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Saturday dawned early and I was grate­ful that the first screen­ing of the morn­ing was at the Chuck Jones’ in Mountain Village, barely a fif­teen minute shuttle from my accom­mod­a­tion. Time to grab a cof­fee and then wait in line for an 8.30am repeat of the Roger Corman Tribute from the night before. This time the host and inter­rog­at­or would be Leonard Maltin (famil­i­ar to all New Zealanders of a cer­tain age, I think) instead of Todd McCarthy.


A fairly rep­res­ent­at­ive pic­ture of Mountain Village architecture.

Before Mr Corman was invited on stage, we got to see an excel­lent doc­u­ment­ary on his life and work, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. After that, Corman entered the stage to a stand­ing ova­tion and we were treated to insights and stor­ies from an exceed­ingly well-educated and thought­ful entre­pren­eur and artist for almost an hour. The sur­prise for me was hear­ing about Corman’s lib­er­al polit­ics and how he might have steered his film­mak­ing in that dir­ec­tion if it had­n’t been for the com­mer­cial fail­ure of The Intruder (1962, star­ring William Shatner as a white supremacist).

Then it was straight down to the town in the gon­dola to try and get in to see the first screen­ing of Baumbach and Gerwig’s NY com­edy of hip­ster man­ners, Frances Ha. And, like quite a few of us, I missed out.

I’m going to try and explain the Telluride admis­sion sys­tem here but it’s a com­plic­ated com­bin­a­tion of social engin­eer­ing and algebra, so for­give the digres­sion. Key to the whole cul­ture of Telluride is the queuing sys­tem. No one books in advance for any ses­sions – you just turn up and hope to get in. The sys­tem seems to com­bine the class-consciousness and hier­archy of the court of Louis XIV and a pos­it­ively Soviet com­mit­ment to stand­ing in line. At each ven­ue there are two queues: “pat­rons” and “passhold­ers”. Actually, strike that – there are three queues. There’s always a for­lorn group of people without passes hop­ing there’ll be spare seats that they can buy.


The passhold­er queue out­side the Palm. Not so much a queue, more a refugee camp.

Patrons” are spe­cial passhold­ers, spon­sors, donors, guests, etc. who have the right to turn up as late as fif­teen minutes before a show. They in turn are seated in order of “Show Ring” sup­port­ers first, then “Patrons” and only when they are in do the passhold­ers get admit­ted. These people have been giv­en a lam­in­ated card with a num­ber on it, denot­ing their place in their queue (sup­posedly allow­ing you to leave and come back but I only saw people use that priv­ilege for bath­room or con­ces­sion stand vis­its). Staffers reg­u­larly do manu­al counts of the pat­rons area and the num­bers are relayed to a cent­ral com­puter which updates the num­ber of queues issued on big screens at all the ven­ues. This year, Telluride had an app for the first time and the num­bers were updated there too.

This means, of course, that there’s always a chance of miss­ing out which is what happened to me at Frances Ha. In an ideal world, you can get an early idea of wheth­er you are likely to get in or not based on the length of the queue and can rearrange your sched­ule accord­ingly. This year there was a lot of angry mut­ter­ing from passhold­ers (many of long-standing) that the fest­iv­al had over­sold and that there were too many “pat­rons” arriv­ing too late and still tak­ing seats. The Show Ring sup­port­ers, incid­ent­ally, pay $25,000 a year for their rights – and they com­mit to a min­im­um of five years – so you can see why they get their treat­ment, as well as being thanked first at every screening.

To a Wellingtonian, used to Ticketek’s flawed pre-booking sys­tem, this seems insanely low-tech and high main­ten­ance but there’s a meth­od in their mad­ness. The queue is an import­ant part of the Telluride cul­ture – it’s where you meet people, chat, get tips, swap stor­ies about celebs you’ve seen. It brings people togeth­er. It’s pretty easy to start or join a con­ver­sa­tion with someone in line and – at the media brief­ing – Tom Luddy joked that they were con­sid­er­ing ban­ning cell­phones in the queues as well as the cinemas. Still, I could­n’t get to anoth­er screen­ing to replace Frances Ha, so went to the Telluride Historical Museum instead.

Not want­ing to miss out, I arrived an hour early for Barbara (a stand-out at the New Zealand International Film Festival back in July, but one I had missed that time around). Like almost all TFF screen­ings this was intro­duced by the dir­ect­or, Christian Petzold and there was to be a Q&A ses­sion after the film. This screen­ing was in the Sheridan Opera House, one of the more bizarre ven­ues in the fest­iv­al. It’s a tiny little U‑shaped fron­ti­er theatre that looks like it had dan­cing girls on stage as recently as earli­er that night. As it isn’t a purpose-built cinema the screen is high and the angle steep and I was in the fourth row.

Barbara was bril­liant. A per­fectly paced evoc­a­tion of East German para­noia, as Nina Hoss’s quietly anti-establishment doc­tor wrestles with her desire to escape to the West and her need to stay and look after the vic­tims of the GDR régime. It was so nice to see a dir­ect­or who still knows how to use a tri­pod. Petzold’s Q&A was delight­ful. He was intim­id­ated by how close we all were, wor­ried about his English, but determ­ined to enter­tain and inform us. It was bril­liantly hos­ted by someone who I later found out was Scott Foundas from the Film Society of Lincoln Center – someone who does this stuff for a liv­ing. Note to NZFF: if you get a good and know­ledge­able host, dir­ect­or Q&As don’t have to be embar­rass­ing. Note to TFF: get your hosts to prop­erly intro­duce them­selves every time – we don’t always know people by sight.


Christian Petzold and Scott Foundas at the Sheridan Opera House. I should­n’t have taken this pic­ture, sorry.

The first of these les­sons came up at the next screen­ing, the trib­ute to Marion Cotillard at the Palm (the High School per­form­ing arts centre). For the first hour of the even­ing, we watched a high­lights reel and then Ms Cotillard (tiny and radi­ant) received her Telluride Silver medal and then sat to be inter­viewed by Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter. Whether it was her English or his limp ques­tion­ing (I sus­pect the lat­ter), this was not ter­ribly illu­min­at­ing and pro­ceed­ings were only enlivened when sur­prise guest James Gray (dir­ect­or of Two Lovers and We Own the Night) arrived to play a scene star­ring Ms Cotillard from his next film – which he joked was still titled Untitled James Gray Project even though it is well into post-production.

Funny as he was, he man­aged not to over­shad­ow the trib­utee and nor did her co-star in Rust & Bone, Matthias Schoenaerts, who also made it on stage for a moment or two. Then we got to see Audiard’s almost-Cannes-winning follow-up to Un prophète, which was extremely good and extremely chal­len­ging. Despite the pres­ence of Ms Cotillard, though, it is Schoenaerts’ pic­ture and it was impossible to believe that the warm and funny guy we’d just seen was the same fer­al brute we were watch­ing on screen.

After Rust & Bone, I was invited to a party which I will spare you the details of – except to say I made it to the last gon­dola ride up the hill with minutes to spare.