Telluride Film Festival – Day T minus 1

I was in the back seat reading an article about Animal Kingdom in a Film Comment
issue when Adam who’s driving turns his head to say, hey dummy look around,
we’re here! As if on cue my ears popped (almost 9000 ft elevation). It’s
around 1pm on the day before the storied labor day film event known as the
Telluride Film Festival kicks off . I shake off the road trip fatigue
and instantly light up with excitement and expectation. Please live up to the
hype, i pray. The lore of Telluride is vast. Its hard to get to, that its
strictly cinephiles, its egalitarian, super intimate and exclusive – in a good
way, basically creme de la creme de la creme. I had to see what the fuss was
about so I’m here as volunteer/staff, which will cost me out of pocket upwards
of $300. Adam is a Telluride film festival veteran who is plain giddy as we
pull in. He’s uber happy to show the newbies the grand tour. On Main, err
Colorado street, I expect a busy and nervous flurry of activity but instead
there seems to be a more casual and less than expected congested flow. Even the
handsome grade A mountain raised young american boys, moving, assembling and
prepping have a low key and very friendly vibe. Its a bright sunny day and look
there is the iconic still of the Telluride Film Festival banner in real life. I
get out of the car, look around to see just which veteran, international, auteur
filmmaker I will run into or I am already walking past but may not recognize.

My mission is to get my hands on whatever publication available with the films
listing. For weeks leading up, the Fest essentially gives you the hand and says
‘trust’. Finally I steal a Film Watch newspaper from a bench. I skim through the
director names, Weir, Frears, Herzog, Morris, Assaya, Innaritu, Flaherty (!),
some world sneaks, Never Let Me Go, Chico and Rita (animated cuba jazz by
Fernando Trueba, woohoo)…Wait, they are playing Boyle’s 2005 Millions but not
127 Days? hmmm. TBA’s sprinkle the weekend schedule and dominate most of Monday
so the promise of more super sneak surprise screenings makes me aflutter . I go
get settled into the condo I’m sharing with two relative strangers, another
first timer like me and an older guy who is working special events and is soon
off to bartend the filmmaker dinner party. I go get my staff badge which gives
full access to the screenings, but there is some process here having to do Q’s.
Apparently all pass/ticketholders get a Q when they form in line and once they
pass them all out if you dont get one, you know you wont get in in advance so
you are free to try another screening. Picked up my ‘bennies’ the benefits bag
they only give to staff volunteers who work 30 hours, inside there’s tea,
coffee, odwalla bars, Festival merch; cap, shirt and poster, my fave is the
Tom’s toothpaste and lip balm. At the clubhouse is where staff get free grub –
which is good because i cannot spend more money. It’s decent spread. I’m hit
on by a guy near the mac n cheese. Because he sticks out like a sore thumb I
realize I’ve only seen one black person. And I also wonder where my brown
people at?.

I attend the NEW staff meeting where Tuck who worked at Seattle FF
many years, Sundance one year, and now Telluride many years, he’s the assistant
theater manager who tells us the low down on the traditions of the Festival, why
its called The Show (the show begins the minute you arrive and is not just
referring to the films), Vespucci (something to do with a film called the King
of Z’s , and the Jeanne Moreau last minute cancellation story, the reason they
don’t announce programming until the day of. We get the how special telluride
is as a year round arts community “Unlike Sundance where it is a ski resort that
happens to have films in January” (no joke). We are given the “You are the
heart and soul of the Fest’ speech by show corp manager Lucy Lerner. She tells
us there’s about 700 volunteer/staffers. The staff family hold back policy on
Opening Day is emphasized. Then onto the ALL staff meeting where Mr Tom Luddy
himself welcomes us. He tells us about a mentor of his he’s happy to have at
the Festival, Dennis Jacob. And then he introduces a new short by Errol Morris
who’s apparently also bffs with this guy Dennis. The short is basically Dennis
talking about movies and the clips of those as Erroll shouts questions on the
other side of the camera. And it is amazingly inspiring. I think its the
perfect trailer/inspiration speech for a festival’s kickoff. Just a few gems
from the short: He’s seen Ivan Kane the Terrible 100 times. His favorite
american movie is A Walk in the Sun. “Movies are magic and myth”. He feels
films belongs more to poetry than the dramatic art. He’s seen Raw Deal 50
times. This erudite short, funny voiced old oval shaped man spits out about
half dozen more classics i wished i was writing down.Then another co-director,
Garry Meyer says a few unremarkable words, hands it to Peter Sellars whose
boisterous voice shakes the speakers and he ejaculates enthusiasm all over the
crowd. He introduces Ken Burns who really had the best most sincere wouldnt
even call it speech but sharing of the night and who ends with a John Muir
quote. I find out I’m working concessions. at Le Pierre theater. I ran into
some peeps, David Wilson, Caitlin Rucker, Jesse Dubus. I skip the concessions
staff meet and greet so i can run over to meet with Daniela Michel the director
of the Morelia Film Festival who texts me she’s at the ‘bookstore on main’. We
have a last minute Morelia programming meeting and I defend a mexican film
thats hanging in the programming balance because I’m the only passionate one for
it. I’m able to make the best argument for it and surprise at how eloquent I
sound.

Before the staff screening I take a breathtaking gondola ride over the
mountain just as the sun sets. Before the movie begins we are told the first
rule of staff screenings is you don’t talk about staff screenings. The second
rule is, bla bla bla. Apparently there are security incognito in the audience
who will fine you and take you to the graybar hotel if you as much pull out your
mobile hand device. “so if you see Mark Romanek tomorrow. do NOT tell him how
much you liked his film. (btw -the acting is flawless). After the flick i
debate going out for a drink. I decide I should get some rest for opening day
so I head to the condo for sleepytime….only to realize I need to buy earplugs
because my roommate snores.

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