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Telluride Diary part seven: The show (part four)

By September 9, 2012October 11th, 20232 Comments

It’s now Saturday morn­ing in NYC and Telluride already seems like old news. Venice has just announced its prizewin­ners (The Master obv. – or not so obv.) and Toronto is in full flow. Still, I have one more day of my Telluride Film Festival exper­i­ence to record and I’d bet­ter get it down before I forget.

The Monday of Telluride is a catch-up day. Most of the celebrit­ies and hon­our­ees have depar­ted and a lot of the pro­gramme is announced the night before, extra screen­ings of pop­u­lar titles (or at least the films that most people were turned away from. This is an excel­lent plan and I was able to fill in quite a few of my gaps (though not all).


Telluride Volunteer Fire Station.

The first screen­ing was the Q&A ses­sion for Sarah Polley’s new doc­u­ment­ary Stories We Tell, a film that had gen­er­ated quite a bit of buzz over the week­end. Polley – with gor­geous six-month-old daugh­ter in har­ness – briefly intro­duced a film that at first intrigues, then sur­prises and finally delights. She has done a mar­vel­lous job of mak­ing what might have been an indul­gent piece about her own per­son­al dra­mas into some­thing uni­ver­sal. I sin­cerely hope this gets a decent New Zealand release so I can review it at more length but I’m also going to hold back the details of the story so read­ers without access to Google might come to it as unsul­lied by spoil­ers as possible.

Mid-morning we all got anoth­er tre­mend­ous feed cour­tesy of the fest­iv­al at the Town Park Picnic. This was a splen­did occa­sion and I even bumped into Richie Meyer, the aca­dem­ic and film fest­iv­al devotee who got me in to this thing in the first place. Telluride is like that.


Labor Day Picnic warms up.

At 3.00pm I got to see Roger (Notting Hill) Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson – at least the first hour and twenty minutes, as I wanted to finally get in to Frances Ha at 4.45. This is an aspect of these sort of fest­ivals that I find unsat­is­fact­ory – the need to skip out on films before the end. Hyde Park is the kind of soft-arthouse that usu­ally goes down extremely well in NZ but the com­par­is­ons with The King’s Speech will be unfor­tu­nate and unhelpful.

Bill Murray – in his rare act­ing mode rather than his being “Bill Murray” mode – plays FDR, a seem­ingly reluct­ant pres­id­ent, recov­er­ing from the strains of office at his mother­’s upstate estate, seek­ing com­pany from all the women around him apart from his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams). One of these com­pan­ions is “fifth or sixth cous­in” Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney) on whose recently dis­covered diar­ies this story is based.

Into the mix come the King and Queen of England (stam­mer­ing Bertie and staunch Elizabeth) to try and per­suade America to sup­port them in the now inev­it­able war in Europe. It’s a real pleas­ure to see Murray in char­ac­ter for a change and Linney always breathes full body into the women she plays, but the film seems a trifle thin. Maybe that last twenty minutes made a difference?

Frances Ha also seemed thin while I was watch­ing it but has actu­ally haunted me a lot more than oth­er films I saw this week­end, tricky little blight­er. Greta Gerwig (also co-writer) plays an unsuc­cess­ful dan­cer try­ing to make it in New York and hav­ing her nat­ur­al optim­ism chal­lenged at every turn. A kind of comedy-of-hipster-manners, it evid­ently is being com­pared to the TV series Girls (which I haven’t seen) but seems to stand well-enough alone in my opinion.

The lumin­ous black and white pho­to­graphy (look­ing like early Jarmusch) makes New York seem other-worldly, which is an odd thing to be typ­ing while I’m actu­ally sit­ting here in New York. Like I said, I’ve found myself think­ing about this one a lot more than I expec­ted and I’d like to see it again. Will it get NZ audi­ences? Maybe, but would go down really well at some­thing like the Showcase.


Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach and a third party walk­ing towards ti gon­dola. I’ll nev­er make a paparazzi.

Final film for my fest­iv­al was also one of the titles with the biggest buzz. At 8pm I man­aged to squeeze myself in to Telluride’s only purpose-built cinema, The Nugget, for Israeli doc­u­ment­ary The Gatekeepers. The Nugget is a slightly run-down but charm­ing little cinema (its single bath­room for both men and women argu­ably not con­trib­ut­ing to its charm), the cramped legroom and uncom­fort­able seats remind­ing me of the back sec­tion at the Paramount in Wellington.

