen up in those mountains.


There are many qualities that distinguish one festival from all others so I will pick just one here that I especially admire offered by the Telluride Film Festival. Egalitarianism. Because of intent and quirks of fate, constrictions of place and happy happenstance there is a leveling of the playing field for attendees. Regular Joe film lovers find themselves in line or seated next to producers, directors, journalists and stars. Filmmakers actually get to see the films made by their compatriots and discuss issues of filmmaking in a non-competitive, film-friendly environment far away from the rat race of "the business". The fact that there is no competitions or any official market business going on relaxes the atmosphere into a rarefied venue, very unusual in a festival sense.

And although the passes that get you into the films are expensive, the festival organizers intentionally offer many ways where you can participate on an equal level spending either nothing or very little. There are always free showings of some of the festival fare in the Abel Gantz Open Air Cinema in the park. And every film shown in the intimate Back Lot is available for free which, when run correctly, allows a quality experience to those who've made it to Telluride a taste of the best cinema has to offer. It is a quality that I've always admired of the Telluride Film Festival and hope they always strive to improve and never lose sense of.

The whole "Premiere" distraction

This year there was a supposed "tiff" between Telluride and the following week's prestige festival, Toronto. Much has been written about the challenge caused by Toronto's premiere stipulations. It has not affected Telluride at all, but, as Tom Luddy said, "People who've been giving us films are still giving us films and I'm sorry they're being punished for that. We ignore it completely. We want to show good movies. We owe it to people to put on a great show." Julie Huntsinger adds, "All we want to do is show good movies, old and new." They say it to themselves all the time.

Tommy Lee Jones and Leonard Maltin Q&A at Telluride FIlm Festival 41

Tommy Lee Jones and Leonard Maltin Q&A at Telluride FIlm Festival 41

I can attest that long before the supposed tiff, Telluride Film Festival has never cared to call anything a "Premiere". They only care to show great films whatever their availability status. Case in point this year they chose to show the rediscovered and restored, incomplete, early work of Orson Welles, TOO MUCH JOHNSON. Conversing while standing in line to see the presentation film critic Leonard Maltin and I agreed that even though the entire work is available to view online already, we preferred to see it here, in the Sheridan Opera House with live accompaniment by Donald Sasin and commentary by renowned preservationist Paolo Cherci Usai. The experience would be unique and extra special, exactly what the Telluride organizers strive for.

What I saw on my summer vacation

Below, in reverse chronological order, are the mini-reviews (I call "TweeViews") I posted on Twitter after viewing each of the 16 features I saw over the weekend. These are brief, first impressions as they happened recollections. I may go more in depth with reviews of some of these films in future articles but this gives a sense of how they each impacted me as I left the theaters in Telluride. (Note, the list does not include the incredible shorts that I saw as companion pieces to some of the features. All in all I blissed out on a lot of cinema!)

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sept 2
TweeView IMITATION GAME Most complete, commercial film here. Harry Potter meets A Beautiful Mind. Factual liberties lessen impact tho #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sep 1
TweeView MR. TURNER missteps with attempt to portray tumult & tempest painter using static frames & little action. Last #TFF41 entry :-(

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sep 1
TweeView MERCHANTS OF DOUBT preaching to his choir in slick, humorously entertaining doc. Will effect no change of heart tho #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sep 1
TweeView '71 gritty, realistic thriller. Presents complex historical situation in all grey tones. Bit melodramatic tho #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sep 1
TweeView THE LOOK OF SILENCE most stunning act of human bravery captured exquisitely on screen. Stellar, impactful #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sep 1
TweeView WILD too clean, self indulgent, no conflict. Pretty scenery tho #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Sep 1
TweeView THE HOMESMAN good story & acting but script suffers from unmotivated action & unbalanced scene flow. #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 31
TweeView MAGICIAN Orson Welles doc work in progress is well done but doesn't reveal much new. #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 31
TweeView TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT Oscar caliber perf. by Cotillard. Subtle pacing perfect 4 complexity of realistic story. Great film #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 31
TweeView BIRDMAN Will please most-innovative, great acting, esp. Norton & Keaton but I saw the artifice get in the way of potential #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 31
TweeView MADAME BOVARY Director, like title char, searched for emotional core, w/ similar outcome. Good elements not coming together. #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 30
TweeView TOO MUCH JOHNSON A peek behind genius. Hints of Welles eye already forming. Well presented #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 30
TweeView DIPLOMACY Pulls you in intellectually, keeps you there emotionally. Small but we'll done. #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 30
TweeView WILD TALES Damina Szifron anthology wonderfully off the rails, unpredictable or very, excellently light/dark comedy/drama. #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 30
TweeView THE DECENT ONE Humanizing Evil makes it more real. Vanessa Lapa gets to know some1 no1 should know, but we all need to. #TFF41

Christopher Schiller @chrisschiller · Aug 29
TweeView APOCALYPSE NOW Still classic and cinema experience unparalleled. #TFF41

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