TO HELL U RIDE – last day and final thoughts

Monday August 6 – day 4
I wake up on the last day of the Festival feeling rested for the first time since I got here. I catch the gondola at sunrise in order to see the 8:30am Mike Leigh film ANOTHER YEAR, before my day long shift begins. Just like I feel about Woody Allen movies (I enjoy all of them to various degrees), I tend to like all Mike Leigh’s films and this one is no exception but it certainly doesnt knock off my ultimate favorite Leigh film, Secrets & Lies. I’m rather surprised actually that there is not more depth to the perfect couple and son who every other character secretly envies. Jim Broadbent is just wonderful which reminds me that many films I’ve seen here boast acting so outstanding it elevates the respective film subject/premise. I’m so used to seeing the opposite screening blind submissions. After the film I have about 20 minutes to get food at the Labor Day Picnic which gives me no time schmooze. Back at the Palm, I’m irritated that the day’s TBA’s at the venue are all films with distribution I could wait to see at the multiplex. It’s with this sour attitude I reluctantly take the opportunity to go into BLACK SWAN. Darren apologizes to the audience beforehand….. and OMFG I am so damn glad I saw this and it cracked my face! I absolutely loved it! If you’re like me there arent too many movies you like to see over and over again. Well I can not wait to see it again and again. The sound and visuals kept me so utterly rapt and stimulated. I kept hearing before it was hyper real as if that were a bad thing. Its awesomely hyper real and uber sexual and yes totally dramatic as it should be. I pirouette like a mad woman out of the screening. Although I’m stuck at concessions for rest of day, its fun because my body is still shaking from the film and there’s not a cloud in the sky, the beauty is unsettling (plus apparently I’m getting 30% less oxygen from the altitude). In general this place makes me full of awe half of the time and the other half I fantasize this small secluded town must be a deceptive background setting to a twisted and sordid secret story or plot. Cue the theme of Twin Peaks.

We break down at 8pm and afterwards Rebecca and I head out to the outdoor screening of THE KINGS SPEECH which is the most formulaic, safe Oscar bait imaginable down to the last cut aways between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. A royal period bromance which I’ll admit gave me some chuckles – mostly due to the incomparable Geoffrey Rush. A few of us head to the staff party – 2 for 1 drinks, ahem, not free – where i realize i hang with a bunch of sundancers, Tim Nicholson, Ah-bey, Caitlin, Rebecca. I end the festival like I like to end all my festivals, in a Jacuzzi with a joint and a bottle of wine.

My number one favorite film of the Festival: OF GODS AND MEN
Followed by:
INCENDIES – I can’t say I like this as much as the others but it does stand out to me.

Movie I wish I saw because I heard so much good things about: LE QUATTRO VOLTE

I’m glad I went and experienced the festival but I don’t think I will return next year either as a volunteer or patron. It’s really expensive and I did not find anything specific to this festival that you can’t get at others. I suppose I thought that Telluride was the exception of all Festivals given the astounding hype that surrounds it. Obviously its main draw is the spectacular pristine mountainside enclave. I have to say the homogeneous bourgeouise community kind of turns me off. Yes they serve the role of patronizing the arts; each screening is sponsored by an individual or private family who have a resort home here, ostensibly where the films’ talent are entertained (as a benefit for their giving to the Festival). Just like anywhere else, people here wait in line 2 hours and a half for the bragging rights of having seen Black Swan before anyone else in the country, rather than attending screenings of films not available on dvd. It is not the utopia I envisioned where staff and audience can hang out with the filmmakers more freely than it naturally occurs at any other festival. Here the filmmakers seem to be extracted from the festival grounds and lavished upon by the rich folk who sponsor the festival. Lastly, its not a festival of discovery in the truest way. There weren’t any neophytes featured in the program. Even the shorts that played here have received wide acclaim at other Festivals.

I do not own a camera so i don’t have many pictures to share but these are some elements that evoke my experience

– Chico and Rita – the trailer of this special animated film I really enjoyed at the Festival
– You and Whose Army, the Radiohead track on the a powerful film I saw here, INCENDIES
– Because I hear it in the back of my head as I drink in this small town called Telluride

In the end what made my Telluride Film Festival experience most memorable may not have had anything to do with the Festival but the impressive natural landscape of the town. Every night walking home I would look up at the starry blanket sky and get dizzy as if I were on a conveyer belt, feeling the planet revolve under me. The only time I’ve felt this way was in 2000 when I was in a magical isolated pueblito in Mexico called Xilitla. But unlike Telluride where exclusively the well educated and wealthy eco-conscious pay a premium to enjoy the setting for their health; hiking or skiing, the people in the little Mexican village with their humble, traditional way of living off the land have a deeper connection to the land they inhabit you can feel …to circle it back to a number of the Telluride films’ themes, which are all the more apt because of the setting; I ponder of man’s relationship to mother nature and the unique nature of that co-existence. And my earth soul feels fed.

