With the passion and near-claustrophobic intensity that's become its trademark, the Telluride Film Festival used its 25th anniversary extravaganza to celebrate its past and consider its future.
Perhaps astonished by its own ambition at adding an extra day and putting on a record 48 programs, Telluride also scheduled its first-ever break, a three-hour intermission/luncheon on Saturday afternoon, a time called "A Silver Thanksgiving" when a picnic was served and no films were shown.
Given that this is a silver anniversary in a silver-mining town of an art form once called the silver screen, it's not to be wondered at that the festival couldn't resist putting that very word in some half a dozen program titles, including a selection of French avant-garde films from the 1920s called "Silver Unearthed" and a collection of shorts labeled "Silver Coins."
Going on simultaneously with all this celebrating was a series of stories in Telluride's handful of weekly newspapers about the festival's future. First, co-director Bill Pence announced that next year's event would for the first time include programming at a theater in Mountain Village, a collection of ski resorts overlooking the town that is reachable only by gondola, not on foot.
"For our first 25 years, we've been one kind of festival," Pence told the Telluride Watch in announcing the change. "Maybe in our 26th year we'll start to become a somewhat different kind of festival."
Another change is also possible, as the owner of the Nugget Theater, one of the festival's earliest venues, announced that it may not be available in the future. The entire Nugget Building, including the theater, is officially for sale for $3 million, and should a deal materialize, it's doubtful the theater will remain intact.
Like Scarlett O'Hara, this year's festivalgoers decided to think about those possibilities tomorrow. Instead they focused on Telluride traditions like the trio of in-person tributes. This year they went to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Japanese director Susumu Hani and, the most popular with audiences, actress Meryl Streep.
After an hour of clips that co-director Pence accurately described as creating "the same kind of amazement as seeing a David Copperfield magic show," Streep engaged in an extended conversation with critic Roger Ebert and showed a side of herself that is blessedly funny, unaffected and down to earth.
Unable to say "my oeuvre" without cracking up, Streep did note that a throughline in her work was how "people misjudge women on the way they look." And she told a droll story of witnessing an argument in Italian between producer Dino DeLaurentiis and his son ("big Dino and little Dino") about whether she was suitably attractive to get the part in the "King Kong" remake that eventually went to Jessica Lange.
"Not being beautiful enough, that saved me in my career," Streep said. "I felt like a character actress all my life, and that's more freeing to the imagination."
Streep was also the star of one of Telluride's world premieres, the Pat O'Connor-directed version of Brian Friel's celebrated play, "Dancing at Lughnasa." An intimate memory piece set in the small Irish town of Ballybeg in 1936, "Lughnasa" is at its best during those magical moments when its five sisters (played by Streep, Catherine McCormack, Kathy Burke, Sophie Thompson and Brid Brennan) catch fire in the intensity of shared emotion.
The other debuting films include "I'm Losing You," Bruce Wagner's unconvincing version of his much-talked-about Hollywood novel, and "Endurance," a respectful docudrama about the great Ethiopian distance runner and Olympic 10,000-meter champion Haile Gebrselassie.
Telluride doesn't announce its new films in advance, so it was surprising to discover that more of them than usual (a full nine) had debuted at Cannes. These include Todd Solondz's controversial "Happiness," a pair of Cannes prize-winners (John Boorman's "The General" and Eric Zonka's excellent "The Dreamlife of Angels") and, most satisfying of all, "My Son, the Fanatic," which played at Cannes in 1997 and has yet to reach American screens.
Directed by Uvayan Prasad and graced with a fine script by Hanif Kureishi ("My Beautiful Launderette"), "My Son" is the insightful, compassionate and exceptionally relevant story of a Pakistani cab driver (played by Om Puri) trying to find his place in British society while coping with a son who has become an Islamic fundamentalist.
Telluride's guest director this year was Peter Bogdanovich, and his presence helped make it an excellent festival for silent film. Bogdanovich concentrated on 1928, introducing four programs of classics (including "The Crowd," "The Wedding March" and "The Last Command") from that final pre-talkies year. "They say the swan sings its most beautiful song just before it dies," Bogdanovich said, "and if there ever was a swan song for the movies, it was 1928."
Among the other silents at the festival was Paul Leni's one-of-a-kind adaptation of the melodramatic Victor Hugo novel "The Man Who Laughs," as much of a crowd favorite here as at its restoration debut at Cannes. And the Alloy Orchestra, Telluride regulars, returned to accompany a showing of Sergei Eisenstein's 1924 "Strike" in a performance dedicated to the memory of Caleb Sampson, the composer and Alloy member who died earlier this year.
Several of Telluride's silver programs concentrated on Hollywood, including the gleefully entertaining "The Silver Illusion," a thorough and impressive look at the movies' flirtation with 3-D, hosted by critic Leonard Maltin.
Director Bogdanovich introduced "Silver Light: John Ford and the American West," a program that featured his own rarely seen documentary, "Directed by John Ford." Afterward, a panel that included Clint Eastwood and French director and critic Bertrand Tavernier discussed Ford's influence, with Tavernier telling poignant and hilarious stories about serving as a French press agent for an extremely cantankerous Ford.
The most exciting silver event was simply called "The Silver Screen," and it invited the festival's former guest directors to choose a total of 14 black-and-white films for showing. These included Max Ophuls' "The Reckless Moment," Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" and, memorably, a 1934 French film called "Remous."
Translated as "Turmoil," "Remous" was the daring work of a little-known French/English director named Edmond T. Greville. Dealing frankly and nonjudgmentally with such subjects as impotence, voyeurism and sexual desire, "Remous" proved to be unexpectedly adult, modern and provocative.
As involving as the film was director Tavernier's extremely personal introduction. He talked of being one of four young film buffs who befriended Greville in 1960, of coming to admire and appreciate his work ("even his flaws are daring"). Finally, when the director died "alone and penniless," it was Tavernier and his friends who paid for the destitute man's funeral. Of such moments are Telluride memories made.