Monday, September 10, 2007

Telluride 2007 (a week later)

See that picture? That's one happy cat, taking in the gorgeous mountain air, so thin and so wonderful that all you can do is avoid it entirely by sitting inside a theater to watch movies.

Many people reading this may know that Angela and I are fortunate enough to work the Telluride Film Festival each Labor Day weekend. I have been going since I was a stealth programming intern distribution manager way back in '94 and have tried to go every year since. I have not been to any of the world's other major festivals -- heck, I've only attended other film fests of any sort in Lima and Washington -- but from what I hear, I don't want to go anywhere else. Telluride is special: a fantastic location, a fest where stars are free to walk down the main street without the stalkerazzi, and where the U.S./World Premieres of the Movies That Will Be for that year share space with some quirky, fun stuff, retrospectives and restored/re-found films you'd never see anywhere else. (Heck, last year, one of my favorites turned out to be William Wyler's Dodsworth, which I had never seen.) It also is, as Ken Burns said at the staff introduction, "home" of sorts, where I see fellow film geeks (many of us part of the so-called "Dartmouth Mafia" of former directors of the Dartmouth Film Society) who are not necessarily also film academics. It's the fest-for-folk-who-really-love-movies, and it's a pleasure to be able to go.

Last year, I attempted to post daily, but I was caught up in my new position as "ringmaster," which means basically I'm the emcee at a particular theater. In the case of my theater, this also meant I came up with trivia questions to auction off the TCM (our theater sponsor) versions of Scene-It. (It's all about having Rosebud as a game piece, trust me. This is why, this year, the aforementioned Ken Burns was thrilled to win a copy for himself, heh heh.) Back then, I still got a chance to see some of the "new cool stuff" when The Last King of Scotland and Jindabyne still played at my theater.

This time, however, not a chance: the "big" movies sailed past my theater into the larger spaces only, leaving only the more esoteric choices for us. This usually doesn't bother me, but I winced at seeing a movie play twice in our theater, if only because that meant I couldn't see another movie, dammit. (Don't they think of me?) Chained as I was to the theater, this means that I can't comment on the likes of the premieres like Juno (the big fest hit), Persepolis, Margot at the Wedding, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Savages or Into the Wild. All missed, because of programming. (I did catch two of the "bigger" films, but we'll get to that in a moment.) And, if you're interested in commentary on those films (and others), check out JJ's blog: a former student (who is the spitting image of Jack Nicholson these days, I tell ya) and an alum of the Telluride Student Symposium program, he is now also a happy fest slave like me, only he's at a theater that gets the bigger films. (Further tangent: if you ever want to see someone run quickly, try dancing close to a former student. I laughed myself silly.) In any case, the two blogs together give a nice overview of a lot of the fest.

