I love movies. I’d claim to not bore you with the details about the history of my affection, but I can’t help myself. So here’s the nutshell: I remember racing home after seeing ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark to act out various scenes from each movie and heading to the Redford Theater with my family to watch classics like Oklahoma and My Fair Lady on the big screen.
In high school I started seeing movies at The Maple Theater (a gateway movie theater), I recall watching countless independent movies in college (but apparently not understanding them hence my request of Mo to ‘help’ me write my paper on David Lynch’s Blue Velvet) after which I landed in my first job out of college as a talent agent (another story for another blog).
So all of this to say that I adore movies, particularly on the big screen. Trouble is that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown less tolerant of my fellow movie goers because I can’t count on them to sit still, keep their voices down and refrain from loudly stuffing their faces with a tray of $25 movie theater nachos. The advent of On Demand and Netflix, has made it easier to enjoy movies at home for less money and less hassle.
However, for the last three years, I’ve made a pilgrimage to a sacred place in Southwestern Colorado to see amazing movies, talented film makers and exceptional actors. I take two planes, drive two hours, sleep under 6 hours/night, live in 9000 feet of altitude, skip most meals, weather all weather and spend hours in line because I love movies.
And the thing is…it’s all a secret.
The program at the Telluride Film Festival is a secret until the festival opens. That’s right–people spend a great deal of time and energy (and a little bit of money) on a mystery. Sure, some information leaks out, but for the most part it’s one of the best kept secrets 600 miles outside of Hollywood.
Yes, I love the content of the festival and I love the Big Reveal that happens on day one of the festival and subsequent days as mystery spots on the program are filled with surprise movies, actors and filmmakers. But it’s the framework, the process or rather the context in which the festival exists that I love the most.
Movies at Telluride are premiering in North America for the first time. That means it can’t have shown at Sundance or Tribeca and then show up at Telluride. The movies at Telluride have either never been seen by an audience (as was the case with Argo) or have only premiered at a foreign festival like Venice, which takes place in the days just preceding Telluride. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that on a number of occasions I shed some tears as a filmmaker or actor described the feeling of working hard to create something beautiful and then share it with an audience for the first time.
Press passes are limited at Telluride, so no swag or paparazzi or major VIP to-do’s. You’ll likely sit on the gondola with George Clooney or see the Garner/Affleck clan eating at their favorite breakfast spot. The festival is really about movie lovers, whether it’s those who make them, star in them or watch them. And as much name dropping as I might do in the days to come (and there will be plenty), I am equally as humbled to meet the unknown filmmaker who tells a powerful story and holds my attention even after I leave the theater.
The quality of the movies, can’t be underplayed. Telluride is known as a reliable Oscar barometer as Best Picture nominees and winners have regularly premiered here (The Artist and Argo in recent years). This makes attending mean something even more, whether you subscribe to the authenticity of industry awards or not. What I will say is while I’m sure there are politics involved in putting the festival together, the founders of the fete go to great lengths to bring a high quality show (and they do call it The Show) every single year.
The spirit of the festival is egalitarian and access is rarely denied anyone. Sure, you can pay more to get a good place in line, but the festival offers many opportunities to see movies for free with commentary from those involved in the film and bathrooms that might have you standing next to Bill Murray at the urinal (not my story, of course).
Attendance is limited, so it’s unlikely for festival-goers to miss movies that they strive to watch. Films that get good buzz over the weekend are shown more so that attendees can leave feeling fat and happy; filled up on high art and some of the best movie popcorn around.
And small is good because when I look down at the town, dangling high above it from the gondola, I can’t help but revel in the fact that these are My People. I will gladly sit behind them or next to them in a dark theater because I have spent an hour in line talking with them about the Next Big Movie and we’ll share stories and pictures of festivals past.
Beyond those who descend on Telluride for the festival every Labor Day, there are those residents who open up their homes, schools (I sat next to the middle school principal last year in his gym-turned-theater), parks and weight rooms and transform them into state-of-the-art theaters. This is a town that toils for their film festival, jazz festival and other events throughout the year. Telluride knows how to host a party, that’s for sure.
I am counting the hours until I board a plane and engage in my now pre-festival ritual of strategizing my attendance at this year’s premieres at Telluride. And I can’t help but feel that every movie that I watched before my first visit to the festival in 2011 was preparing me for all of my movie-loving dreams to come true.