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vivien killilea/getty images
The 45th Telluride Film Festival has proved again this year that it's a film festival like no other. Unlike the two major international festivals that bookcase it - Venice and Toronto, the small scenic town in the Colorado Rockies opts for a very different vibe. No paparazzi, no flashy red carpets, no hungry film markets with anxious industry buyers hustling their posters and pitches. Instead, stars, film lovers and press mingle together amidst the hikers, local residents, and their numerous dogs. High heels, fancy dresses, and suits are a definite no go, as the de rigeur dress code is jeans, t-shirts, light sweaters, and comfortable walking shoes. And you are more likely to see a can of Boost oxygen, sold by the local pharmacist ( we are after all 8,75o feet about sea level where oxygen levels are thin), than a designer handbag by your side.
The most popular form of transport is not a long line of black limos, but the free gondola that takes movie lovers up and down the panoramic mountainside to get to the screenings and free talks.
Because of its relaxed nature, the many stars who visit the festival feel free to wander the streets of the historic town and join the crowds to watch the many movies screened over the Festival’s four days. You are just as likely to see Matthew McConaughey walking past you, or catch Casey Affleck in line for a sandwich at one of the town’s popular food haunts, The Butcher and the Baker, Hugh Jackman piling his family into a screening of First Man or even Emma Stone sitting behind you, tears in her eyes, at a Festival screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.
“This is my first time here,” Hugh Jackman – in town with Ivan Reitman’s Front Runner, about the disgraced former Presidential hopeful, Gary Hart- told me. “I can’t believe how chill it is. Everyone is so relaxed. Its great you can just go and watch all the movies”.
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33 movies screened in the Festival’s main program, and, once again, the selection curated a line up that is bound for award glory over the coming season. Increasingly Telluride has become a critical marker of the award season, with many studios and directors anxious to get their films in the lineup.
“I was here with Black Mass a few years ago and I really wanted to debut my film Boy Erased here,” said Australian actor and director and screenwriter Joel Edgerton. His film based on the memoirs of Gerrard Conley ( played in the film by Lucas Hedges) whose conservative family forced him into the controversial gay conversion therapy. “It’s very prestigious to just be accepted into the festival. It just felt like the right first step for the film before we head into the madness of Toronto.”
The Festival’s Opening Night is a prime spot, and in the last two years has propelled Moonlight and Lady Bird to acclaim. This year Telluride showcased two of its most anticipated films, Damien Chazelle’s Moon-landing epic First Man detailing the life of the reclusive astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) who took man’s first step onto the Moon in 1969 from the Apollo 11 spacecraft, and Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal film about his childhood, Roma.
Talking to the audience afterward, Chazelle, who was last here with La La Land, explained his motivation for his take on this biopic. “It’s not a movie about a man who lands on the moon but one who is trying desperately trying to land on earth. That was the ideas we ran with. That was our key into someone who otherwise was pretty mysterious.”
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Meanwhile Yalitza Aparicio, the star of Roma, who had never acted before and who plays domestic worker Cleo, charmed festival audiences as she spoke through an interpreter explaining her audition process. “I had no idea who Alfonso was, so I looked up pictures of him and when I got there, he looked so different. I wasn't sure it was him. My mother was worried that it was some human trafficking racket, but then I met him and he was very nice,” she laughed.
Nicole Kidman was also at Telluride for the first time ( although she joked, in an intimate dinner held in her honor, that it was not indeed her first time in the town, as Telluride was where she married first husband Tom Cruise). Kidman appears in two films - as the star of Karyn Kusama’s gritty crime drama Destroyer and as a sympathetic mother in Boy Erased. In Destroyer, an almost unrecognizable Kidman takes on the tough role of a seasoned embittered and worn out LA cop, dragged back into a case she thought she had left a long time ago. “I have never made a movie where I shoot guns,” she said at the dinner. ”But I have to say I really took to it. I spent hours training for it.”
Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite , which tells the story of a power struggle between two scheming cousins in the 18th-century court of Queen Anne, also received prime billing at the mountain fest. While his films can be polarizing ( The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer), his latest won praise for its three powerful leading actresses - Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz.
While the Festival has no jury to applaud its favorites, it did hand out honors to Emma Stone, Alfonso Cuaron, and Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, who all received Silver Medallion Awards.
Elsewhere, many other films garnered warm receptions. Melissa McCarthy’s dramatic turn as an author turned literary forger in director Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? and the light-hearted The Old Man and the Gun, the real-life story of a senior citizens bank robbing gang. The film’s legendary star Robert Redford, who has announced this will be his last film, received a standing ovation when he arrived for the first screening, “I’ve been doing this since I was 21, and I have put my soul into it, and I said to myself, ‘That’s enough. Why don’t you quit while you are a little bit ahead?’ ” the 82-year-old Redford told the audience. “I couldn’t think of a better project to go out on than this film.”