What I Liked:
  • Jar City (Mýrin): This was a taut thriller from Iceland which, in many ways, could have been very standard fare. Yet, between the extraordinary Icelandic atmosphere (complemented by the horrifying Icelandic food, which led me to actually ask the director if the food was supposed to be taked as "horrifying" or if it was just Icelandic fast food... and 'twas the latter...), and a cast who looking more intriguing than attractive (I don't think it's an accident that the only classically "good looking" character gets his nose broken early on), there lies a carefully spun story that left a gritty, yet satisfying taste in my mouth. A week later, I still remember this one as what was ultimately my favorite of the fest.
  • Secret Sunshine (Milyang): This one won the Best Actress award at Cannes (apparently the first time for an Asian) -- and wow, I can understand completely. This contemporary story finds a young widow and her son returning to her husband's small hometown, where she puts up a front to try to establish herself as a successful person -- with disastrous results that lead to the second part of the movie, which becomes less an exploration of faith as much of an examination of a singular character. Smaller than it initially appears, the movie follows the character of Shin-Ae through a cavalcade of situations and emotions that becomes riveting.
  • A Thousand Years of Good Prayers: I think a lot of people didn't like this one but here's another quiet meditation that turns out to be more than it initially seems. We forget that the guy who made Maid in Manhattan, Because of Winn-Dixie and The Joy Luck Club, also made things like Smoke; here, Wayne Wang films a not-so-simple story about culture- and generation-clashes (between a Chinese father and the Americanized daughter he is visiting) in a quiet, natural way. I'm also now inspired to read the story by Yiyun Li upon which the film is based.
  • Edith Kramer: Every year, Telluride brings in a guest director to program some (hopefully) unusual yet interesting material. This year, the selection fell to the former curator of the Pacifica Film Archive, no small cookie. While I was only partially enthralled by her selections (I'm still not quite there yet with George Kuchar and I thought the "old film" selection of Millions Like Us was good but not overwhelmingly thrilling), I was charmed by Edith herself, who was a delight to work with, had some amazing stories to tell and absolutely, positively refused to sit down in the theater at all, preferring a side stance so as to view the audience along with the film. A true film lover, she charmed me every time she walked into the theater.
  • Peter Sellars: Several years ago, I was told that I should be thoroughly insulted if I did not receive a hug from fest regular Peter Sellars, who really did seem to hug everyone; last year, therefore, his presence was sorely missed. This year he came back, and with a documentary about him to boot. I knew he was simply one of the most amazingly wonderful human beings I've ever known; I had no idea that he is literally brilliant. Watching the doc on him (particularly given how absolutely, shamefully ignorant I was concerning what he did outside the festival), I just sat in awe of what he has accomplished and what he is. Today, I asked a colleague about him and she happily extolled his importance in the history of both theater and opera. The funny thing is that I can't even aspire to be what he is, on so many levels. And yet, the man still hugs me. Such a thrill.
What I Am Solidly on the Fence About:
  • I'm Not There: Ah, the new Todd Haynes, a.k.a. the flick where Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan. Overall, I thought that the notion of having her (and Christian Bale and Richard Gere and Heath Ledger and...) play Dylan was a thrilling, compelling choice. Let me go on record right now by saying that she is seriously the best thing about the picture, bar none. The idea of fragmenting Dylan's life, intermixing the yarns of his songs and the yarn that was his life, is tour-de-force. And yet -- for experimental it wants to be, I actually have a problem with the very thing that it's getting press for: its use of stars in these roles. Yes, Dylan is a star now, and so are the characters that he sings about, but oddly enough, I could rarely get beyond the notion that I was watching Richard Gere on screen to really be able to process more beyond that. In the end, I couldn't tell whether the film was brilliant or a brilliant mess -- and, a week later, I'm still not sure, although I'm tending toward the latter.)
What I Really Didn't Care For
  • Let's forget for a moment that this is a feature film doing what documentaries have already done. Let's really forget the politics of it all. Let's just look at Redacted, the de Palma secret flick that just won him the Best Director prize at Venice, somewhat inexplicably from my point of view. It's about the current war and, like I'm Not There, also has an ambitious, innovative way to present itself: by using the same tools used by the soldiers to document their own stories: regular video cameras, blogs, videophones, etc. I thought this was inspired and, when I found out that my little theater was going to have the U.S. Premiere of the film (having debuted only a night before in Venice! with a live feed from there featuring de Palma himself!!!), I actually got a little excited. (This, after I figured out the title. "Redacted?" I kept saying, "why are they not giving me the name? How silly." This is what I get for actually knowing what words mean.) And yet -- like the Haynes film, actually -- it seems this didn't quite work. Here, the acting seems "fake" throughout and the amateurish quality (which might have been intentional) of the atrocities, while stark, were otherwise unconvincing for me. The Q&A didn't help me with the film either. It doesn't matter that I agree with the film's politics: I didn't think the film was all that to begin with.

1 comment:

J.J. said...

You were a dancing fool. I guess we all were.

I didn't see any of these movies you delineated, so between us we have the festival covered.