The Telluride Film Festival, the venerable cinema smorgasbord set in the unlikely setting of the San Jacinto mountains of Colorado, has come under increasing criticism for becoming precious as the erudite tastes of its promoters have become decried for their pretensiousness. But despite the notable dearth of Hollywood acquisitions execs and silver screen power players at this year’s event, Telluride’s 25th anniversary delivered the goods to cinemaphiles in search of the best and the most innovative in world cinema from today and yesterday.
What was probably most surprising given the film’s notable milestone was the lack of cutting edge contemporary independent fare. In fact, it seemed as though Telluride has totally surrendered this mantle to Sundance. The few movies from the independent scene like Lion’s Gate “I’m Losing You” got distinctly mixed reaction from the crowd while “Happiness” already made a splash at Cannes and also earned wildly divergent reactions from the attendees. Sophomore helmer Lodge Kerrigan seemed to get the best reaction with his latest effort “Claire Dolan” boasting impressive performances from both “Breaking The Waves” Katrin Cartilidge and Irish film staple (and DS9 regular) Colm Meaney.
More impressive was sunglass-wearing guest director Pete Bognovich’s welcome presence including his highlighting of the year 1928 as cinema’s finest. King Vidor’s “The Crowd” and Josef Von Sternberg’s “The Last Command” were two of the biggest hits of the festival, both notably absent from the AFI’s Top 100 films and delighted packed houses. Although you often had to deal with Bognovich’s raging ego during his presentations (more evident during a panel on 70’s filmmakers in which the words “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” was never uttered once), he also was a fountain of information and delivered a great presentation on John Ford while unspooling his delightful 1971 documentary on the classic American auteur.
Much to the surprise of everyone, Meryl Streep was honored with a special tribute. (She was joined briefly by Clint Eastwood who looked like he couldn’t wait to ankle the fest as soon as possible.) Given that this is the same festival that has highlighted the work of actresses like Judy Davis, Hanna Schuygulla, Jodie Foster and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the mainstream choice of a noted Oscar winner seemed a bit odd. More in keeping with the spirit of the festival were tributes to cinematographer extraorinare Vittorio Storaro (and the premiere of his latest work, “Tango”) and surrealist filmmaker Susumu Hani.
Ironically, the most talked about films at the fest included the restored “Touch of Evil”, Bill Murray in Wes Anderson’s delightfully wacky and original “Rushmore” and Ken Burns’ latest documentary, the impressive two and a half hour biopic about Frank Lloyd Wright. Although it was Leonard Maltin’s presentation/retrospective on 3-D Films that stole the show including clips from a diverse range of Hollywood anti-classics as well as some of the latest cutting edge 3-D technology including Warner Bros. newest Marvin The Martian cartoon and a surprisingly effective Hitchcock tribute from Universal.
While Sundance entry “Central Station” earned some accolades, few films gained universal praise and there was much grumbling about the mediocre fare unspooling at the show. Most surprising was the surprise showing of a film from festival co-director Tom Luddy that was savaged by filmgoers.
Even as the sun went down on the four day event, passholders were shocked that the fest ended with a collection of shorts instead of the far more appropriate “The Last Picture Show” which could have provided a more welcome coda to the festival in the tradition of its many great closing films of years past (e.g. “Apocalypse Now,” The Magnificent Seven,” “The Wanderers”). But regardless of its failings, Telluride still ranks as the best fest for filmgoers who are trying to avoid a summer of killer asteroids and monsyllabic vampire hunters and immerse themselves in a weekend of great cinema among kindred spirits.
In fact, the biggest Telluride highlight may have been the fact that it never rained the whole weekend. Now there’s something to really celebrate.