TO HELL U RIDE – day 3

Sunday August 5 – Day 3
I wake up early to see BIUTIFUL, Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu’s film starring a feral, brooding Javier Bardem. I know we’re playing it at Morelia out of competition so I convince myself I should see it here in case I need to intro and q&a in Mexico. Before the film starts I am embarrassed to lose the stupid trivia question posed by the ringleader (the intro person – these people adopt names for everything ) to some geek in the next row who gets called on to answer. I blame it on the fact that the question was way too easy: “Inarritu is often mentioned as part of the three amigos, name the other two”…. I think, is that really the question? I turn my head and look at the anglo audience and raise my hand. The geek correctly says Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron. The ringleaders act like fluffers at screenings here. They warm things by doing team building exercises like this before each film. Its all part of the charm in this too gorgeous to be true town where nobody locks their doors and the library rents out bikes for free. Its so damn beautiful its unsettling. I can’t get use to it. I am full of awe half of the time and the other half I fantasize how this small secluded town offers a deliciously deceptive story setting which would involve a twisted and sordid secret. Cue the theme of Twin Peaks. Back to the film – The audience preemptively claps at the beginning credits which I find annoyingly sycophantic. I recall Indiewire’s Eric Kohn’s review in Cannes where he deemed it misguided melodrama. All I know is it’s the first film Innaritu has done without Guillermo Arriaga’s screenplay. I won’t deny it, I was terribly moved by it and appreciated how this unlike his other films is a much more personal story. Its true it has a really heavy premise to begin with but Javier is strong enough to carry it on his shoulders. What I truly loved is seeing in Inarritu’s film what may surely be his amigo Del Toro’s influence. The story has a supernatural edge to it, and mysterious cinematic images appear and vanish surreptitiously. Its like a neo magicrealism. It has a Shymalan sub-story which lends itself to disarmingly stimulating shots. Without going into spoiler alerts, its basically Javier, a single dad who finds he’s sick and must sort out his affairs before he leaves. It’s interesting to see Spain depicted so miserably, and the immigration thread of the story – two perspectives I don’t see often conveyed in films.

I start my noon to 6 shift where I witness the longest line in the world for Arronofsky’s BLACK SWAN. People are in line at 11am for the 2:30pm film. When the audience lets out, there are question marks attached to their heads, and the opinions we do hear are mostly dire. Before my shift ends I take a gamble and go see a 1976 Peter Weir film. They are doing a tribute to the Aussie here and his new movie I read just sold to NewMarket. The film is called THE PLUMBER. Probably my least favorite of the festival. Its about this grad student yuppie who’s terrorized by this phony plumber. It nearly all takes place inside the dorms. It does manage to scratch at the character’s depth, which ostensibly Weir later develops fantastically like in Truman Show but the Plumber is unable to fly past the belief it requires of the audience that the yuppie is somehow beholden to this crude man. The last film of my Saturday night is the French-Canadian-Lebanese film, INCENDIES by Denis Villaneuve. I read it has just premiered in Venice to a standing ovation. It must have been too much to handle for the audience here because the film received one of those ‘sarcastic clapping’ at the end. Denis gets up (he’s very secksi) to intro the film and says when Telluride invites you don’t ask questions you just go. The film is apparently based on a play which I’m not familiar with but I can see how its inherent greek tragedy-ness is surely milked on stage. I found his approach to the film peculiar. He uses huge font crimson red block letters to divide the the film’s chapters and uses the Radiohead song You and Whose Army a lot throughout the modern day scenes. I was very much engaged with the storyline of twins whose mother’s last wish is for them to find their brother and father they never knew of. Its mostly shot in Jordan and it interweaves the present day adult siblings’ journey to find out their family’s secret. The twist, or rather final reveal about the twins father and brother is unleashed in the 3rd act to an audible collective ‘oh no’ gasp throughout the audience which felt like a train stop where many people got off, and few others like me stayed on. That’s how powerful the film works. Its also worthy to note that the reveal is not explicitly stated but rather extracted by everyone at the same time. I overhear someone call it far-fetched. How in the world is one to judge a story far-fetched? After the screening I finally get a chance to hang with Whitney who’s here with THE KINGS SPEECH. We head to a nice sophisticated bar and have a couple gin gimlets on Harvey. We sit next to Joe a dinosaur who reviews films for WSJ. He confesses he is not crazy about Black Swan. I crash with Whitney at her enviable digs, the highly luxurious 6 star hotel, Capella up the mountain gondola. We run into the producers of Kings Speech in the lobby – more people trashing Black Swan. One of them says its like Show girls and I think that sounds Awesome. I sleep on the highest count thread imaginable and finally get a good night sleep.


