Telluride 46

The 46th Telluride Film Festival held in the photogenic mountains of southwest Colorado started off appropriately with Mark Cousins’ fascinating documentary on women directors “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema”. 273 minutes of excerpts from over 14 hours were shown (with intermission). Much of the program focused on little-known international directors.

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Mark Cousins (left) holding a long. long sheet with listings of all the films in his documentary (c) Ed Scheid

Bonuses for me were having my 2 favorite actresses in the program. Scenes of two early Liv Ullmann films I never saw were excerpted and Jane Fonda narrated parts. Cousins said he loved watching Jane’s “beautiful right hand” move while narrating – like a conductor. I saw TCM host Alicia Malone at another screening who told me TCM has purchased the entire documentary.

Renee Zellweger had a Tribute along with “Judy”, in which she portrays Judy Garland late in career performing in London. Zellweger was sensational as Judy, charismatic performing on stage and also heartbreaking as Garland deals with insecurities, addiction and the pain of not being able to provide a home for her youngest children. I and other festival goers couldn’t imagine a better performance this year.

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Renee Zellweger at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

A future post will cover the Tribute and Zellweger’s comments on her career and her decision to take a multi-year break.

The Opening Night Feed which closes off the main street for food and drink had a Wizard of Oz design relating to “Judy” including a faux yellow brick road, poppies, and miniature hot air balloons.

Another tribute was to Adam Driver with 2 films. One was “Marriage Story”, about the breakup between a playwright (Driver) and actress (Scarlett Johansson). The other was “The Report” a gripping film with Driver impressive as the Senate staffer heading the investigation of the CIA’s torture policies after 9/11. Annette Bening gives a standout supporting performance as Senator Dianne Feinstein. Daniel Jones, the staffer Driver portrays, appeared with Driver in a post-screening Q&A.

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Adam Driver at Telluride (c) Ed Sched

The best of the 16 films I saw at Telluride was “A Hidden Life”, one of Terrence Malick’s (“The Tree of Life”, “Badlands”) finest. This emotionally powerful and masterfully photographed film is about an Austrian farmer (August Diehl) who refuses to take a loyalty oath to Hitler. Valerie Pachner portrays his devoted wife.

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August Diehl (“An Inner Life”) at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Adam Sandler is very good as a scheming diamond merchant continually driven to escalating gambles in “Uncut Gems” directed by the Safdie Brothers. Some disliked the extremely loud soundtrack, but I felt it reflected the feverish state of Sandler’s character.

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Adam Sandler at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Antonio Banderas who received the Best Actor prize at Cannes was exceptional and quite affecting in Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory” portraying a director based on Almodovar. This is one of Almodovar’s finest, showing the main character in physical and emotional pain looking back on his life and confronting people from his past.

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Antonio Banderas at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

The Korean Palme d’Or winner “Parasite” depicts a poor family deviously insinuating themselves into a rich household. This film, directed by Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”) is entertainingly twisted, but lacks the depth of last year’s Palme winner “Shoplifters”.

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Bong Joon-ho at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

”Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, which received the Best Screenplay award at Cannes was absorbing and masterfully filmed by director/writer Celine Sciamma  An artist (Noemie Merlant) arrives to paint a portrait of a young woman (a superlative Adele Haenel) for a prospective husband. Artist and subject become drawn to each other.

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Adele Haenel at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

“Lyrebird” was an intriguing film set in Post-WW2 Holland. A Jewish veteran investigates whether a failed painter was collaborator or something more devious. Guy Pearce plays the suspect with flair.

The highlight of the Festival for me was seeing Martin Scorsese speak about Agnes Varda before a showing of her last film, the marvelous “Varda by Agnes” which covers her remarkable and long career with Varda’s unique humor and insights.

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Martin Scorsese at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

I saw 2 other documentaries. “The Human Factor” from Dror Moreh (“The Gatekeepers”) was an engrossing behind the scenes view of the years of Middle East peace talks.

“Tell Me who I Am” was a very poignant look at the bond between twins. When Alex was 18, he was in a coma from a motorcycle accident. When he woke, he recognized his identical twin Marcus, but remembered nothing else. Marcus helped Alex rebuild his life, for a time hiding some painful events.

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Alex and Marcus Lewis at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Both brothers were in Telluride. Marcus spoke of how both were hugged at Telluride, laughing “we don’t do that in Britain”.

“Waves” was a well-acted drama about an Africa-American family. The more intense first half about a promising student-athlete (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) whose life is falling apart was superior to the next part dealing with his sister’s (Taylor Russell) reactions.

