Friday, October 26, 2007

Telluride Film Festival 2007: Chapter 2

Running, Jumping, Standing Still

I don’t get up this early for work but I sacrificed this holiday weekend in the name of great Film (well a few great films and frankly a few duds). The atmosphere gelled the previous night where in we would mostly all wait up for each other back at the house in order to discuss the days views and make recommendations and cautions and see what the TBAs for the next day might be and plan a schedule – all for only about 30 min before we passed out. So the big thing the Friday night was that one of the 4 TBAs on Saturday would be filled with Juno – the second film from Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) I considered this a must see as did several others so the reshuffling and the dread at how much time to make it up to the Chuck Jones theater - a 15 minute gondola ride up and down a mountain - from the Palm theater – in the town highschool and the furthest from the gondola base. Luckily, for this theater only you get W2 (Wabbit Weservations – an ode to the creator of Bugs Bunny) either 90 minutes before the start of the film in Telluride or 5 hrs before the start of the film up in the next town of Mountain Village where the theater is actually located. Ralph and Vanessa were seeing 2 films up there early in the morning but not that one. So they agreed to snag me a W2 so I could get into the screening.

Another interesting thing is that each pass comes with 40 small boxes on either side of the badge, two of which are colored green. This means you have a guaranteed seat in the Sheridan Opera House – a small but high profile theater that provided the start of the festival 34 years ago – for those two films. Each of these boxes is punched when you see a film so that you don’t go to the same film twice. By day 3 you could start playing badge poker – my 3 in a row beats your two pair.


My first film of the day was my first green spot. So I didn’t have to jump out of bead as early is I may have had otherwise (good thing with no Starbucks in town). I made my way down to the SOH and waited in the usual line for Secret Sunshine… as my badge was being punched I was told that there was another line for the greenies and that I could’ve been in much earlier and gotten a better seat than I had. Sign anyone?

A Korean film, Sunshine involved a widow who moves back to her husband’s small village from Seoul. The film had a plot twist every 30 min or so that sends it off in a new direction. This is interesting in theory but it becomes apparent after the first twist that they just keep going down hill – tragedy after tragedy, from a kidnapping to being born again and she just can’t seem to deal with anything…and screams and cries a lot. If things were handle differently this might be a very different review but it seemed very Korean TV in execution. The melodrama was allowed to go unchecked and there were extended scenes of singing and crying at prayer services. This does not make for riveting viewing. Perhaps it’s just a case of cultural viewing habits but I didn’t find anyone recommending this film and at 2.25 hrs it becomes an endurance test for even the most masochistic of filmgoers. (That’s 2 films with born again themes).

Flick 2 was the new Werner Hetzog documentary Encounters at the End of the World. My only previous experience with Herzog was Grizzly Man so I was not expecting this highly comical look at the people who choose to reside in Antarctica. Herzog narrates this blend of travel doc, scientific inquiry, anthropological examination, historical context piece and nature film in a dead pan manner that does little to belie the mocking condescension he seems to have for these colorful characters and creatures that live at the bottom of the world. He starts by giving the circumstances for the trip to the Antarctic (much like I did in an earlier post on the weekend!) that involved something about a monkey riding on a horse out in the desert…with animation. He proceeds to detail his disgust at the base camp/city that serves as the residence for most of the continents inhabitants and then interviews many of them occasionally asking pointed questions or providing commentary that undercut their scientific beliefs or play up their personal foibles. He spends some time with demented penguins watching one wander off into the deepest wastes to die. However one of his main inspirations for the trip was footage shot by the man who scored Grizzly Man. When he goes to the same area to experience some of this it is a truly remarkable sight. Some of the footage he used for a sci-fi film he had made previously. Even more surprising were the sounds that carry under the arctic ice shelf from the creatures that live down there – as Herzog said it sounded more like a Pink Floyd album than any natural sound you’ve ever heard. Equal parts fascinating and entertaining I’d highly recommend this doc.

Now with 25 minutes to spare and a 15 minute gondola ride ahead of us Ian and I started to run all the way from the Palm to the gondola… well I ran a bit of the time. Ian being 5 years younger and in much better shape apparently sprinted the ½ mile or so. Fortunately, I made it to the top, ran by Ralph and grabbed the W2 he had been holding (thank you) and got there just in time to be the last pass holder let into the theater. Of course I had to sit in row 1 but since those seats were angled backward and wend almost flat viewing the film wasn’t all that bad.

The director and writer of Juno were there to introduce their film. Jason Reitman said that he finished the final cut 3 days ago, screened it and it was put on a plane to telluride so this is the first time in front of an audience. Obviously the most mainstream film of the weekend this is a comedy about a high school girl (Ellen Page) who is knocked up by her longtime friend (Michael Cera – yes that kinda makes it funny to begin with). After running from the Planned Parenthood clinic terrified by the people she decided to give the child up for adoption. The chosen parents are played by a very proper and very eager to give of her motherly love Jennifer Garner and an indifferent and pan-laden Jason Bateman. Though this may sound mawkish, the film is far from it. Page delivers the acerbic wit penned by writer Diablo Cody (yes that is a pseudonym and yes she was a stripper) without any girly pretensions. I would call this film New Quirk (no I have no what the old version would be…Tina Fey?), from the opening credits that dissolve into animation from the cold open to the indie rock to the cute seasonal inter-titles the artifice of the film has a peculiar personality all on its own. I’m sure this will be a platforming indie hit in much the same way Reitman’s first film was.