Saturday, August 4- Day 2
An old timer volunteer complains to me that it use to be easier to see films at the Festival and I tell her I’m surprised that volunteers can even catch a film, and while on shift and for free to boot. During my morning shift on Saturday I go in to see the 11am Werner Herzog presentation called HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA. A more affable than expected Werner explains by way of introduction he was taken by the existing four hour part tv documentary series about hunters in the Siberian tundra, the film is based on. He took and made it into a 2 hour international feature version of it, slapping on his voice over on it and this was the result. It’s an ethnographic study of the traditional hunter way of life. It follows a couple hunters through the seasons who use primitive tools to make traps, hunt and build shelter. The men evidently choose this lifestyle of survival while their families stay in the villages. Witnessing their preparations against the severely cold, long arctic winters and wild beasts, the tone is quite glorified, and all is captured with mad respect. Meanwhile I can’t help think how this hunter’s hands look like they’ve been dipped in toxic waste as he fishes his net out of the icy waters without reacting to the cold. But also, I find myself judging this self centered prick for choosing to lead this humble solitary life when he’s got kids in the village he only sees 2x a year.

My next film is Stanton Kaye’s 1967 BRANDY IN THE WILDERNESS. It was brought to my attention by this experimental film geek Adam who tells me the story of how Stanton Kaye is one of 12 people who made up a now famous inaugural AFI class which included Paul Schrader, David Lynch and the dude who directed Heathers among others. Tom Luddy introduces the flick and his old friend Stanton, a rotund unkempt gray long hair and matching beard. Stanton admits he really didn’t know what he was doing at the time but he knew he wanted to prove or do something about the term documentary narrative. He cryptically says before the lights go down he was trying to solve the problem of the aestheric. (?) I’m so glad to have seen this film as it is undoubtedly been the influence of many American independent films. The perfection of the film comes from its imperfections. The risky adventurous try anything vibe is my favorite aspect of it. I don’t know what its called but it uses what may have been back then experimental, that sound trick where an actor is on camera in action and the narration dialogue comes from them but off camera relating to the present. Eugene Hernandez who I run into after the film calls it the original mumblecore. The next film I see blows me away, the French film, OF GODS AND MEN. It won a grand jury prize at Cannes, directed by Xavier Beuvais. It was a slow burn start but then I was completely gripped within the austere, formalistic story about French monks in Algeria under siege by the tumultous Algerian civil war being waged in the village they protect. Their faith is severely tested. The steadfast camera and sparse dialogue give great weight to the biggest universal themes and philosophies about humankind, tolerance and love. It was humbling, so goddamn effective. Granted I was an exhausted hungry and cold mess but this spiritual film elicited the strongest emotional impact I’ve had in a while.

I’m still in a state when the film finishes and I go to the Sheridan Bar to meet with Daniela, and Mara whose twin sister runs the Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Mexican traveling doc fest, Ambulante. I get to introduce Sarah Pierce to Daniela and then I almost mistake Julie Huntslinger, one of the directors of Telluride, with Dawn Hudson, the Film Independent director who has similar face and loopy manner. After a drink we head over to see Sylvain Chomet’s THE ILLUSIONIST. Chomet is not present but the producer Jake Eberts is there and before getting into the Jacque Tati based film, he admits its his first Telluride experience. “As a long sufferer of Festivals” he says, his experience at Telluride has been extraordinarily refreshing (um, isnt he on the board at Sundance?). The animation is fine, colored in pencil drawn with large canvass like opaque backgrounds. To me it wasn’t as exciting as the animation of Chico and Rita. Midway through I become disinterested in this tale about a magician and the daughter he adopts. The unique conceit is that there is no coherent dialogue but rather a quiet mutter. I’m a big fan of The Triplets of Belleville which also does this. But here I think it doesn’t sustain the conceit throughout because I felt the narrative drive slow to a halt until I didn’t care for it anymore. After the film I walked across the street at the Starz party and have a couple free drinks with Adam, Rebecca and I see Geoffrey Rush smoking a cigarette outside, pretty sauced up. I couldnt think of anything to say to him so I just walk past.

