By James Hancock September 6th, 2015
I’m a little late with this post but last night the more social side of the Telluride Film Festival finally got the better of me and I was in no condition to write my own name much less a summary of the day’s events (see my Day 1 post here). I am working against a ticking clock before I need to get in line for the next screening I wish to attend, but I do want to say that San Diego Comic Con has officially been dethroned as my favorite event of the year and been replaced by Telluride. It is hard to put into words the vibe of this place, but there is something special about how Telluride manages to maintain its atmosphere as a sleepy mountain town even when the town is overflowing with movie stars and famous filmmakers. During the Sundance Film Festival, Park City gets completely overwhelmed to the point where it is next to impossible to find anything to eat or drink without making reservations months in advance or worse waiting in line for hours to see movies only to be turned away a few minutes before the movie starts. Don’t get me wrong, Sundance is a great festival but it is not a place one goes to relax. Telluride might be the most relaxing place I’ve ever been to. The people could not be more friendly and inviting, bars and restaurants are busy but totally accessible, and the program of films from new releases to obscure restored classics has been positively first rate.
I started off Day 2 with an incredible screening of Hitchcock/Truffaut (see my review here) which is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. I thought then that I was going to have a mellow afternoon and perhaps get a chance to go on a hike, but then the afternoon threw me a major curve ball. I’m here at the festival with animator Bill Plympton to promote our short film The Loneliest Stoplight and as a guest of the festival Bill gets invited to a lot of cool events that are not known to the public. He gave me a call late afternoon and asked with great insistence, ‘What are you doing right now?’ I replied that I was not doing anything and Bill instructed me to head to a particular address immediately and to call him when I was outside. As I approached the address I saw screenwriter Charlie Kaufman walking away from the event and I knew I was in for something special. As it turned out, somebody had lent their home to give a small cocktail party for all the filmmakers participating in the festival giving me the unexpected opportunity to gawk shamelessly at several filmmakers and actors whose work I greatly respect.
I tend to lose my mind completely when I come face to face with famous filmmakers but I can handle small doses of celebrity when I see them in the proper context such as on a panel at a convention or when they introduce one of their films at a screening. I’m not accustomed to seeing filmmakers like Danny Boyle and Todd Haynes casually hanging out waiting in line for a glass of wine with no VIP treatment of any kind. I’m even less accustomed to seeing actresses like Rooney Mara, Kate Winslet, & Meryl Streep mingling with friends without an army of handlers protecting them from movie freaks like myself. That is what is so astounding about Telluride. There is an unwritten rule not to pester people for photos or pester them period, meaning filmmakers can let their hair down and just enjoy the festival like anyone else. To my surprise the first boss I ever had, producer Sid Ganis, was there at the party. I interned for Sid back in college during the summers of 1997 & 1998 and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see him again and tell him about some of the things I’ve been up to. The chance encounter with Sid also made me feel less like a crasher who would be found out and expelled from the gathering at any second.
With some wine swirling around my brain and a giddy high from the party, I decided it was finally time to take advantage of some the marijuana edibles that are available here in Colorado. I ate one piece of chocolate that was the recommended dosage and waited for it to kick in while getting in line to see a restoration of Francesco Rosi’s The Mattei Affair (1972). I was unfamiliar with Rosi’s work but at this point Telluride has a lot of credit in the bank with me so I was happy to check it out with little to no knowledge of the movie. One of the greatest pleasures to be found here is simply talking flicks with other attendees while waiting in line as was the case last night where I found myself ranting at length with total strangers about the filmographies of Fritz Lang and Alan Clarke. Even better, once we were handed out numbers to get into the theater at the starting time, we were free to roam about the town. Next to the theater was the Abel Gance Park, an open air cinema where anyone can stroll up, have a seat and enjoy whatever is playing. I caught the last half of the short film Coach by director Ben Adler, a film about soccer hooligans, as well as the opening of Taj Majal which stars the lovely Stacy Martin. I was tempted to stay but returned to the Sheridan Opera House see The Mattei Affair. I found a quiet area in the balcony but about five minutes into the movie I suddenly realized that I was entirely too fucked up to be out in public, much less watching a very serious movie about building Italy’s methane gas industry after WWII. I decided to power through and soon found myself completely engrossed by the performance by Gian Maria Volonté, an actor that I recognized from some of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Heavy in political overtones, The Mattei Affair is no light piece of entertainment but I am very glad to have seen a pristine fully restored copy of the film in that setting.
As I stumbled home after the show, I managed to get lost. In spite of a relatively active night life offered by the town, Telluride gets pitch black during the evening and my buzz had completely addled my senses. But as I stood there in the cold and rain, trying to focus on where my hotel might be, I took in the sight of this very mellow town, a town full of film freaks quietly indulging in their obsession. I realized at that moment how much I love the Telluride Film Festival and that in spite of being cold, wet, and lost in the dark, there was nowhere I’d rather be.
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