The Telluride Film Festival was founded in 1974, which is an interesting coincidence, because that is the same year that I was founded. Only one of us is located in a picturesque Colorado mountain town and frequently visited by Werner Herzog, however!*
This is my first trip to Telluride, and I can already tell that it is in many ways the opposite of Sundance, which I've been to like a hundred times. Both festivals take place in former mining towns -- Telluride, Colo., and Park City, Utah -- that are now populated by wealthy ski enthusiasts, and each festival's largest venue is the local high school's auditorium. Both fests regularly show high-profile films destined for Oscar glory and box-office failure.
But while Sundance has become hectic, hyped, and paparazzi-heavy, Telluride remains relaxed, quaint, and Paris Hilton-free. Unlike just about every other festival, Telluride keeps its lineup a secret until the day before it starts. This reduces the publicist-manufactured pre-buzz that plagues a lot of fests.
One difference between Telluride and Sundance whose significance I can hardly overstate is that while both are held in scenic mountain villages, the people at Telluride had the good sense to schedule theirs over Labor Day weekend rather than in the dead of winter. The only good reason to go to Park City in January is if you are a skier or a yeti. I assume the same is true of Telluride in January. But Telluride in September! What an exquisitely beautiful place, with moderate temperatures and clear skies and sidewalks that are not covered in freezing slush! How fine it is to not have to expend so much energy both dealing with the cold and complaining about dealing with the cold.
I applaud this! More of this, please!
I thought Sundance had gotten me used to high altitudes, but Telluride is 2,000 feet higher in elevation, and the difference is noticeable. Every now and then I'll be walking around and get just a few seconds of mild, pleasant light-headedness. This might be dangerous in larger doses -- what am I, a doctor? -- but in small bursts it's quite refreshing. Is this the "Rocky Mountain High" John Denver used to sing about?** I'll be careful not to exert myself beyond the basic film-festival tasks of standing in line, sitting in theater seats, and eavesdropping on strangers' conversations about movies. (One man was excited to learn that there would be a screening of the new film by Peter Boyle, by which he probably meant Danny Boyle, unless he knows something we don't.)
I'd say about half your time at a film festival is spent overhearing what other people are saying. This is especially true at Telluride, thanks to the gondola. The gondola takes you from the town of Telluride itself up, up, up the mountain to Mountain Village, which is where one of the screening venues and a lot of the hotels are. It's a 13-minute trip that offers breathtaking views of the area. It also means that for 13 minutes you're locked in a closed space with as many as seven other people, mostly fellow festival-goers, most of them very chatty, perhaps because of the thinness of the air.
So far my gondola experiences have been fine. There were a couple of old ladies from San Francisco who are regular Telluride patrons and who keep their Netflix queues stocked with whatever titles they miss here. There were two married couples from Fort Worth who said The Way Back -- about escapees from a Siberian gulag during World War II -- reminded them of The Road, on account of they both have a lot of walking. I have no problem with any of this. But the law of averages suggests that at some point I'll be stuck on the gondola with someone who's loud and offensive, or who's boring and won't shut up, or who's Harvey Weinstein, and I'll have to weigh the pros and cons of forcing the gondola door open and leaping to my death.
Oh, and they are also showing some movies here. They have to be pretty selective, since the fest only runs for four days and there are only so many slots available. None of that over-padding you get at the longer festivals! The roster is lean and fat-free, much like Coloradans themselves. If you did screenings from 8:30 a.m. until midnight, you could maybe see every film on the list, although the exertion would be hazardous.
*It is the film festival.
**No. That was marijuana. Also, different mountains.