The Gatekeepers is an incen­di­ary doc­u­ment­ary about the Israeli intern­al secur­ity ser­vice Shin Bet, fea­tur­ing exclus­ive inter­views with half a dozen forth­right former dir­ect­ors of the organ­isa­tion. Shin Bet is respons­ible for pro­tect­ing the state of Israel from ter­ror­ist action from the occu­pied ter­rit­or­ies, the set­tle­ments and with­in its own offi­cial bor­ders. Threats include the obvi­ous (The PLO and Hezbollah) and the less obvi­ous (demen­ted ortho­dox rab­bis try­ing to bring on the end of the world as we know it) and the details of some of the oper­a­tions for and against Israel are both illu­min­at­ing and horrifying.

These guys are pro­fes­sion­al secur­ity forces with years on the front lines, fol­low­ing orders from politi­cians who they have real dif­fi­culty respect­ing. The con­clu­sions they – all – reach should have massive reper­cus­sions for Middle East policy and you can expect The Gatekeepers to be news­worthy up to an after the inev­it­able Academy Award nom­in­a­tion. It does­n’t advance the medi­um at all – pretty straight talk­ing head and archive foot­age – but it’s extremely well done and the access and cand­our of the inter­views is out­stand­ing. This year’s The Fog of War, and argu­ably even more important.

And just like that, it was all over. Not for the people of Telluride though because the fest­iv­al runs three days of extra even­ing screen­ings so loc­als and volun­teers who missed out can still catch up. This is a fest­iv­al that does­n’t start when it says it’s going to start and does­n’t fin­ish when it says it’s going to finish.

As for me, after a day of recov­ery, I drove back to Denver on Wednesday (with Brian, a fest­iv­al PA who was return­ing to New Orleans and his industry freel­ance career – thanks for the com­pany and the driv­ing, Brian) and hung out overnight at DIA until my flight to New York.

You will be please to know that I won’t be doing daily NYC updates – what can a wide-eyed rube such as myself really add to the testi­mony that already exists about this won­der­ful place? – but I would like to take a couple of para­graphs to try and sum up my Telluride experience.

This trip to Telluride has been the most trans­form­a­tion­al single exper­i­ence of my life. The place does that to you. The way the fest­iv­al works is to force you to meet people, force you to con­nect, and that was just what I needed. I also needed to learn not to keep try­ing to make things hap­pen but to just let things hap­pen. Will the les­son stick? Who knows, but I will forever be aware of the dif­fer­ence now.

I got so much good feed­back on the book idea that I now have to do do it. That means I won’t be back to Telluride until at least 2015 (book launch?) and that causes me real heartache. I think that one of the reas­ons I have avoided travel in the past is the idea of leav­ing people and places and the know­ledge that I will nev­er see them again. I hate that sort of final­ity – it’s anoth­er example of my refus­al to acknow­ledge my own mor­tal­ity, I think – and I can really only deal with leav­ing Telluride by assum­ing that one day I’ll be back. It’s the only way to make it bearable.

Is it about the films, the people or the place? It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. Bragging rights over films you’ve seen only last until the next lot of releases crashes in like waves on a beach and, besides, that’s a pretty shal­low reas­on for doing any­thing. But, spe­cial as the place is I don’t think I’d go back out­side of a film fest­iv­al. I don’t dig that out­doors stuff enough. But the vibe, my good­ness, the vibe.

Did I do it right? Does it matter?


  • kathleen says:

    So glad you exper­i­enced TFF. I’m a Kiwi who has lived in Telluride for over 20 years (with jaunts back to the moth­er­land) who came to town not under­stand­ing the love of film or the fine art of act­ive relax­a­tion. This was quickly altered with less than a year of liv­ing here. It is a com­munity, that amongst oth­er things, loves film at a very deep level com­bined with intense phys­ic­al activ­ity. You must come back and exper­i­ence Telluride Mountain Film at the end of May ( for the oth­er end of the spec­trum – much less black cloth­ing and many more Everest climbers. MountainFilm actu­ally went to Queenstown for a few years in the 90’s but that did­n’t con­tin­ue for long. And Ridgway is spelt without an ‘e’. Imagine that. Happy trails.