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Telluride #1: Premieres & rarities

TELLURIDE, Colo. – When I first came to the Telluride Film Festival in 1980, screenings were held in Quonset huts and city parks, the old Nugget theater on Main Street, and in the faded glory of the tiny Sheridan Opera House, built when this was a boom town in mining days. The 2005 festival, which will be held over Labor Day weekend, still uses the opera house, but has added so many state-of-the-art theaters, some of them constructed inside the old Mason's Hall and the school gyms, that it feels like the most happening art movie town in America.

The movies, however, have continued to be an eclectic mix of new and old, experimental and mainstream. Yes, this year we’ll be able to see two of the most widely-heralded new biopics: James Mangold’s “Walk the Line,” with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and Bennett Miller’s “Capote,” with Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote at the time he wrote In Cold Blood, and Catherine Keener as his friend Harper (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) Lee. And there’s the new David Mamet screenplay “Edmund,” with two of his long-time collaborators: Actor William H. Macy and director Stuart Gordon.

But we’ll also be able to see a program of little movies made on Macintosh computers, led with the new film by performance artist Laurie Anderson. And three of the favorite films of guest programmer Don DeLillo, the novelist, who includes the neglected Spanish classic “Spirit of the Beehive.” And a newly-restored print of “King Kong.”

The Telluride Tributes are known for their diversity, and who could be more diverse than this year’s honorees: actor and legend Mickey Rooney, actress and legend Charlotte Rampling, and Belgian co-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose “The Son” is one of the best films of recent years, and who are here with the new film “The Child.”

The festival takes over the boom resort town of Telluride, which had For Sale signs in a lot of windows on Main Street the first year I attended and now has empty lots selling for $1 million. It is not easy to get to, but thousands make the trek, usually by flying through Denver to Montrose and then driving for 90 minutes. There is a Telluride airport, but having observed the position of the runway here in the mountains, I for one prefer the drive. Local hotels and ski lodges double their prices for the festival, but moviegoers share lodgings and sleeping bags and everyone seems reasonably cheerful because the films are so good and it’s fun just to stand in line with people who are as interested in movies as you are. A few of this year’s American premieres are from Cannes 2005, including Michael Haneke’s “Hidden,” now for some reason given the less-than-compelling title “Cache.” It’s about a Paris TV presenter who begins to receive videos indicating his family is under surveillance. What seems to begin as a thriller develops into a harrowing excursion into family tragedy. Also from Cannes, “Three Times,” the wonderful new film by Hou Saiao-hsien, which stars Shu Qi and Chang Chen in three stories in which they play lovers at different times in China in this century: 1911, 1966, and the present day.

Among the films being seen here for the first time are Neil Jordan’s “Breakfast on Pluto,” starring Cillian Murphy as a cross-dressing Irishman who tries his chances in London (Jordan’s “The Crying Game” created a sensation with a transsexual character). There is Ang Lee’s new “Brokeback Mountain” with a screenplay by Larry McMurtry based on Annie Prouix’s famous short story, and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. And Richard Gere in “The Bee Season,” by David Siegel and Scott McGehee; Gere’s character is married to Juliette Binoche, and they try to redeem their lives through their children. Oh, and there are a lot more films: A silent classic with a piano in the pit, DeLillo’s revival of Antonioni’s “The Passenger,” with Jack Nicholson, films from Iran and Hungary and Singapore. On opening night festival co-founder Bill Pence always cheerfully explains that the schedule has been carefully arranged so that no one can see everything, or even half of everything. Knowing that the Toronto festival begins next Thursday, the veteran festivalgoer uses Telluride to see films that can be seen nowhere else –- and might, for that matter, never be seen anywhere again.

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