Telluride film lineup: ‘Descendants,’ ‘Albert Nobbs,’ ‘Shame’

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Two of the last three best picture Oscar winners — “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — had their world premieres here at the Telluride Film Festival.

Organizers of the idiosyncratic cinematic celebration in southwest Colorado didn’t exactly plan it that way (the Academy Awards attention is actually a minor if welcome embarrassment to them), but as the 2011 event kicks off this weekend, everyone’s watching to see if their Midas touch will continue.

On paper, there’s a real contender: Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” the writer-director’s first film since 2004’s Merlot-bashing “Sideways.” Starring George Clooney as a disconnected father of two girls whose life is upended after his wife’s traumatic brain injury, the movie holds the potential to be a critical and art-house triumph.

But for the programmers in Telluride, whose 38th annual festival runs from Friday to Monday, Hollywood statuettes and box-office riches are hardly top of mind.


The quirky event prides itself on providing an antidote to Hollywood formulas, as organizers lard the festival with “Ulysses”-length undertakings (this year, it’s Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2-hour documentary about Beatle George Harrison), demanding dramas (director Steve McQueen’s sexual obsession story “Shame”) and relatively unknown foreign-language imports, including films from Chile, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Belgium and Albania. Eclecticism, in other words, trumps populism.

“The commercial stuff does not jump out at you,” said Julie Huntsinger, who with Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer directs the festival. “But we think it’s a great bouquet.”

In its determination to program its Labor Day lineup the way a fromager might assemble a spread of obscure cheeses, the Telluride team attracts more small-town cinéastes than Hollywood deal makers, though this year two talent agencies will host fancy parties at local estates. Because festival passes are sold before the film schedule is released, festival guests arrive in the small ski resort town (at the head-spinning elevation of 8,750 feet) with no idea what they’re going to see.

“We’ve always felt lucky that our crowd is so dedicated,” Huntsinger said. “We always encourage people to be adventurous, and they’re going to have to be this year.”

In addition to “The Descendants,” “Shame” and Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World,” Telluride audiences will also get to see the world or North American premieres of Werner Herzog’s death-row documentary “Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life”; Glenn Close’s performance as a turn-of-the-century Irish woman passing for a male waiter in “Albert Nobbs”; Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud in director David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”; and the environmentally themed documentaries “Bitter Seeds” (a look at genetically modified crops) and “The Island President” (about the Maldives).

Although it is not yet part of the official film list, “Butter,” a comedy about a butter-carving competition, is expected to be shown at the festival.

The foreign-language titles include Finland’s “Le Havre,” Hungary’s “The Turin Horse,” Chile’s “Bonsái,” Mexico’s “Perdida,” Iran’s “A Separation,” Israel’s “Footnote,” Poland’s “In Darkness,” Brazil’s “Passerby” and France’s “Goodbye First Love.” Joshua Marston, the writer-director of 2004’s “Maria Full of Grace,” will bring his new international story “The Forgiveness of Blood” to Telluride.

Clooney will receive a festival tribute, as will Tilda Swinton, who stars in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a story of a woman whose young son commits a Columbine-style massacre. The film showed this spring in Cannes and is coming to Telluride as well.

Jim Burke, who produced Payne’s “The Descendants,” believes the film is a perfect fit for Telluride’s welcoming audience. “We view it as a festival that is exclusively dedicated to film and the enjoyment of film,” said Burke, who traveled to Telluride with his 2007 production “The Savages.” “You get into this movie zone — it’s like a high. It’s just a wonderful spot to see films and to talk about them.”

But the festival isn’t the only big event this weekend in Telluride.

Down the winding highway a bit, at the 17,000-acre ranch owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, there will be a wedding of two famous families. On Sunday, the designer’s son David Lauren will marry Lauren Bush (niece of former President George W. Bush); dress code is reportedly “black tie with a western twist.”

Maybe the couple will want to take a movie honeymoon and check out an interesting Polish film after the ceremony. If so, we know just the place.


Venice Film Festival: Must-see films

Photos: Scene at the 2011 Venice Film Festival

Photos: George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood and more at Venice Film Festival

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photos, from top: George Clooney and Shailene Woodley star in ‘The Descendants,’ which will unspool in Telluride; Glenn Close at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Credits New York Film Festival; Eric Gaillard / Reuters