2 foreign films were vivid representations of different eras. “Beanpole” was a harrowing look at 2 female army veterans struggling in post-WW2 Russia. In “Verdict”, an abused and desperate Filipino wife fights back through the country’s currently over-crowded justice system.

In the title role of “The Assistant”, Julia Garner (“Ozark”) gives a notable performance as a young woman working for a film executive. The film becomes chilling as, going about her mundane daily duties, the assistant discovers the sordid behavior of her boss.

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Julia Garner at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones who appeared in Redmayne’s Oscar-winning “The Theory of Everything” were at Telluride with “The Aeronauts” about explorations in hot air balloons.

Jonathan Pryce came with “The Two Popes”. This film about the relation between the current Pope (Pryce) and the previous Pope (Anthony Hopkins) who resigned received strong audience buzz.

Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe were in town with “Motherless Brooklyn” which Norton also directed and co-wrote. Norton portrays a detective with Tourette Syndrome attempting to solve the murder of his mentor. This film noir received a mixed audience reception.

More details of the films will appear in future blogs.

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French Rendez-Vous 2019: “Amanda”

The very poignant “Amanda” was a stand-out selection of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. In his early twenties, David (Vincent Lacoste) is starting to figure out his life in contemporary Paris. He is very close to his sister Sandrine (Ophelia Kolb) and her 7-year-old daughter Amanda (Isaure Multrier). David is not always reliable, being late to pick up a family member and oversleeping.

David works for an apartment rental company and becomes drawn to a new tenant (Stacy Martin, “Nymphomaniac”). An unexpected tragedy forces David to become a potential guardian for Amanda.

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Vincent Lacoste and Isaure Multrier in “Amanda”

Lacoste is very affecting as his character is forced to assume new maturity and responsibilities, beginning with explaining circumstances to his young niece. Isaure Multrier is natural and impressive as the young niece. On a visit to England, David reconnects with his mother (Greta Scacchi).

After the film, the director/co-writer Mikhael Hers said “Amanda” was his “desire to portray Paris… wounds, fragility, beauty”. He added that he wanted to examine a “terrorist attack through intimate drama”.

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Vincent Lacoste and Isaure Multrier in “Amanda”

On casting the lead character of David, he felt that with the “starting point dense and tragic”, the actor should have “grace and lightness”. He choice Vincent Lacoste was “primarily known for comedy”. He succeeded as he described wanting an actor with “empathy…grace and awkward.”

Hers said that Isaure Multrier who portrays young Amanda was a “true actress” and a “performing monkey” in her first film. He chose her for being able to “express thoughts” in her “juvenile appearance”.

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Mikhael Hers at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

For a climactic visit to the Wimbelton Tennis Championships, Hers said no film crews were allowed at Wimbelton so over 4 days, a tournament in Germany was filmed.

Hers feels a film “should take in weak moments of life.” He said “Amanda” deals with “renewal”, and the most “devastating way to deal with absence”.

French Rendez-Vous 2019: 2 with Sandrine Kiberlain

Sandrine Kiberlain, a favorite French actress, appeared in 2 films at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival at Lincoln Center in New York City. The more serious selection was “In Safe Hands” (“Pupille”), an absorbing, extremely well-acted film about the diverse people involved in the adoption of a baby. Kiberlain portrays Karine, a social worker.

Before the film, Elodie Bouchez (“The Dreamlife of Angels”), who portrays a prospective mother, said that the film shows the French social system and that she is “super proud to pay taxes for a social system that saves lives.”

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Elodie Bouchez at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

“In Safe Hands” shows how this French social system takes care of Theo, a newborn given up by his mother. Kiberlain’s Karine handles Theo’s case of adoption among 3 potential candidates, one of whom is Alice (Bouchez). In the interim, Theo is placed with Jean (Gilles Lellouche) a foster parent who is an unemployed father. Karine becomes drawn to Jean’s sensitivity toward his foster charges.

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Gilles Lellouche and Sandrine Kiberlain in “In Safe Hands”

Writer/director Jeanne Henry focuses on the emotional consequences of the characters’ decisions, making for a very moving and effective film.

After the screening, Bouchez said she received the script, adding that with the writing “so great”, and being “super moved“, it is “instantly obvious you will be in it”.

In acting, Bouchez said “I love to adapt myself to the director, do research, trust the director.” She added that she was “grateful” that director Jeanne Henry “knows how to write stories and character” and is “precise”, so it is “easy to be good”.

