In Love with Films at Telluride 2016 - 'Where the Stars Go to See Stars'
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2016
The mountains are a truly magical place. For the past nine years in a row, I've made a pilgrimage up to the beautiful mountain town of Telluride in Colorado for the Telluride Film Festival. It only lasts for one weekend and it's over way too quickly, but it's still one of my favorite weekends every year. At the 2016 version of the film festival, I was able to catch 11 films and many of them were wonderful. A few of them are guaranteed to end up my Top 10 this year, and that's usually the case with Telluride. I come to this festival year after year to fall in love with films again, to see some of the best that cinema has to offer, and I'm rarely disappointed. Plus over the four days the festivals lasts, I get catch up with old friends and make new ones.
Telluride is a unique festival, there's really nothing else like it found anywhere in the world. Celebrities and cinephiles come to town not only to revel in the latest that cinema's finest storytellers have to offer, but also because it's so remarkably lovely. The mountains surround you on every side, and at night you can see the stars more brightly and clearly than most places on this planet. It's a very charming small town, easy to get around, full of dogs everywhere, and it feels like home (no matter where you're from). Celebrities aren't harassed, they can walk the streets like everyone else, making the fest feel very casual but comfortable. This brings in nearly everyone from the industry, executives from every studio and other companies, filmmakers who aren't premiering anything new and just want to watch some films. And of course movie lovers like me.
Here's a photo of the window in my condo/workspace in Mountain Village where I wrote my Arrival review:
During many chats with friends at the festival, we often discussed how great this year's line-up is compared to years past at Telluride. While, yes, everyone has their own subjective opinion and every year has different films, 2016's line-up seems to be filled with a range of exceptional features that had everyone buzzing. Damien Chazelle's La La Land is one of the most exhilarating, original, joyous movie musicals in a long time, and set a high bar since it was my first screening of the festival. But I followed that one up with Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, a masterful, heartbreaking, stunning drama about the life of a gay African-American boy growing up in Miami. Later in the fest, I was blown away by Werner Herzog's doc Into the Inferno about volcanoes (and much more) and finally caught up with the wonderful German film Toni Erdmann.
I know I'm in the right place when I see films that remind me why I love movies so damn much. They make me so happy that I can't help but shed a few tears, and as soon as I emerge from the cinema all I want to do is spread the word about how amazing these films are. It was fun to hear feedback during the festival from people seeing other features that I'd already caught earlier in the year: Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, Mia Hansen-Løve's Things to Come, and Otto Bell's The Eagle Huntress. Not everything I saw was that great, as I didn't care much for Benedict Andrews' Una or Joseph Cedar's Norman, but it's expected I'll come across a few of these. I wish I was still up there watching, because I didn't want the fest to end so quickly. I could stay up in Telluride watching new films every day for weeks and never get tired of it.
Here's my selfie with Emma Stone from La La Land after interviewing her at the Telluride Film Festival:
The festival is unforgettable not only because of the films they show, but also because of all the moments inbetween. I had a chance to catch up with filmmaker Rian Johnson at a party, where I also met Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and producer Dede Gardner. I was lucky enough to get time to interview La La Land's director Damien Chazelle (who is a big movie nerd at heart) and star Emma Stone. I got into a big discussion about composers with Nicholas Britell, who did a truly magnificent score for Moonlight. I rode the gondola once with Kenneth Lonergan, listening to a local woman tell him how much she liked his other film better than the most recent one she'd just seen. I finally met the legendary Ted Hope in person, and also talked with two other people from Amazon Studios - which is kicking ass this year with fantastic films.
A special thank you to all of my friends and colleagues this year who took their time to say hi and chat with me, even if it was for just a couple of minutes. These people are the best: Tomris Laffly, Sasha Stone, Kenny Miles, Mark Johnson, Eugene Hernandez, David Ehrlich, Michael Patterson, Rebecca Keegan, Alicia Malone, Scott Mantz, Matthew Fong, Jeff Wells, Bebe Lerner, Katherine Rowe and Nicolette Aizenberg. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers who work so hard to make Telluride run so smoothly. Thank you to all the locals and employees in town who have to put up with "Hollywood people" for a weekend. I'm always glad to return, and I'm thankful to have an enjoyable time. Maybe it's the altitude, maybe it's the mountains, but up there everyone seems so cheery and so happy to talk about films.
Below is my list of the 11 films I saw with quick ratings. I love this festival because it's really all about the films. There are no red carpets, there are no paparazzi, there are no photo shoots or autograph sessions. It's not about the celebrities at all. It's about the talented people who make the movies that inspire and engage and move us, teaching us about humanity, reminding us that great art is to be celebrated. In one day, you can catch a beloved classic film with a live orchestra, watch a new film that might just win Best Picture, and see a documentary that will change the way you treat others. No matter what it is, you'll find something that will be a potent emotional reminder that this is why you love movies. Telluride (along with Cannes) is the film festival for genuine movie lovers, and I'm so happy to spend Labor Day weekend with them every year.
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2016 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.
Alex's Telluride 2016 Films:
1. La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle) - LOVED It
2. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins) - Loved It
3. Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh) - Liked It
4. Una (dir. Benedict Andrews) - Hated It
5. Finding Oscar (dir. Ryan Suffern) - Liked It
6. Chasing Trane (dir. John Scheinfeld) - Just Okay
7. Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve) - LOVED It
8. Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade) - Loved It
9. Mifune (dir. Steven Okazaki) - Loved It
10. Into the Inferno (dir. Werner Herzog) - Loved It
11. Norman (dir. Joseph Cedar) - Just Okay