TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2013: Wrapping Up Five Days of Mountains, Films & Friends
by Alex Billington
September 3, 2013
"We are far, far from home… But we're so happy…" After spending five days in the mountains, the 2013 Telluride Film Festival has come to an end. Marking their 40th anniversary (and my 6th year attending), there was something special in the Colorado air this year (and not just all the marijuana now that it's legal in the state), something about the selection of films and filmmakers that may have made this one of the most memorable Tellurides I've ever been to. I believe it has something to do with the people I got to spend my time around, and the moments of pure cinematic joy I got to experience. What a year. What a film festival. If there is any fest that truly embraces the love for cinema (not celebs, not red carpets, not industry) this is it.
Telluride is the kind of film festival where filmmakers of note and actors of prestige walk around the streets like they're nobodies. Not that they are nobodies, but it's not the kind of place where paparazzi lurk or fans are seeking autographs. Instead, everyone in town (who isn't a local ski/bike/hike bum) is there to discover, enjoy and explore the glory of cinema. Over the course of one evening at the fest, I got to see one of my most anticipated films of the year (Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave), grab drinks with my colleagues/friends Sasha Stone (of Awards Daily) & Tomris Laffly (of Film Journal), bump into my old pal Jason Reitman (he loves Telluride and brought Juno and Up in the Air previously) ordering pizza at a bar, and get introduced to J.C. Chandor (director of All is Lost) randomly on the street at 1AM as we're walking back to our condo.
It's those kind of experiences that are actually the norm in Telluride, but they're still special. As Sasha Stone wrote in her eloquent diary post about the festival: "These are the kinds of moments in Telluride where you pinch yourself. Could this really be happening?" I wondered that every day, every morning I woke up. This year, Telluride enticed the likes of the Coen Bros, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Jason Reitman, Penn & Teller, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, the cast of Palme d'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, Alfonso & Jonas Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu (who was just in town to see films) and so many other notable names. Half of them are attending just to see other films, even if they don't have one of their own to show.
I think part of the magic of Telluride comes from the fact that it's a tiny town nestled deep within the San Juan Mountains. I've written before about how the best festivals in the world are hard to get to; it takes two hours to drive to Telluride from the airport I fly in/out of (Durango, CO). On the first night I arrived, I got lost staring up at the heavens roaming the streets late at night. The stars are so wonderfully visible and so beautiful in Telluride. There's no light pollution anywhere nearby and it's easy to see millions of them, as well as the mesmerizing tinge of the Milky Way streaking across the sky. I wanted to lie down on the ground and stare up and watch them for hours, wondering whether I'm somehow still dreaming or whether I really do get to spend another year experiencing cinema heaven. I guess I wasn't dreaming. Or maybe I still am?
My experiences in Telluride this year reached its peak while watching Gravity in the brand new Werner Herzog Theatre. Maybe it's because that premiere was the moment that six years of attending Telluride had been leading up to. I always catch some of my yearly favorites for the first time in Telluride, but I've been waiting for them to show one of my all-time favorites. 2013 was that year. Gravity is that film. It left me in a daze (here's my glowing review). "I feel like I can take on the world right now", I told my friend Tomris as we left the theatre. I'm so glad my first experience with this film was in Telluride; at an elevation of 8,750 ft, we're more than a mile closer to the stars, a mile closer to the exact setting the movie took place. If only gravity weren't holding me down, I could drift up there and stare down at this big, beautiful world like them.
Here's a quick selection of some of the Instagram photos I took while at the Telluride Film Festival this year. The photos I love to take are the kind that provide a unique, personal look at the experience of being there:
As always when I write about film festivals, it's not just the films but all the different people that make them so memorable. I'm honored to even have the chance to meet and chat with the likes of artists such as Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jason Reitman, J.C. Chandor, Penn & Teller, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Michael Fassbender. However, I'm just as honored to spend time with new and old friends, colleagues and other film lovers like: Rose Lichter-Marck, Lauren Schacher, Tomris Laffly, Sasha Stone, Michael Patterson, Aseem Chhabra, William Goss, Jeff Wells, Eugene Hernandez, Lisa Kennedy, Grey Munford, Michelle Hooper, Chet Mehta, Bebe Lerner, Jeff Hill and everyone else I had the pleasure of chatting with. Thank you all for making my Telluride 2013 experience so unforgettable.
Another year in Telluride has come to a close but the memories will live on. I'll be talking about the 10 films I saw there for the many months, if not years, that lie ahead. And I'll be talking about how wonderful it was there, up in the mountains of Colorado in this charming town where everyone has a dog and it rains every afternoon, where I first saw these outstanding films. Where I watched Michael Fassbender and 12 Years a Slave breakout star Lupita Nyong'o dancing at a local bar like no one was watching. Where I could stare at a screen for two hours, wipe away tears of sadness/joy before anyone could see them, then walk outside and stare up at the stars in the sky and wonder how I happen to be so lucky. As proclaimed on a cinema marquee I randomly came across in London this summer: "Good films make your life better." Indeed they do.
Here's my complete list of films from the 40th Telluride Film Festival. I will be ranking films on indieWire's Criticwire as well, plus always tweeting opinions and updates via twitter @firstshowing. To finalize my festival experience, this is all 10 screenings (in order of when I saw them) and a quick reaction for each one:
Alex's Telluride 2013 Films:
1. Labor Day (dir. Jason Reitman) - Loved It
2. Tim's Vermeer (dir. Teller) - Loved It
3. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer) - Just Okay
4. Blue is the Warmest Color (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche) - Loved It
5. 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen) - Loved It
6. Starred Up (dir. David Mackenzie) - Loved It
7. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón) - Loved It
8. Prisoners (dir. Denis Villeneuve) - Loved It
9. The Lunchbox (dir. Ritesh Batra) - Loved It
10. The Wind Rises (dir. Hayao Miyazaki) - Liked It
Thanks for following my coverage of the 2013 Telluride Film Festival. I seemed to love, or at least enjoy, just about everything I saw at the festival this year, which is rather impressive. I'll definitely be back in Telluride next year, but for now it's time to move on and head to Toronto to continue the exciting fall festival season.