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By Mark A. Altman | September 13, 2002

It’s probably been several decades since gold was last extracted from the mines dotting the mountains of the San Jacinto range surrounding the tiny town of Telluride, Colorado, but if this years 29th Telluride Film Festival is any indication, there is still gold to be found in them thar’ hills. Namely, the diverse range of new films, retrospectives and documentaries that unspooled over the annual four day festival which takes place every year over Labor Day weekend. Despite the bleak landscape for contemporary film, fest organizers Bill & Stella Pence and Tom Luddy once again culled together an impressively satisfying collection of films and retrospectives despite the challenges in assembling a compelling program in today’s anemic marketplace.
While there were no breakout films as in previous years such as Amelie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, “Once Were Warriors” or “The Boys From St. Vincent,” there was a surprising diversity of material from the international and independent cinema despite a challenge from the fledgling Telluride Indie Fest which barely registered as a blip on the cultural radar at Telluride this year. The film that seemed to attract the most interest was Phil Noyce’s “RABBIT PROOF FENCE” (****). Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this the guy who did “Patriot Games?” Well, that’s true, but in the case of this forthcoming Miramax offering, Noyce uses his gift in crafting commercial cinema to apply it to a more intimate subject matter and it works. Escaping what he calls “the golden cage” that is Hollywood, Noyce returned to his Australian roots to craft a moving and powerful docudrama about native Aboriginals in Australia who are forcibly relocated and taken away from their families in order to integrate them into white society in 1931. The film is based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara and a powerful story, well told by Noyce and superbly acted by newcomer Everlyn Sampi as Molly Craig, the young girl who leads her young sister and cousin in an escape back home to the consternation of the insidious program’s architect, Mr. Neville, played superbly in a marvelously understated performance by Kenneth Branagh.
“A day without sex is a day wasted,” Bob Crane, played by Greg Kinnear, laments in Paul Schrader’s “AUTO FOCUS” (***), a film that has been the recipient of an incredible amount of pre-release buzz. While the film doesn’t live up to the hype, Paul Schrader’s biopic about the late Bob Crane, who is best known as the wacky Colonel Hogan of TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” proved the perfect midnight film fodder. Following a stunning shagadelic credit sequence, the film settles down into routine TV movie territory treading the same ground for much of its running time. With a limited $7 million budget, Schrader isn’t able to bring much style to the piece, but Greg Kinnear’s surprising performance and some lacerating black comedy help keep the film interesting as it examines Crane’s fall from grace and obsession with the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. His obsession with what was then fledgling video technology is among the film’s most enjoyable conceits and the re-creations of ludicrous scenes from “Hogan’s Heroes” are priceless. Despite the film’s missteps, Schrader’s penance for the dreadful “Forever Mine” is now complete.
Telluride film reviews in part two of GOLDMINE: THE 29TH TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL>>>

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