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Elodie Bouchez in “In Safe Hands”

Bouchez believes “Children and babies are human beings and need talked to”, adding that the baby appearing in the film “inspired me.” In France, films can only shoot 1 hour with a baby.

“When Margaux Meets Margaux” (”La Belle et la Belle”) was a very clever comedy with an appealing performance by Sandrine Kiberlain as 40-something woman who meets a woman with the same name whom she realizes is a younger version of her herself.

Kiberlain’s Margaux returns to her home town for a funeral. There the younger Margaux (Agathe Bonitzer, daughter of the film’s director/writer Sophie Fillieres), quits her job. Both Margauxs meet facing into the mirror of a bathroom at a party. They have similar tastes and experiences.

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Sandrine Kiberlain and Melvil Poupaud in “When Margaux Meets Margaux”

The older believes she is talking to her younger self. She reassesses her life and tries to give the younger Margaux advice based on past experiences to prevent her from making the same mistakes.

The older Margaux encounters an old flame (Melvil Poupaud) who also becomes drawn to the younger Margaux. Some amusing twists combined with a good cast make this film quite entertaining.

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Agathe Bonitzer at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Both Agathe Bonitzer and Sophie Fillieres spoke after the film. Director/writer Fillieres said that her film deals with “facing oneself…recollecting” through the “layers inside you”. She believes the older Margaux senses something, but “doesn’t have the key”.

Fillieres said she wrote the screenplay with Sandrine Kiberlain in mind which helps. Kiberlain appeared in Fillieres’ first short film “Des Filles et des Chiens” (1991).

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Sophie Fillieres at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Fillieres did not want the 2 Margauxs to be physical images of each other. Kiberlain is blonde while Bonitzer has red hair. She wanted her heroines to have “vivid visuals like a comic strip”. Fillieres described the relationship between the Margauxs as “complicity, not jealousy or rivalry”.

Celebrating 50 Years of Film at Lincoln Center

The recent 50th Anniversary Gala of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, now renamed Film at Lincoln Center, was a memorable event. Many film notables spoke of how having their films shown in the New York Film Festival and the many film programs at Lincoln Center significantly helped their careers in film.

Many arrived through a burst of flashbulbs.

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Directors Pedro Almodovar and Julie Taymor arrive at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

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Director Jim Jarmusch arrives at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

The program was opened by Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”). He spoke of how a great film can make empathy so that people can better recognize each other back across borders.

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Jake Gyllenhaal at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”) appeared with his partner Zoe Kazan (“The Big Sick”) with whom he collaborated on the screenplay for “Wildlife” which he directed. Being the daughter of screenwriters, Kazan developed an interest in film earlier than Dano. Growing up in the suburbs, Dano spoke of being exposed to live performance arts. He acted on stage. When he started acting in films, he saw the “potential of cinema”. At Lincoln Center, he said films like those of Louis Malle “blew my mind”.

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Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Pedro Almodovar said that his early Spanish film “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was turned down by the Cannes Film Festival but was selected for the New Directors/New Films series at Lincoln Center in 1985. Almodovar joked that a critic’s description of the film as “often tasteless, never dull” was an appropriate description of his career work.

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Pedro Almodovar at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (“Fahreneit 9/11”) said that in this turbulent political time, the difference between fact and truth is crucial. He added that for the artist, the truth is now more important than ever and it is “necessary to have non-fiction films.”

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Michael Moore at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Moore spoke of how important for him it was for his first documentary “Roger & Me” (1989), completed after maxing out his credit cards, to be shown at the New York Film Festival.

John Waters joked humorously in the style of his films about the response to showings of his often outrageous work.

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John Waters at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Darren Aronovsky (“Black Swan”) spoke of the importance of the Film Society bringing the art of cinema to New York City and having an organization where people “don’t give a shit” about commercial consideration.

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Darren Aronovsky at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Tilda Swinton whose first film shown at Lincoln Center was “The Last of England” in 1987 called Film at Lincoln Center an “invaluable asset” for “essential reasons” to the cultural life of New York.

Dee Rees, whose “Pariah” (2011) was shown at New Directors/New Films and her “Mudbound” (2017) screened at the New York Film Festival, compared the open atmosphere of Lincoln Center with theaters in African American areas where bag checks are selectively enforced. She praised the “storytelling visions” of films shown at Lincoln Center with “powerful multiple perspectives”.

