40th Annual Telluride Film Fest, Overview #1 + Tributees

40th Annual Telluride Film Fest, Overview #1 + Tributees

photo credit: Pamela Gentile

photo credit: Pamela Gentile

“The first time I came to Telluride there were three wonderful tributes, a selection of discoveries from around the world and classic films presented with such love that I felt this was my new home. Thirty-nine years later, I am proud to be a part of the festival team and to help carry on the tradition established by Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy, and James Card,” co-director Gary Meyer. “One of the most exciting things for me is to be introducing a new movie or a classic and when I look out over the audience, I see not only Werner Herzog, a annual guest, but also perhaps a dozen of the world’s great filmmakers, actors and writers anxiously awaiting their next surprise.”

(NOTE: Post includes links to trailers.)

It is deja-vu all over again as the curtain goes up on the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival this week, starting Thursday, August 29 through Monday, September 2, 2013.

The picture on the world screen is dark as pitch: war, genocide, regional upheaval, political debauchery and corruption on the home front, global unemployment, countries approaching bankruptcy. Ee-gaads. If there’s a silver lining, the toughest times often produce the greatest art on the silver screen – or not.

Certainly not in Tinsel Town. This year has been a disaster for disaster films. You name it, it went kerplop: “R.I.P.D.,” “Turbo,” “After Earth,” “White House Down,” “Pacific Rim,” and “The Lone Ranger.” All big-budget clunkers. One or two few critics praised “Elysium,” for being not just angry, but also alive. But one does not a party make.

The big party is now and here in town, the celebration of the SHOW.

That great sucking sound you hear? It’s the air going out of the competition. In an increasingly crowded festival landscape – there are several thousand film events around the world today –  the Telluride Film Festival remains in a league of its own, bulletproof.


Reasons abound…

The Telluride Film Festival built its acclaim as buzzmeister extraordinaire over 39 years by celebrating the art, not the business, of filmmaking. From the get-go, Festival founders and directors emeriti, Bill and Stella Pence, and Tom Luddy, also co-founder, plus Gary Meyer and Julie Huntsinger became renowned for turning their backs on The Industry, Hollywood shorthand for special effects, mind-numbing plots, testosterone-fueled blood-and-gore fests, blockbusters, crowd-pleasing franchises, bad guesses, and good luck. It’s a shock-and awe-machine desperately in need of a major reboot. Telluride, on the other hand, puts the spotlight on intelligent storytelling and superior filmmaking to create a seductive mix of past and present, foreign and domestic, obscure and accessible, dark and light, long and short, features and documentaries.

The 2013 Telluride Film Festival should be no different than the 39 film celebrations that came before, which is to say very different from all other film events (except perhaps Pordenonne). Thirty-nine years ago, there was no Montreal or Sundance. Still today, Telluride remains the sole festival in the world to acknowledge the past as the basic grammar upon which the language of present and future movie expression is based.

Only Telluride goes to the great expense of importing film and talent from places near and far because the directors believe an artistic as well as a screen presence is an important point of differentiation.

Telluride is not a booty call, a swag grab, or one giant photo op. There are no red carpets, extravagant soirees, paparazzi.The directors continue in the tradition established by the Pences (and Luddy) of a very strong curatorial stance, so you will not find any big budget pap (listed above) either. No glitter. No fluff. No bang, zoom, POW! The Telluride Film Festival is and has always been a silly-free zone.

The Telluride Film Festival is an annual gathering of the clan: critics, buyers, sellers, programmers, actors, directors, producers, sponsors, and plain vanilla film buffs like us. They all show up in part because because everyone knows Telluride matters: four of the past five top Oscar winning films for Best Picture premiered here. Yet for all the buzz Telluride generates, the atmosphere remains laid back and unpretentious.

And Telluride in itself is another reason people show up: it’s at least partly about location, location, location.

Feel the frisson? As the weekend approaches, the excitement in the air is primal, palpable. Over this long Labor Day weekend, voyeurism is not considered kinky. It is a way of life. People who like to watch trade off Colorado blue skies for the silver screen, burrowing in dark theaters, where they get to check out other people making well lit, larger-than-life spectacles of themselves. As we said, the Telluride Film Festival does not play the fame game in any way. It does not pet celebrities: on the streets, everyone walks side by side chattering like magpies. In lines, we all freely discuss the films we have just seen or are about to see.

What Telluride Film Festival guests are about to see, however, is a very well kept secret. The Telluride Film Festival is closemouthed about the list of films, filmmakers and tributees until the first day of the Labor Day weekend gathering – which comes a day early this year.

Today is the day the cat is out of the bag. Which film will be the 2013 “Argo”? Hole up and be enthralled as eros and thanatos duke it out on the silver screen. Watch complicated characters and their struggles with sex, money, social upheaval, and the treacheries of the human heart play out in dramas (and comedies) on the silver screen.

Telluride Film Festival, Tributees and Special Medallion:

Every year, since the event got off the ground in 1974, The Telluride Film Festival, known locally as The SHOW, pays tribute to artists whose contributions resonate throughout the medium. Thirty-nine years ago, the first tributees were Gloria Swanson, Francis Ford Coppola, and Leni Riefenstahl.

The list of Telluride Film Festival honored actors swelled over the years to include Jack Nicholson, Gerard Depardieu, Clint Eastwood, Isabelle Huppert, Jodie Foster, Klaus Kinski, Shirley MacLaine, Toni Collette, Daniel Day Lewis, Viggo Mortensen, part-time local (she met her husband Marc Schauer, her V.I.P host, when she was honored in 2004), Laura Linney, and George Clooney.

