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Telluride Film Festival reverses course and cancels over coronavirus concerns

Telluride Film Festival at night.
(Telluride Film Festival)

In the latest sign of how profoundly the coronavirus pandemic has upended Hollywood, organizers of the Telluride Film Festival announced Tuesday that this year’s edition of the event, which had been scheduled to take place over Labor Day weekend, has been canceled.

In late May, planners of the festival, which has become an increasingly important buzz-making stop on the awards-season calendar, vowed to press ahead with this year’s gathering despite concerns over the virus, adding an extra day to allow for more spacing between screenings, among other safety measures.

But as cases have recently spiked across the country, organizers say they came to “heartbreaking but unanimous conclusion” that this year’s festival could no longer take place.

“Until the past week or so, we had a very good plan to put on the [festival] safely,” Telluride organizers said in a statement. “But with a seemingly unending number of new cases of COVID-19 and the national chaos around it, even the best strategy is threatened by this out of control environment. No matter how much many of us wear our masks and observe social distancing protocols, the pandemic has worsened rather than improved and the health and safety of you — our passholders, filmmakers, the people of Telluride and its surrounding areas — cannot be compromised.”

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The Cannes Film Festival won’t happen in 2020, but new films from Wes Anderson, Pixar, Steve McQueen and more will still receive a Cannes 2020 label.

Set in a picturesque box canyon in the Colorado Rockies, Telluride draws some 5,000 attendees every year, including scores of filmmakers, stars and movie executives, and has helped launch films like “Birdman,” “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird” to Oscar glory. But in the last few months, the pandemic has thrown the usual business of awards season into utter confusion, and it was unclear how many potential festival-goers would have decided to skip Telluride.

Last month, the motion picture academy announced it is postponing next year’s Oscars until April 2021 due to coronavirus concerns, raising questions about whether normally key fall festivals in Telluride, Venice and Toronto would have the same import. The Venice Film Festival, slated to begin in early September, is set to go ahead with some modifications, while Toronto Film Festival, scheduled for later that month, announced in late June that it will be partly virtual.

Telluride organizers, who typically keep the lineup secret until just before the festival kicks off, said that they will soon announce the films that would have been programmed this year.

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“There are some incredible, powerful, and beautiful gems and we’re excited to extol their virtues when the time is right,” they said. “Follow these titles, support them. We intend to champion them outside of the festival as best we can.”

The full statement from the festival organizers is below:

After months of intense due diligence around physically holding an event, we’ve come to the heartbreaking but unanimous conclusion to cancel this year’s Labor Day celebration of film in Telluride.

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While there will be those who might say they’re not surprised by it, that this was inevitable, we beg to differ. It didn’t have to be this way. Until the past week or so, we had a very good plan to put on the SHOW safely. But with a seemingly unending number of new cases of Covid-19 and the national chaos around it, even the best strategy is threatened by this out of control environment. No matter how much many of us wear our masks and observe social distancing protocols, the pandemic has worsened rather than improved and the health and safety of you — our passholders, filmmakers, the people of Telluride and its surrounding areas — cannot be compromised.

As you may know, we have been working cooperatively with our fellow fall film festival partners to champion global cinema and its artists. We hope that many of you will seek out and discover the titles we’ve selected for this year’s program at the New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, or Venice Film Festival, or when they’re made available on a wider basis. We will announce soon what we have carefully programmed in the hopes that you will experience as we did, the best in film this year. There are some incredible, powerful, and beautiful gems and we’re excited to extol their virtues when the time is right. Follow these titles, support them. We intend to champion them outside of the festival as best we can.

For those who have supported us and believe in what we are trying to do, our gratitude is enormous. Thank you. We will need you in the coming months in many ways. Let’s light candles now to conjure a better 2021 and Labor Day weekend in Telluride, together, under the stars in the mountains doing what many of us love the most. The way we prefer to experience cinema will return. Let’s make it so.

We wish you good health, peace and may we collectively move forward to a better world.

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We understand that film festivals and their long-term health are not top of mind today. A safe vaccine, vital medical interventions for those sick and properly enforced health regulations are. However, we do ask that you take this moment to consider a world where gathering around a shared love of culture is no longer possible and what that means for the psychological condition of the world. If the prospect prompts a sense of despair, please advocate and champion the return of our gatherings that provide vital nourishment and oxygen to humanity’s soul, at the appropriate time, of course!


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