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Dee Rees at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

The program closed with Martin Scorsese who reminisced that as a student he didn’t have the money to afford attending the first New York Film Festival in 1963. Scorsese said that when his “Mean Streets” was shown at the 1973 New York Film Festival, a “defining moment” of his career “came that day”.

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Martin Scorsese at Lincoln Center

Scorsese joked that when his mother was asked what she thought of the profanity-laden “Mean Streets”, she replied “We never use that word in the house … where did he get that?”

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Martin Scorsese at Lincoln Center (c) Ed Scheid

Scorsese ended by saying Film at Lincoln Center has provided a ‘sanctuary, a temple of cinema…no competition, no awards”.

French Rendez-Vous 2019: “Lady J”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival at Lincoln Center in New York City screened a diverse variety of recent French films. The selections covered contemporary issues like terrorism, PTSD, unemployment and opioids.

The Rendez-Vous opened with “The Trouble with You” (“En Liberte!”), another clever, very well acted comedy from Pierre Salvadori with well written, very different characters. Yvonne (Adele Haenel), a police inspector, discovers that her late husband, also on the force, sent an innocent man (Pio Marmai) to prison. The prison sentence has turned the man violent. After his release Yvonne follows him, hoping to prevent further trouble for him with the law, leading to very humorous complications. Audrey Tautou plays the former prisoner’s partner.

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Adele Haenel and Pio Marmai in “The Trouble with You”

“Girls of the Sun” intensely depicts an all-female group of resistance fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. In “Maya” director Mia Hansen-Love sensitively follows a traumatized war journalist (Roman Kolinka) who travels to India for a change in routine and bonds with his godfather’s alienated daughter (Aaarshi Banerjee).

“Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain”) was an audience favorite, a very funny comedy with a top cast about an unemployed man (Mathieu Almaric, “Ismael’s Ghosts”) who joins a male synchronized swimming team and bonds with the other members (including Guillaume Canet and Jean-Hugues Anglade).

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“Sink or Swim”

The very poignant “Amanda” was a stand-out selection. A young man (Vincent Lacoste) starting to figure out his life in contemporary Paris is forced by a tragedy to become a potential guardian for his 7-year-old niece.

Future blogs will discuss these films and others in more detail.

My favorite of the 15 films I saw, “Mademoiselle de Joncquieres” (“Lady J”), is now showing on Netflix and is loosely based on an 18th century book by Denis Diderot. “Lady J”, written by its director Emmanuel Mouret, is full of sharp, witty dialog that helps make the film supremely entertaining.

The widowed Madame de La Pommeraye (Cecile de France, “The Kid with a Bike”) jokes with Marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer) about his libertine past, saying a large list of aristocratic women is “a small sample of your collection”.

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Cecile de France and Edouard Baer in “Lady J”

Believing he has changed, Madame falls under the charms of the Marquis and they become involved, staying in her chateau. After making trips to Paris, The Marquis admits his is ready to move on. Madame concocts a plan of revenge involving a mother and daughter (Natalia Dontcheva and Alice Isaaz) with aristocratic pedigree, but with a hidden past.

Led by Cecile de France, the cast has a genuine flair for the clever, as well as the more serious dialog. De France is also superb in showing how her character hides the pain and vulnerability caused by her deep feeling for the Marquis. She confides her true self only to her friend (Laure Calamy). Madame’s intricate scheme for vengeance keeps the film absorbing, providing surprises for all the characters. Her anger is mixed with a sense of justice at the treatment of women by men.

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Cecile de France in “Lady J”

The film is well-paced by director Emmanuel Mouret. The stylish costumes and elaborate settings add to the sense of aristocratic excess. The outdoor cinematography is particularly notable.

Director Emmanuel Mouret was at the Rendez-Vous in New York City. He said that the film “Lady J” asks “What is Love?”

He wanted a “different feel” from this adaptation which “comes from a playful novel” that “makes you think while having fun”. He described the story as “Fantastic …  devilish”. He spoke of working with the “sophisticated French text” having “dialog and psychology from before the French Revolution.”

He spent a lot of time in casting which certainly paid off. Of his actors, he said that Edouard Baer speaks like his character. Cecile de France didn’t come to his mind at first for the leading role. After her first reading his changed his mind as she “invested herself” in her part.

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Emmanuel Mouret at Rendez_Vous

He compared his film with “Dangerous Liaisons” which was based on another 18-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. He said that the “common points” were “the manipulator/man seduces women”, but that unlike “Liaisons”, in “Lady J”, the “seducer is sincere, not manipulated”, the libertine has “real convictions”. He believes that Denis Diderot is “less cynical” than de Laclos.