Directors who have been Film Festival tributees include Werner Herzog, Chuck Jones, Robert Altman, Pedro Almodovar, Ken Burns, and Neil Jordan.

Festival co-director Gary Meyer once observed a pattern in the way Telluride Film Festival tributees are selected: “Someone quite well known; A great artist whose work is not so well known in America; and, Someone who has operated quietly, but very effectively behind the scenes.” 

Does the pattern hold up in 2013?

At the risk of political incorrectness, you betcha.

Robert Redford is a living legend, whose name conjures visions (for Boomers anyway) of “The Way We Were.”

Redford, an award-winning American motion picture actor, director, producer, businessman, environmentalist, and philanthropist, is famous for his perennially boyish good looks. His easy appeal has weathered the decades.

Redford was born August 18, 1936, in Santa Monica, California, to Charles Robert Redford, an accountant for Standard Oil, and Martha Hart. His mother died in 1955, the year after he graduated from high school. Charles Robert Redford, Jr. was a scrappy kid who stole hubcaps in high school and lost his college baseball scholarship at the University of Colorado because of drunkenness. After studying at the Pratt Institute of Art and living the painter’s life in Europe, he studied acting in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Art

Television and stage experience coupled with all-American good looks led to movies and television roles. His breakthrough role was  Sundance Kid in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” (1969) He was 32.  “The Way We Were” and “The Sting,” both made in 1973, turned Redford into a #1 box office star. His directorial debut, “Ordinary People,” (1980), won him an Oscar for Best Director in 1981.

Redford went on to use his considerable clout to advance environmental causes and his riches to acquire Utah property, which he transformed into a ranch and the Sundance ski resort. In 1980, he established the Sundance Institute for aspiring filmmakers. Its annual festival is, like Telluride, world famous.

Film Fest honors Redford and applauds his latest role, a man lost at sea, in J.C. Chandor’s “All Is Lost.”

In the second category, (known elsewhere, but not here in America and should be), the SHOW honors Mohammed Rasoulof.

Mohammad Rasoulof is an Iranian indie filmmaker, born 1972 in Shiraz, Iran, currently living in Tehran and Hamburg. Rasoulof studied sociology in Tehran, then went on to become a vocal critic (through his work) of the systematic oppression of his fellow countryman by the government. As a filmmaker, his protagonists are ordinary people who face extraordinary obstacles in generally mundane settings.

In 2010, Rasoulof and a friend were arrested on set, accused of filming without a permit. He was banned from filmmaking for 20 years and sentenced to six years in prison (reduced to one year). Upon his release, his films became bolder and more accusatory. Rasoulof’s most recent effort, Manuscripts Don’t Burn,a prize-winner at Cannes, tells the tale of two thugs working for the secret police, charged with crushing intellectuals.

This one may be a bit of a square peg. All three honored guests do work behind the scenes quite effectively, just not quietly; their names, hardly an Industry secret. The third tribute goes to T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers.

Many think the trio’s latest collaboration, the music-themed drama “Inside Llewyn Davis,” appears to be a foregone conclusion. Backtracking over their filmography, the directors have always woven music into their stories in ways the Festival describes as “novel and sophisticated.” In “The Big Lebowski,” for example, the Dude’s twin preoccupations were weed and music. The accidental musicians, the Soggy Bottom Boys of “O Brother Where Art Thou?” fame launched a runaway hit, “Man of Constant Sorrow.” T Bone Burnett is the siblings’ musical partner and mentor.

Working with his brother Ethan, screenwriter/director Joel Coen has built a reputation as one of the most visionary and idiosyncratic filmmakers of the late-20th century. Combining thoughtful eccentricity, wry humor, arch irony, and often brutal violence, the films of the Coen brothers have become synonymous with a style of filmmaking that pays tribute to classic American movie genres — especially film noir — while sustaining a firmly postmodern feel. Beginning with “Blood Simple,” their brutal, stylish 1984 debut, the brothers went on to amass a body of work that has established them as two of the most compelling figures in American and world cinemas.

T Bone Burnett’s 40 years of experience in music and entertainment have earned him an unparalleled reputation as a first-rate innovative artist, songwriter, producer, performer, concert producer, record company owner, and artists’ advocate. He is a 12-time Grammy winner. T Bone recently served as Executive Music Producer for box-office blockbuster The Hunger Games, for which he also produced a companion album that entered the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart at #1 and was certified Gold within weeks of its release. That was just before his latest collaboration with the Coen brothers on “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

The SHOW’s Special Medallion celebrates a hero of cinema – organization or individual – “that preserves, honors and presents great movies.”  Past recipients include HBO, Ted Turner, and Leonard Maltin. This year, the honor goes to Alejandro Ramirez.

Ramirez grew up in a house that shared a wall with one of his grandfather’s cinemas, but never planned to join the family business. After finishing his studies in international development at Oxford and Harvard, he returned home to accept his fate. Today, Ramirez runs Cinepolis, the fourth-largest chain of movie theaters in the world. His focus: movies that address poverty in his country.

Continue Reading Related Posts:
Telluride Film Fest: Overview #2, Features
Telluride Film Fest: Overview #3, Docs & More
Telluride Film Fest: Overview #4, Meyer on Herzog & More for 40th

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