DISPATCHES FROM TELLURIDE
Located at 8,750 feet in western Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the Telluride airport is one of the shortest runways in North America — from the passenger window, it resembles a picnic table on top of a mountain. For those who make the trek to the mountain enclave, breathtaking scenery awaits. The altitude makes you almost giddy. It’s the ideal environment to escape from the everyday and be transported into a world of visually dazzling, emotionally enthralling cinema — which is exactly what happens Labor Day when movie lovers from across the country and around the world gather to attend the Telluride Film Festival.
Marking the end of summer and the beginning of fall — or as it’s better known in Hollywood, Awards Season — Telluride is unique among film festivals for its clubby intimate vibe and a lineup that’s revealed only the day before the festivities begin. There is always a guest curator — this year’s choice was Northern Caucasus filmmakers Kantemir Balagov and Kira Kovalenko — who is invited to program a special section of the festival that often includes many archival pieces never seen by modern audiences. It’s an event for true cinephiles, as anyone can buy a pass to see riveting work alongside the dedicated artists who have made it over the long holiday weekend.
Attendees are constantly talking about the films; perfect strangers engaged in conversation over what they just saw or what they are about to see. You can hear any number of languages spoken as you ride in the gondola that takes you up and down the mountain to the various theaters. There is no “best of” prize, no paparazzi or social media influencers jostling for attention, and very few journalists — all of which creates a casual, relaxed, and welcoming vibe. In Telluride, everyone’s the same, there is no velvet rope, no red carpets.
Filmmakers Alejandro González Iñárritu, Sebastián Lelio, and Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre — directors of BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, The Wonder, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, respectively — held court at the opening day picnic where actors and filmmakers mingled with guests atop a mountain field 20 minutes from town.
Chuck Jones Theater in Mountain Village, which supplied copies of Queue to attendees, hosted the opening night double feature of Lelio’s The Wonder, starring the beloved and formidable talent Florence Pugh, and de Clermont-Tonnerre’s interpretation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, starring the immensely talented Emma Corrin, a breakout who netted an Emmy for their turn as Princess Diana in the most recent season of The Crown. Both actors gave undeniably riveting performances. Florence was unable to attend due to her work on the Dune sequel on the other side of the planet, but Corrin was in attendance to enjoy the accolades and conversations around their performance.
Meanwhile, at the Werner Herzog Theater, the largest venue in town, the festival hosted the North American premiere of Iñárritu’s BARDO. This deeply personal film was introduced by Julie Huntsinger, the festival’s programmer, and by the director who invited the audience, which included the cast and Iñárritu’s family, to go on a journey with him as he examined identity and memory, explaining that “Bardo” is translated as “the space between life and death.” Iñárritu also shared how excited he was to make a film in Mexico as the last one was Amores Perros (2000). He also acknowledged that it’s been 21 years to the day that his family moved from Mexico to America and admitted that at this point in his filmmaking career that he has more films behind him than in front of him.
By Saturday, the festival was well underway, with attendees navigating up and down the main drag, Colorado Street. There was opportunity still to stroll into Town Park and listen to a conversation — to be posted shortly in Queue — between Iñárritu and director Barry Jenkins, who started his film career as an intern at the festival many years ago and went on to win an Oscar for his debut, Moonlight. That afternoon the Academy held its annual fete with partygoers searching for shade from the sun, after a spontaneous hailstorm. As they say in Colorado, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes; it’s sure to change.
Corrin, who, earlier that day was photographed by Camila Falquez for Queue, chatted with actor, writer, and director Sarah Polley. It was a jam-packed afternoon with everyone talking about their favorite films — as well as Serena Williams’ swan song at the U.S. Open. Saturday night concluded with a dance party at local Italian joint Rustico, complete with a D.J. and lots of, well, dancing. At one point, Iñárritu even whipped out his iPhone to film the BARDO cast and others letting loose, before he went to sit and talk with fellow Oscar winner, Nomadland filmmaker Chloe Zhao.
There’s no question it was all worth the journey.