TO HELL U RIDE 2010 – Day 1

Friday August 3 – Day 1

A rocky first day was totally redeemed by getting in at the last minute to the late screening of CHICO AND RITA, a supremely enjoyable Afro Cuban jazz infused animated tale inspired by the great Bebo Valdes and directed by Spanish director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque, Calle 54). My day started without a good nights sleep because along with having to deal with my roommate’s heavy snoring, my senses were also assaulted by the dander and cat hair in the condo to which I’m extremely allergic. My eyes were swollen itchy red, I was sneezing like a lunatic, and I was short of breath by the time the sun was up. Although my shift was not to start until 1pm, the concession manager asked that everyone help setting up the stand outside the Palm theater, one of the bigger venues of the Festival so like a dutiful newbie I arrived at 9:30am only to find out that production had yet to lay down the electric and load in the equipment. We take advantage of the gorgeous day and go for a quick hike. If I didn’t say it before the scenery is stunning up here. I make a crack about how the locals who grow up here must be like those of Hailsham, the cloning school that figures in the underwhelming Mark Romanek film, NEVER LET ME GO. Rewarded for having shown up early to set up, I am allowed to finish early. I decide to get some quick shut eye because I look like its already Day 5. I regret the nap. I should’ve just stuck it out because my nap makes me late to the infamous Opening Day Feed. I had hoped this would be where I would run in to ‘everybody’. Instead, you know how you run into the same people at every festival? It looks like Caitlin and David are those for me here. I look around to see a dwindling crowd and then see Daniela Michel talking to Inarritu and Tom Luddy. I think here’s my chance to come up and enjoy one of those informal introductions, but their group breaks up as I come up. Dammit. Luckily I see my girl Whitney who’s sitting with a couple of big agents and studio execs (names who have been imprinted on my from my days as a producer’s slave) both who says its thier first time here. I see Sarah Pearce, director of operations at Sundance and I run over to say hello before taking the gondola to the Chuck Jones theatre to catch a shorts program. I refer to the signage and my fest vet skills to find which queue line I’m suppose to line up trying to be self sufficient and not ask a staff member. I give myself 10 minutes before I walk up to the info booth with my tail between my legs and I am asked if I have a Wabbit Weservation (?). In lieu of this “Q’ system, the Chuck Jones theatre calls their line place holders w2s. I’m reminded this is all in my Vespucci staff handbook. I am pointed in the ‘No W2’ lines and manage to get in. Of the three half hour shorts, I like the first one the best, a polish dramatic short called COME TO ME directed by Ewa Banaszkiewicz. It was one of those well made, intimate handheld films through which the lead character essence emerges so well that when the film finishes you care to think of the numerous paths, or rather interprete what the protag will go on to do. I leave in the middle of the second half hour short, a documentary, POSTER GIRL about a US female soldier who returns from Iraq . It was basically her on camera, showing us her medicine cabinet full of prescriptions to keep her PTS at bay, and how she’s managing by turning her camaflouge uniforms into paper mache art. I feel bad for leaving because I wanted to see the third film, a Palestine 3d animation, but I am determined to get my Q for the 9:30pm Chico and Rita.

I arrive 45 minutes in advance to the Opera house venue, only to be told that this particular venue only admits staff on a stand-by basis. Of course this info is on the back of my badge and in my Vespucci handbook. I have a frustrating moment as I realize I’m acting like this is my first rodeo. The middle aged theatre line staffer gives me discouraging odds. But not one to make a stink about it – been on the other side much too long, I weakly smile say thanks and walk away. Plan B is the new Peter Weir film. Unfortunately the theatre manager gives me the same spiel. Plan C is the free outdoor screening on Main of OKA! AMERIKEE, a documentary about African Pygmies, figuring there’s no way one can’t get into an outdoor screening I circle back to main. The park is across from the Opera house so before I plop down on the grass, I decide to walk over for one last ditch try, and voila! I get into the screening. Once inside I settle in to the cozy Opera house, which looks like an old school vaudeville establishment and my mood is immediately lifted. Tom Luddy introduces the film, hollers at Sid Ganis and the other jazz aficionados in the audience. He breaks what I thought was a festival rule when he tells the audience sounding quite sincere; ‘Of all the movies in the festival this one is my favorite.” Fernando Trueba comes up and tells us of his connection to the legendary Cuban maestro Bebo, and of the 4 years in the making film. The animator is a Spanish artist named Javier Mariscal. The music grabs us all and the colors in the film swim big, reminding me of those paint by adding water coloring books where the colors spill. The remarkable detail of the cosmo hey-day cities of Cuba, New York, Paris, etc exude the energy each city is known for. Chico and Rita is the classic love story of a pianist who follows a talented songstress Rita all over the world as they each go through their journeys starting from the 40s to the 90s. In each of their storylines other jazz biographical snippets are incorporated. i.e. When Rita is playing Vegas she points out to the crown the irony that she’s being called a superstar while being segregated, forced to sleep at another hotel (Dorothy Dandridge). All the jazz greats have cameos like Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Nat Cole, and a million others. As the screening lets out, I’m deliciously satisfied and can’t wait to download a bunch of jazz medleys. We are handed out the TBA’s for the next day. As had been rumored, Black Swan and 127 Hours are here.

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

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.