Telluride 2014

The 41st Telluride Film Festival was again held during Labor Day weekend in the picturesque small former mining town in the mountains of southwest Colorado. A speaker joked that at a place with such beautiful scenery, everyone goes indoors to watch movies.

The film schedule is not announced in advance, adding mystery to the event. The high school gym, Mason’s Hall, and the ice rink are among the places converted into theatres with top-of-the line projection and sound. Even with 9 indoor venues, it’s impossible to see everything.

A conflict with the Toronto Film Festival on film premieres did not seem to have affected the, as always, wide-ranging schedule.

The main street was blocked off for the Opening Night Feed where Festival passholders and guests mingled, ate and drank. This year there was a colorful Russian atmosphere.

Telluride Opening Night Feed

Telluride Opening Night Feed

Telluride always gives three Tributes. This year for a change of pace, one Tribute was to a film, “Apocalypse Now”, 35 years later. For me, the Festival highlight this year was A Close-Up on “Apocalypse Now”, a unique Telluride event. The classic film’s director Francis Ford Coppola and other members of the creative team each showed a clip and discussed the filmmaking process.

Francis Ford Coppola with moderator Annette Insdorf, Volker Schlondorff, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Francis Ford Coppola with moderator Annette Insdorf, Volker Schlondorff, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Francis Ford Coppola with   moderator Annette Insdorf, Mike Leigh, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Francis Ford Coppola with moderator Annette Insdorf, Mike Leigh, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Hilary Swank also received a Tribute. She and star/director/co-writer Tommy Lee Jones enliven the somewhat conventional “The Homesman” which has an unusual starting point.

The other Tribute, to German director Volker Schlondorff (“The Tin Drum”) was one of the most memorable I’ve seen at Telluride. Schlondorff’s film “Diplomacy”, about a German general (Niels Arestrup, “A Prophet”) ordered by Hitler to destroy Paris and the Swedish diplomat (Andre Dussolier, “Wild Grass”) trying to save the city, was a master filmmaker in peak form.

The best film I saw at Telluride was “Leviathan” from Andrey Zvyagintsev, a gripping Russian view of corruption engulfing a family.

Jon Stewart made a notable directorial debut with “Rosewater”, the true story of a journalist returning to Iran to cover the elections in 2009 who is arrested as a spy. Stewart participated in post-film discussions with the Iranian journalist and Gael Garcia Bernal who portrays him in the film.

Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern are both impressive in “The Wild” about a woman (Witherspoon) who makes an arduous, remote hike when her life falls apart. Dern plays her mother in flashbacks. This film seemed appropriate to the mountain setting of Telluride.

Laura Dern and Reese Whitherspoon at Telluride

Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon at Telluride

International films covered the economic crisis. Marion Cotillard is superb in the Belgian Darnenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night” as a woman desperate to keep her job. Ramin Bahrani ‘s (“Man Push Cart”) “99 Homes” depicts foreclosures in Florida. Performances from Michael Shannon (chillingly amoral) and Andrew Garfield (un-Spiderman-like) highlight a problematic screenplay. There Is even a foreclosure In the new version of “Madame Bovary”.

“The Price of Fame”, the new film from Xavier Beauvois (“Of Gods and Men”), inspired by the bizarre plot to kidnap Chaplin’s coffin for ransom, was very clever, a tribute to movies, and a Telluride favorite of mine.

Another unique Telluride feature was an outdoor panel with many major directors including Coppola, Schlondorff, Festival regular Werner Herzog, and directors with their latest at Telluride: Wim Wenders (“The Salt of the Earth”), Mike Leigh (“Mr. Turner”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”), and Ethan Hawke (“Seymour”).

Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog

I missed some of the big titles for some lower-profile choices like “Magician”, an absorbing and thorough documentary on Orson Welles and “Bertolucci an Bertolucci”.

Also at Telluride this year were O(prah) and Q(uincy Jones) as well as Festival regulars Ken Burns(“The Roosevelts”), Leonard Maltin, and Alexander Payne (“Nebraska”).

Future posts will detail Telluride films and events.