22 Sep 2008, 10:19am
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Telluride Film Festival: A Moviegoer’s Lovefest

Alpenglow Over Telluride During Filmfest

Alpenglow Over Telluride During Filmfest

We have one little movie theatre here in Telluride, a one-screen wonder called The Nugget.  It’s a rare gem housed in an historic building of the same name and it keeps Telluride moviegoers content year-round.  (The Nugget Building once boasted a bank, the very place where Butch Cassidy pulled off his first heist.)

For one long weekend of the year, however, we become Cinephile Central.  This has been occurring every Labor Day Weekend for the past thirty-five years.  This is when the Telluride Film Festival takes over our mountain town and transforms it into a center for the appreciation of the motion picture arts.  More than six hundred people—volunteers and paid staff—work before, during and after the festival to make Telluride the film capital of the world this first weekend of September.  Nine very different movie screening venues are created so that film lovers from Sweden to West Africa to Hollywood can come and watch movies for over three days in optimal conditions—that’s to say in spaces where the sound and picture are nothing less than fantastic.

Masons Hall Cinema in Her Glory

Masons Hall Cinema in Her Glory

For some of the venues, the conversion into a first-rate movie theater occurs without many obvious changes; other locales require a near total overhaul.  Take the Galaxy, for example, here the Elementary School Gym is morphed into a stunning 500-seat cinema reminiscent of the dramatic décor of renowned motion picture landmarks such as the historic Fox Theater in Detroit and The Egyptian in Los Angeles.  At the Masons Hall Cinema, the 150-seat Grande Dame where I have worked the past three years, we buff and polish her and adorn her with artwork and flowers until she becomes the welcoming old friend that festival goers have come to know and love over the years.

The Abel Gance Open Air Cinema in Elks Park offers a moviegoing experience unlike any I’ve ever known.  And I’m sure most people that have attended a showing here would say the same.  Imagine viewing “Into the Wild” in a small park in the center of Telluride, one of the West’s most awe-inspiring destinations.  You can see the shadow of the mountains behind the screen during some of the brighter scenes and even make out a good number of the mighty pines that line the slopes.  As the weather turns foul in the film, so it does in the park.  This being Telluride, most of these outdoorsy people are well prepared.  But then it really begins to pour and slowly but surely the moviegoers disperse until only the heartiest remain, hunkered down on their nylon camping tarps, wrapped from head to toe in their super high-tech outer gear that could just as easily be used to climb some of the tallest peaks of the Rockies.  The wind howls and the rain comes down in sheets, yet the picture and sound remain far superior to any you’d find in your neighborhood multiplex.  This is the real deal and this is exactly what happened here last year.  I saw “Being Julia” with my mom, wrapped in down coats, donned with hats and mittens, seated on our lawn chairs, at this open air cinema many years ago, and even then our movie going moment was greatly enhanced by the setting.

"Happy Go Lucky" Shows in Elks Park

“Happy Go Lucky” Showing in Elks Park

The movies at the Abel Gance are free as are many others throughout the festival. Some you can attend for $20. both during the festival and in the post festival line up that is presented as double features the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday following the actual festival.  It’s true that passholders—many of whom pay exorbitant amounts of money to become part of the laminati (rhymes with glitterati and refers to the festival goers that can easily be spotted by their laminates dangling casually around their necks)—do have priority in the often city-block long queues that form for some of the films.  But there are still many opportunities for your average person to catch a flick at this world renowned festival.  Heck, you can even meet some really famous people up close and personal.  (If that’s what floats your boat!)  I became a bit of a stargazer myself at this year’s festival when I chatted up Jeff Goldblum at the Opening Night Feed, a huge dinner party of sorts that’s put on on the main street of Telluride on the Friday night of the festival.  You have to be a passholder to attend this fiesta but you could always find an opportunity to get chummy with the celebs at one of the engrossing seminars that take place at noon every day throughout the festival.  Or you might even just encounter a famous person on the street.  (I often pass Ralph and Ricki Lauren on the sidewalk during the festival.)

Jeff Goldblum and Me!

Jeff Goldblum and Me!

Tellluride is so low-key that well-known people can move about freely here during the Film Festival or any other time of the year.  Nobody really cares in Telluride and any star ogling is frowned upon mightily.  (Paparazzi of any kind is nonexistent in T-ride and you never see any mention or photos in the papers of a star sighting in town.)  Unlike Cannes, the Telluride Film Festival is not about the stars even though many famous people have been invited here for this event.  TFF is devoted to the movies themselves, old and new, long and short, foreign and domestic, animated or not.  Also unlike Cannes, it is not a working festival but instead it provides the opportunity for filmmaker and film enthusiast to come together to discover and pay homage to a great variety of works.  The film “Lola Montès,” is one such example from this year’s program.  It is a lovingly restored French film from 1955 about a female Don Quixote that I absolutely adored.  (She was a countess, too!)

Many blockbuster films also première in Telluride but you’re apt to read about them débuting in Toronto (at their festival which takes place the weekend following Telluride’s).  I’m not sure what the reason is for that, but I’d once again chalk this up to T-ride’s low profile.

Seminar in Town Park

Seminar in Town Park

As I write this, I’m hearing about films such as “Happy Go Lucky” and “Slumdog Millionaire” being released in the U.S. this fall.  Both created quite a buzz here in Telluride during this year’s festival.  They were written up in The Wall Street Journal—along with many others—by Joe Morgenstern, a gentleman I happened to be seated next to at this year’s Labor Day Picnic, another great tradition of the Telluride Film Festival.  That’s something else that’s wonderful about TFF—you never know who you’ll be rubbing elbows with in line or at another place or happening during the weekend.  The one thing you can be sure of is that everyone will be talking film.

After many days of moviegoing, I’m more than happy to just take in an occasional movie at The Nugget, one of the more historic venues of the festival that remains ours every day of the year.

The Nugget, 970-728-3030, www.nuggettheatre.com

Film Festival, 510-665-9464, www.telluridefilmfestival.org

For Those With a Lot of Time but Perhaps a Smaller Budget

Volunteering for the Telluride Film Festival is a great gig and people come from all over the country to work it and get in on the fun.  It’s best to plan to come here for a week to fulfill your required hours, take in a good amount of films and maybe even head out for a hike.  Housing can be an issue, however, and lodging is somewhat scarce and expensive during this time.  The TFF office may be able to help out, but I also suggest you put an ad in one of the local papers (The Daily Planet or The Telluride Watch) or place an announcement (for free) on the housing line of KOTO (970-728-4334), our beloved community radio station.

Jordan and Millar Working the Door at the Masons

Jordan and Millar Working the Door at the Masons

Thank you to Nancy Millar Hobbs for most of the above photos that she took on her iPhone.  I know Nancy, her husband, Kimbale, and their daughter, Jordan, from my little job at the Masons.  They are lovely people and devoted film enthusiasts that have been very much involved with the Masons Cinema for over two decades.  In their real lives, Millar and Kimbale are architects and owners of Hobbs Design.

Thank you also to my neighbor, Mike Oard, for capturing me on his cell phone in the arms of Jeff Goldblum. I’m still wondering if Jeff might call some day?

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