From there everything went down hill. Literally at first! I went down the mountain on the gondola to get inline for Margot at the Wedding that had a Q&A with writer/director Noah Baumbach and low and behold the few people behind me were Reitman, Cody and their entourage. Those of us around asked a few questions and Reitman was a very congenial person, Cody was on the phone for most of the wait. They were ecstatic with the very positive reaction and were calling some other industry people to deliver good news. But the topic quickly turned to the fact that despite showing up more than an hour before the start of the film and being 110 or so people from the door of a 200 seat theater we were warned that we may not get in. There are certain levels of pass holders – Festival Passes are the standard all inclusive pass that gives you admission to all films and 2 dinners. Above those are Partron Passes which include priority seating then Sponsor Passes with even more priority and Show Ring passes for the ultra supporters (think there may have been another level I missed). But since they were all well above the rest of us (including the filmmakers) the line was cut around 95 and we were all turned away. At one point I said I would tackle the next patron who walked by…then that patron happened to be Laura Linney. As she gets applause in the middle of the street in town I thought that would be a bad idea. So I walked over to try and get into The Counterfeiters which was also turning people away the night before, including Ralph & Vanessa. Naturally the line for this is massive and even in a 500 seat theater I again get turned away. So I headed back to the condo pass in hand as all showings for that time block had started.

After kicking there a bit and chatting with Ralph and Ian at different times on how to rearrange my schedule to accommodate those that I had missed. I had rightly assumed that the massive turnaways would be added to the TBAs the next two days. Deciding to hit up the one film I was guaranteed to see I made my way to the small park in the center of town for the free open air showing of The Beatles in HELP! I’d never seen this and was a little taken aback by the sheer absurdity of the whole thing. Obviously influential on Austin Powers this spy spoof and Beatles spoof was actually too ridiculous to really like. Hmmm… maybe you have to know more about the life and times of the Beatles to really appreciate it. In order to get a W2 for my last show of the day (a paltry 5 instead of the desired 6), I left a little early when the 90 minute window opened and walked back for the close as the 2 locations were 2 blocks apart. It was so plotless I didn’t think I missed much.

I returned to the Chuck Jones for Saturdays final screening, Brick Lane, based on Ralph’s recommendation. The plot felt very well worn to me. A Bangladeshi girl is sent to England in an arranged marriage to an overweight, stubborn and chauvinistic older man. She feels trapped longing for her carefree life with her sister back home and starts a flirtatious relationship with a strapping young rogue which blossoms into more. Meanwhile their daughters can’t stand their father’s views and his inability to adapt to the English way of life. If you have seen East Is East, Bend It Beckham, (I was told) The Namesake or any number of Subcontinental woman cum UK wife films in the last few year you know the plot and the themes of culture clash, generation gap, unfaithful woman with marriage problems very well. The one new aspect of this film is that right in the middle 9/11 happens. I read that in the description and was still totally caught off guard to and moved at the scene when everyone runs to a TV to see what is going on. This event turns the plot and the rogue becomes more militant while it’s the father that pragmatically lectures the youth on their history and that their new found unity is unlikely to last. The film is superbly acted and directed well, but there is a twinge too much melodrama for me.


The ride back down the mountain in the gondola was one of my favorite moments of the weekend. It was 1am and I was the only person on my gondola in the pitch black of ten thousand feet up in the Rockies…and the gondola stopped running. It wasn’t unexpected as it was doing this earlier nor was it long 1-2 minutes but it felt like much longer. There was a surprising lack of wind and it was both thrilling and a little scary. The stars look amazing from that height and with so little light pollution tingeing the pitch it was a dazzling sight. Soon the ride belts started up again and the silence was interrupted at intervals by the Doppler effect of the towers.

On the walk back to the condo I overheard some interesting and like HELP! absurdist conversational snippets I assumed were related to the days viewing but I didn’t know which films or the context of the larger conversation – things are often funnier that way. The first at the base of the gondola someone said, “But it wasn’t a Deus Ex Machina. It was, like a Nothing Ex Machina.” Further up the street was heard, “I’m not an American anti-Semite, I’m an Israeli anti-Semite.” I was silently bewildered and amused by these new pieces of knowledge but decided to continue my traipsing through the night instead of perusing a further inquiry. Upon returning to the condo no one was stirring so I turned a light on and realized Jana was already down for the count upstairs and no one else was yet back. So I turned the lights back off and I hopped on the computer for a bit (there is wifi everywhere) from bed. There were some brief discussions when Ian and Ralph made it back – mostly concerning the new TBAs and the Juno adventure – but as we were all pretty sleepy and most also had an early call time for our respective choices we retired rather swiftly.

In the next chapter we catch a few zzz's.


Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions

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