The Telluride Film Festival prides itself on being unlike bigger, glitzier festivals. The atmosphere is decidedly low-key and intimate, with neither the deal-making frenzy of Sundance nor the black-tie glamour of Cannes. There are no red carpets, no juries doling out awards. Most of the venues aren't even actual movie theaters — one is a middle school gym, another is an ice-skating rink and yet another is the town's Masonic Hall.
“You think it’s a festival and it’s going to just feel like a festival but it doesn’t,” said
That said, Telluride isn't only about filmmakers and stars convivially communing in jeans and untucked shirts — though there is plenty of that. In recent years, the festival has taken on an increasingly important role in the awards-season ecosystem, having hosted seven of the last eight best picture winners. So as the 44th edition of the fest unfolded, Oscar prognosticators had their antenna finely tuned to pick up reverberations of buzz — and in what was widely seen as a strong crop of films, several got an early leg up on the long climb ahead to potential Oscar glory.
Screening in the same opening-night slot in which “Moonlight” played last year, actress
"It was intimidating to be in the same slot that 'Moonlight' was in, but it's not a thing I feel like I could ever live up to," a very relieved Gerwig told The Times the next morning. "I didn't feel as if I had to pass the 'Moonlight' bar. So in a way it was just an honor. I just felt like it was very warm and kind."
While films with fantasy elements sometimes have a difficult time being taken seriously by critics and Oscar voters, Del Toro brushed aside any concern about being placed in a box. "That would be important if I cared — but I don't," the director said bluntly. "Look, I've been doing this for 25 years. If I thought it was not the route to go, I would have changed."
Perhaps not surprisingly given these turbulent geopolitical times, films dealing head-on with real-life conflict also resonated with festivalgoers. Jolie's film about a young girl whose family is swept up in the horrors of the Khmer Rouge's savage revolution in 1975, which will be released on Netflix and in select theaters on Sept. 15, drew a standing ovation in its first major screening outside of Cambodia.
Director Joe Wright’s
In a Q&A following the film's last screening, Oldman said immersing himself deeply in the role of Churchill had rekindled his love of acting after doing too many films that felt rushed and creatively undernourished. "It was a real joy," he said. "Until this film, I had really started to lose my love of the work, of why I wanted to do it in the first place."
Among the festival’s documentaries as well, a number of films confronted weighty and contentious issues, including “Eating Animals,” an investigation into the ills of factory farming produced by
On a somewhat lighter note, “Battle of the Sexes” — about the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (
Notably, at a time when many have criticized Hollywood's lack of gender parity in the hiring of directors, roughly a third of the films at this year's festival were either directed or co-directed by women. Meanwhile, a free, open-air panel called "Real-Life Wonder Women" — featuring Jolie, Portman, King and legendary chef Alice Waters — drew what appeared to be the largest crowd to any such panel in the festival's history.
"I'd like to get to the point where [the number of female directors] is not a conversation," Jolie told The Times. "We're going to have to work a little bit harder, but I think if we support each other, then women in this business will move forward. But we have far to go."
Speaking of having far to go, awards season is a marathon, not a sprint. With the Toronto Film Festival set to kick off later this week and a slew of potential heavy-hitters yet to be unveiled, would-be contenders need to pace themselves.
For her part, Gerwig was simply gratified to have made her first step along that journey in the nurturing environment of Telluride. "One of my favorite things about Telluride — and it's been very vivid this year — is because it's so small the directors are really there for each other," she said. "That has been the most meaningful thing — you look at another director and they feel the very same thing you feel, this combination of relief and fear."