Mouret said his film shows that “Often failures mean happiness”. He said, ”When writing, I feel I am the Marquis”. He added that because he was “injured by love, I do have empathy for the Marquis.” For him. It was “exciting” to make his first film with costumes. He wanted to “show the period as a new period”. He didn’t want the film to look old.

Telluride 45: “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President”

The Telluride Film Festival often opens with the screening of  a long work. The documentary “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President”, was absorbing throughout its over 4-hour length, and from the title, still relevant. The film was made for the History Channel.

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Director Charles Ferguson (“No End In Sight”, “Inside Job”) said that when he started making the film five years ago, he thought it would be relaxing to make a documentary where the good guys win. The intervening presidential election made things more serious.

Ferguson described “Watergate” as a “very wild ride even if you know” the ending. There were 3500 hours of tape recordings taking place from 1971-1973. The documentary rigorously follows some fascinating facts. The White House tapes talk of a “Jewish conspiracy“ and blackmail photos are discussed. Relatively new reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein cover the Watergate events, because at first, it was believed the investigation was insignificant.

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Director Charles Ferguson at Telluride

The documentary reveals some amazing previously unknown details like Republican Senator Howard Baker being a mole for the White House before the depth on Nixon’s involvement was revealed. (“The Devin Nunes of today” joked an audience member at intermission.)

Afterward former Watergate prosecutors Jill Wine-Banks and Richard Ben-Veniste, former Congresswoman Elizabeth A. Holtzman and journalist Leslie Stahl gave their insights on the era.

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Elizabeth Holtzman and Leslie Stahl at Telluride

Elizabeth Holtzman was one of the House Judiciary Committee members who recommended three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Holtzman said that during the Watergate era the “system worked”. She spoke of the ”courage of the press” and that “Hopeful” was “where we were” after Watergate. She added that today “we find ourselves” with “no check on tyranny”.

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Leslie Stahl at Telluride

Leslie Stahl who covered Watergate correctly described the documentary as “riveting”. She added that the results were “strangely positive” as “we healed”. She believes ”Journalism reached its peak at Watergate, becoming braver and braver” as the Nixon administration “tried to undermine” democracy.

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Richard Ben-Veniste at Telluride

Richard Ben-Veniste said the system “worked, almost didn’t work” before the “smoking gun” of the taped conversation was revealed and with “substandard Republican support” when “factionalism and party loyalty” were chosen “over loyalty to country.” He added that “an aroused public” compelled the Republicans to choose “country over party”.

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Jill Wine-Banks at Telluride

Jill Wine-Banks said Watergate shows a “process that can work”. She said that today, media has “different facts” and that in the Watergate era, we “agreed on facts” with “different interpretations”. She has a “fear (of) what is happening” with the attacks on the press. She added that what Donald Trump is doing is a “threat” and we must “take this on and get rid of the threat to democracy”.

Director Charles Ferguson said that completing “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President.” was the “hardest” filmmaking “I’ve ever done”. He added that the documentary shows that the “relative power of a small number of people” who “could do what was right” was “not entirely lost.”

Telluride 45: “Cold War”

“Cold War” is a masterwork from director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida’) who co-wrote the screenplay. Pawlikowski was chosen Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a tempestuous relationship between a musician and singer in post-WW2 Europe.

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Tomasz Kot (center) in “Cold War”

In 1949 Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) , a piano player, works for the government in searching for folk-singers. Throughout the film, Pawlikowski composes striking black & white images in a square format that give “Cold War” the look of a period film. He creates a memorable scene from the folk costumes. Wiktor is drawn to Zula (Joanna Kulig), a singer.

Kot and Zula give forceful performances and have an intense chemistry together as their characters become attracted to each other.

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Government interference leads the couple to Paris and beyond and their relationship becomes increasingly volatile. Their wide-ranging story is enthralling with some riveting visuals. Kulig’s dance sequence in Paris to “Rock Around the Clock” is mesmerizing.

After the film screened at the Telluride Film Festival, Pawel Pawlikowski said that “Cold War” was dedicated to his parents. Their relationship lasted 40 years and was described by Pawlikowski as “complicated, hectic” and passing through “other countries, other partners”. The characters Wiktor and Zula have the names of his parents.

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Pawel Pawlikowski at Telluride

He called music the “glue in the story”, a love story passing through music history. He said that music, including jazz tunes, has a continual presence in the film.