Views from the Other Side of the Mountain

I’m on a flight back from the Telluride Film Festival and two and a half great days in the mountains. Telluride has been an important festival for Criterion and Janus for years. It’s a great opportunity to mingle with filmmakers and others who work with us to release our discs, and a great chance to see a lot of films. For our editorial group, headed by Peter, Kim, and Fumiko, it’s truly a nonstop working weekend. Their days are filled with screenings—mostly of films that have not yet been picked up for distribution—to find films and talent that will soon become part of the upcoming schedule. This year, Kim created the festival’s twenty-minute documentary tribute introducing the Medallion-awarded composer Michel Legrand. We were instrumental in obtaining a print of Dillinger to show at the urging of this year’s guest curator Edith Kramer. I’m sure Peter will post his thoughts on Telluride shortly, but for me the experience of Telluride is very much not what I generally do, and I really enjoy the chance to immerse myself in the movies every once a while. So here goes . . .

Friday dinner is the “feed,” and it’s just as advertised. The major street in town is closed, and everyone gathers with plates and cups in hand, sharing a dinner. Many who come to Telluride do so year after year (this was my third festival), and it becomes home very quickly. My festival was pretty much made right then, when I saw Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn on the corner. He was there for his film Into the Wild, and I’ve been a big fan of hers from Princess Buttercup days. At Telluride, there are about seven venues where films screen simultaneously—starting on Friday night at 7:00, and on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 9:00 a.m. to midnight—and you have to pick and choose which films you want to go see where and when. Because of this, rarely are two people’s Telluride experiences identical. For my first film, I saw The Counterfeiters. Werner Herzog introduced the film and its filmmaker, Stefan Ruzowitzky. It’s the story of a Jewish man who is arrested by the Nazis so that they can take advantage of his counterfeiting skills. He is imprisoned in a concentration camp, and the story is about the difficult balance between cooperating and living, and not. It was very tough and graphic, but I enjoyed it. Having gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to catch my flight, I called it a night without a double feature.

Saturday I was up early to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a true story about a man totally paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking one eye. A very powerful film, Diving Bell was introduced by its director, Julian Schnabel, who talked about making the movie as a way to make amends for his inability to comfort his father during the end of his life. I didn’t expect to like it, but I was mesmerized. From there it was on to the Opera House to see a tribute to Norman Lloyd. The tribute itself was entertaining, but to hear Mr. Lloyd talk about tennis with Charlie Chaplin and parties with Alfred Hitchcock, Hal Roach, Harold Lloyd (no relation), and Buster Keaton was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Saturday afternoon I spent some time enjoying the wonderful outdoors of Telluride. The Saturday-night outdoor screening of a restored print of Help! , with a remixed 5.1 Beatles soundtrack playing loudly, was a treat. The night ended with a company dinner and exhaustion. I missed the text message that said “rwp @ 221” (a local bar), or I would probably have dragged myself out of bed.

Sunday started appropriately with People on Sunday, a 1930 silent film shown with a live orchestra performing the score. It was fascinating to see Berlin between the wars, and it’s a beautifully shot film that Criterion will be releasing next year. From there I went to the Vitaphone presentation and saw some very early Al Jolson films from 1926—before The Jazz Singer. Leonard Maltin introduced it, and I was happy to see Leonard receive his Silver Medallion. Congratulations to him. Leonard has always been a good friend of Criterion and Janus, and he sported a Criterion hat as he wandered town. From there it was on to The Band’s Visit. It’s an Israeli film about an Egyptian band getting lost and spending the night in Israel. It was much lighter than most of what was playing, and I was very taken by it. My last film was Juno, which was a sneak peak and therefore not on the original schedule. It was fun, extremely well written, and made me laugh—a lot. The director, Jason Reitman, and screenwriter, Diablo Cody, held a Q&A afterward. It was a great film to finish on. Sunday night was a party. I got to pass along personal congratulations to Leonard Maltin and mingle with the stars a bit before taking off for Montrose and the trek back home.

I saw nine shows in my two and a half days. It was a lot, and all were pretty good. Probably only one will end up in the Criterion Collection. It was only a fraction of the forty or so films and tributes that played over the weekend. The rest of the Criterion crew saw more and were focused more on our nuts and bolts, but for me, it was a great time. So that’s my lighter side of Telluride. Now back to the office, a new website, and a new store. All very exciting . . .

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