Telluride Film Festival: 'La La Land,' 'Moonlight,' 'Sully' and an upbeat year

Perk up, Hollywood: it’s safe to smile at Telluride this year — and maybe all the way until the Oscars. The 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival, which runs over Labor Day weekend in the Colorado mountain town and helps usher in the season of serious-minded awards movies, has an unusually upbeat film slate this year.

In a contrast to more somber years past — the one-two punch of “Spotlight” and “Room” last year was particularly heavy — some of the feelgood movies among the new features screening at this year’s festival include “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle’s musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone; “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s true-life tale of a heroic pilot played by Tom Hanks; “Toni Erdmann,” Maren Ade’s German comedy about family and embarrassment; “Bleed For This,” Miles Teller’s boxing comeback story; and “Lost in Paris,” Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel’s French physical comedy.

Telluride Film Festival director Julie Huntsinger said she and her co-director Tom Luddy made no special effort to program optimistic tales, but merely responded to the mood of the filmmakers.

“[Picking the movies] is like going through this beautiful garden of exceptional produce,” Huntsinger said. “This year we’ve got a lot of films with charming, funny moments. But we really are a mirror. What’s being talked about is all due to the filmmakers.”

One filmmaker heading into the festival with a strong personal link to Telluride is writer-director Barry Jenkins, whose second feature film, “Moonlight,” an adaptation of Tarell McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” will have its first public screening here. Jenkins, who has been curating Telluride’s short films for years, connected with “Moonlight’s” producers, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, while moderating a Q&A at the festival for their film “12 Years a Slave.”

“We got to know Barry as a student, and we were blown away by the maturing of his vision,” Huntsinger said. “This is a film I hope gets championed.”

Telluride will host tributes to three artists — Amy Adams, Casey Affleck and Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. The tributes, which consist of extended conversations along with film clips from their careers and screenings of their latest projects, will include the new films “Arrival,” a science fiction drama directed by Denis Villeneuve starring Adams as a linguist investigating a mysterious spacecraft; “Neruda,” Larrain’s biopic of Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda; and “Manchester By the Sea,” the Kenneth Lonergan drama that sparked enthusiasm for Affleck’s performance when it screened at Sundance.

“It is Casey Affleck’s time,” Huntsinger said of the tribute choice. “It’s a beautiful film and Casey really is something to behold.”

Some noteworthy female directors will attend, including French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve, who brings “Things To Come,” her drama starring Isabelle Huppert as a philosophy teacher whose convictions are tested, and Robin Swicord, who wrote and directed “Wakefield,” an adaptation of an E.L. Doctorow story starring Bryan Cranston as a man who spies on his wife.

Among documentaries, Telluride will show “The Ivory Game,” Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani’s investigation into China’s illegal ivory market. “You watch it like a thriller,” Huntsinger said of the Leonardo DiCaprio produced film. “You’re on the edge of your seat.”

Other docs unspooling here  include “California Typewriter,” Doug Nichol’s exploration of  the mythology around the endangered piece of analog office equipment; “Finding Oscar,” Ryan Suffern’s documentary about the detective work that revealed a massacre in Guatemala in the 1980s; and “A Fanatic Heart: Bob Geldof on W.B. Yeats,” Gerry Hoban’s celebration of the Irish poet through the eyes of one of his biggest fans, singer and activist Geldof.

One documentary that had been on last year’s slate was briefly back again this year, with a caveat. The Aretha Franklin concert film “Amazing Grace,” which was pulled just moments before its planned screening at the 2015 festival when a judge granted an injunction preventing the filmmakers from showing it without Franklin’s permission, was on an early version of this year's schedule, but was removed Thursday morning.

“At this time, Telluride Film Festival will not be screening Amazing Grace in its 2016 program,” the festival said in a statement. “The Festival respects the decision of the court and the rights and wishes of all parties involved. The Festival will continue to reserve a space for the title in its program guide should the legal situation change and should the parties all agree that the film may be screened.”

In addition to Telluride’s role as a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for films heading into awards season, the isolated former mining town at 8,750 feet attracts a very particular cinephile audience. This year they’ll be served selections by guest director Volker Schlöndorff, who has chosen the 1968 East German film “I Was Nineteen,” Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1954 Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner drama “The Barefoot Contessa” and Fritz Lang’s 1928 James Bond predecessor, “Spies.”

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rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

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