Telluride 43: Tribute to Casey Affleck and “Manchester by the Sea”

My top selection at the Telluride Film Festival was “Manchester by the Sea”, written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”, “Lobby Hero” on stage) and shown as part of a Tribute to its leading actor, Casey Affleck.

During his tribute, Affleck who had acted in one of Lonergan’s plays said there is “none better than Kenny.” He spoke of getting to understand himself better during filmmaking as he understood the character better. He added that actor and director have the “most profound relationship.”

Casey Affleck at Telluride   (c) Ed Scheid

Casey Affleck at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Affleck joked about falling in love with Rooney Mara making “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013). He said that he shows “scripts I like” to “people I like” including friends and family, and “Kenny constantly”. He added “my kids have never been wrong.”

After high school. Affleck moved to Los Angeles. An early film was “To Die For” (1995). He said the film’s director Gus Van Sant guided him because “I hadn’t the slightest idea” what to do. He became a close friend of Joaquin Phoenix, a co-star in the film. Affleck added they “bonded more” when he married Phoenix’s sister. Affleck also directed Phoenix in “I’m Still Here”, passed off as a documentary on Phoenix’s leaving acting.

Kenneth Lonergan at Telluride    (c) Ed Scheid

Kenneth Lonergan at Telluride (c) Ed Scheid

Affleck added that it can seem like “a nightmare” playing a character living a nightmare. He added that an actor has to be patient and not too thin-skinned.

“Manchester by the Sea” is about Lee Chandler (Affleck), a janitor leading a solitary life, who returns to his home town after a family tragedy and finds that he has been given custody of his teenage nephew. Lee is forced to confront the consequences of his past.

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”

This powerful film is exceptionally directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan who has created a variety of complex characters that are portrayed by an impressive cast that includes Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, and Matthew Broderick.

Affleck gives a superb, award-caliber, intense performance, movingly conveying his character’s conflicts. Lee who had considered himself “just a backup” must face new responsibilities, leading to volatile fights with his young nephew (Lucas Hedges) about a future disruptive for both. Affleck gives Lee a haunted appearance as he relives the pain brought on by his visit home. Lee and his ex-wife (Williams) have a devastating scene of raw emotion.

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”

Both Kenneth Lonergan and Casey Affleck participated in an outdoor panel. Lonergan said that the setting of a film become an integral part of the story. Affleck who is from Massachusetts said that the Manchester location is close to where he grew up. He added that it can be disorienting while filming if you don’t know the location.

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Telluride 43: “Moonlight”

“Moonlight” received a strong response at the Telluride Film Festival. Before a screening, stage director and Telluride regular Peter Sellars effusively praised the film and its treatment of a rare subject.

This film’s writer/director Barry Jenkins had first been to Telluride as part of the student program and returned as a volunteer. Jenkins joked that it was “eight fucking years” since his first film “Medicine for Melancholy”.

Peter Sellars and Barry Jenkins at Telluride

Peter Sellars and Barry Jenkins at Telluride

“Moonlight” is a uniformly well-acted film about Chiron, an African-American boy living in Miami with his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris, James Bond’s current Moneypenny).

Chiron, a lonely silent boy (Alex R. Hibbert) is befriended by Juan (Mahershala Ali, “House of Cards”) who becomes a supportive father-figure. Juan’s girlfriend (Janelle Monae) welcomes Chiron into her home whenever he wants to stay in a less stressful environment. Juan’s relationship is complicated as he is a drug dealer for Chiron’s mother.

Andre Holland, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali at Telluride

Andre Holland, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali at Telluride

The film is based on a play by Tarell McCraney. Both McCraney and Jenkins grew up in Miami with mothers having a crack problem. Harris is extremely vivid as a woman under the ravages of addiction.

Chiron tries to figure out why he feels different from others. He grows into a bullied teenager (Ashton Sanders) who explores his homosexuality.

Ashton Sanders in "Moonlight"

Ashton Sanders in “Moonlight”

“Moonlight” is compelling and often poignant, written and directed with sensitivity by Barry Jenkins. A reunion between a very different young adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Andre Holland), his sole boyhood friend, is particularly effective.