Friday, September 02, 2011

Telluride Film Festival 1991

Twenty years ago this weekend I was part of the Telluride Film Festival Student Program. I wrote an essay on 'McCabe and Mrs Miller' which was good enough to get me accepted to the festival. [Confession; the student program was less competitive then, plus I attended a college in the area]

I had been to the festival for the first time in 1990 so I was excited to return for the beauty of the area as well as the selection of films and the friendly crowds that gathered each Labor Day weekend in the spectacular town of Telluride.

The festival, then [the eighteenth one], was much, much smaller then than it is now. However, in 1991 they expanded the festival by adding a new large location that they called The Strand, which was a High School gymnasium that they had converted to a theater.

There was no gondola, therefore no Chuck Jones theater. And the Galaxy theater was not there yet either. Instead what they had was a Quonset hut called The Community Center, which was in the same vicinity. The other theaters, still there today, were The Opera House, the Nugget, the Mason's Hall and of course the Abel Gance Outdoor theater.  What was especially notable was the festival was more compact then. When the noon seminars came around each day there were no other events. So people either went to the seminar or went to lunch. And, of course, the lines for each movie were shorter.

In those days they only had 30 movies that played over the four days, the cost of the festival pass was $325.00 [individual tickets per movie were $7.00 or $10.00 for the Opera House] and they had a federal grant for the National Endowment of the Arts. The main corporate sponsor was Premiere magazine.

That year the tributes went to:
Nature's Filmmakers - An interesting cross section saluting various 'nature filmmakers'. That year the 'Trials of Life' series was to be shown on PBS.
Sven Nykvist - The famed cinematographer for many of Ingmar Bergman films. That year he had a film of his own titled 'The Ox'.
Jodie Foster - After 30 years of actiung she had her first directed film there titled 'Little Man Tate'.

The rest of the line-up was the usual interesting cross section of films that Telluride - like any quality festival - was known for. But in those days Telluride was not necessarily known for big premieres - although they had a few every so often. They were known more for the art of old and new films that the cinefiles out there could appreciate.

In 1991 the guest director was Laurie Anderson the eclectic musician who can only be described as unique. She is both funny and wise and is great at weaving intricate and interesting stories, which she did when she came to talk to us in the Student Program.

This was only the second year they had a guest director and so rather than the customary five film selection they have now established there were only two films. She chose a terrific Mexican drama titled 'Danzon' and a selection of short video works titled 'New Video Art'.

Here were the film selections that year:
A Captive In The Land - John Berry
Danzon - Maria Novaro
Dogfight - Nancy Savocca
The Double Life of Veronique - Krysztof Kieslowski
Hors La Vie - Maroun Bagdadi
I Want to Fly [aka Volere volare] - Maurizio Nichetti
Let Him Have It - Peter Medak
Little Man Tate - Jodie Foster
New Video Art - various short experimental videos
The Ox [aka Oxen]- Sven Nykvist
Prospero's Books - Peter Greenaway
The Rapture - Michael Tolkin
Rambling Rose - Martha Coolidge
Sanctus / Lyrical Nitrate - Experimental and reconfigured silent films
Scream of Stone - Werner Herzog
A Tale Of The Unextinguished Moon - Yevgeny Tsimbal
A Woman's Tale - Paul Cox
Raise The Red Lantern - Zhang Yimou

3:10 To Yuma - As part of a mini tribute to Glenn Ford and Elmore Leonard
Lucky Star - Frank Borzage 1929 film [rediscovered]
Prix de Beaute - Louise Brooks film from 1931
Ride The High Country - Sam Peckinpah film from 1962

Anima Mundi - Godfrey Reggio
Empire Of The Air - Ken Burns documentary of radio
Hearts of Darkness - Documentary on Apocalypse Now by George Hickenlooper
The Other Eye - Documentary on GW Pabst
The Tourist - a personal diary documentary by Robb Moss
Wild By Law - Doumentary on the Wilderness Act in the US

The closest Oscar contending film was Rambling Rose, which garnered nominations for Laura Dern and Diane Ladd. In a fair world Sheila Florance from A Woman's Tale would have been nominated for her brave role of an elderly woman dying of cancer, which in fact was really what was happening to her when she made the film.

Raise The Red Lantern and The Double Life of Veronique are today classic foreign language films. In the case of Veronique many had not yet heard of Kieslowski. This was his first film outside of Poland.

Hearts of Darkness became the standard for films about filmmaking but the other documentaries quietly came and went as was the case with documentaries until a few years ago,

A good number of films never really saw distribution in the US including A Tale Of The Unextinguished Moon, Hors la Vie and The Tourist. Many had minor releases such as A Woman's Take, Oxen, I Want to Fly and Danzon.

Highlights I can recall:
* The Lucky Star screening at the Opera House with a musical score by Adrian Johnston was transcendent. The film had not been seen, much less heard of, for over 60 years so no one knew what to expect. But what a discovery. Most of the audience were in tears if not because of the subject matter [a Borzage weepy about a man in a wheelchair who learns to walk again] but because of the beautiful score by Johnston.

* Ken Burns addressing the students. As I learned, it became customary for Ken Burns to address the staff before the festival began. He brings an eloquent and friendly charm that wins everyone over to his way of thinking. He got us excited not just about the festival but about filmmaking and the valuable service a good filmmaker [especially a documentary one] can do for the arts and society.

* Watching Werner Herzog run down the mountain after the Labor Day picnic. In those days the Labor Day picnic was held at the top of the mountain [see photo at top]. The main way to get there was to take the chair lift. Once the picnic and the seminar were finished people get back in line and ride down the mountain. Werner saw the line was too long so rather than wait [which technically he did not have to do] he decided to just head off straight down the mountain. Me, being a mountain runner, badly wanted to follow him down the mountain. However, I was already on the chairlift descending to town. So I was able to watch him tear down the grass, weed, and rocky trails. When I got to the bottom I asked him how he enjoyed his route and he said he enjoyed it and had to do it because he wanted to get the the screening of Raise The Red Lantern.

* Meeting Irene Jacob at the Labor Day picnic was a delight too. As is often the case in Telluride it is fairly easy to approach a star and say hello. Irene Jacob was easy going and spoke to some of the students about The Double Life of Veronique. She pointed out to me that the film is edited differently in the two parts of the film. The first part in Poland is analytical while the second part in France was more poetic. She explained it all but it was hard to concentrate on what she way saying. After all she is the same age as me and very attractive.

Telluride has a great film festival and I returned to it for many years from 1992 to 2008. 1991 was special because of many of the people I met in an educational type setting. Of course, it is only 4 or 5 days of film. But it is intense and exciting. I am still in touch with four friends I met that weekend. Which is about as many people I am still in touch with from college.

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