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Suspense builds, Cinerama rolls at Telluride fest

TELLURIDE, Colo.--The schedule of each year's Telluride Film Festival is as closely guarded as the Oscar winners. Until they arrive, gasping for air, in this pretty little mountain town at the 10,000-foot level, festival ticket holders have no idea what they'll be seeing. Rumors start early. At the Denver airport, waiting for the shuttle to Montrose, I was informed that Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" will be sneaked here this year. That is almost certainly not true (never say never). Then again, if somebody had told me that Telluride was going to resurrect the three-screen, three-camera Cinerama process, I would have doubted it. And they are.

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Each year, the festival presents the Telluride Medal to three distinguished guests. This year the honorees will be Peter O'Toole, at 70 still one of a kind; Paul Schrader, the outsider writer-director who wrote "Raging Bull" (1980), the most recent film in the recent Sight & Sound list of the greatest movies; and D.A. Pennebaker, 77, the great documentarian.

Schrader's forthcoming "Auto Focus," starring Greg Kinnear as the sex-addicted TV star Bob Crane, will be premiered at the festival, as will Pennebaker's "Only the Strong Survive," co-directed with Chris Hegedus, which is about surviving soul singers such as Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Mary Wilson, Isaac Hayes and Jerry Butler and the Chi-Lites. Pennebaker's Bob Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back" (1967) and his "Monterey Pop" (1969) were two of the ground-breakers of music documentaries.

The hottest ticket at Telluride this year may be "Bowling for Columbine," the new Michael Moore documentary about America's fascination with guns. It was here in the Rocky Mountains in 1989 that Moore's "Roger & Me," an attack on the corporate culture of General Motors, first put the jolly populist on the map.

Terry Gilliam, whose visionary and fanciful epics such as "Brazil" are often misunderstood by their distributors, is here with "Lost in La Mancha," a doc about his failed efforts to make a movie of Don Quixote.

Appropriately enough, O'Toole includes a Quixote among his credits, as the star of the 1972 musical "Man of La Mancha."

Schrader's film about Bob Crane, which shows the fading TV star having sex every night almost out of a sense of duty to his fans, will be joined by two controversial films containing high-voltage sex: "Irreversible," by Gasper Now, which inspired an uproar at Cannes with an extended rape scene, and "Ken Park," by Larry Clark and the cinematographer Ed Lachman, about the unhappy, aggressive lives of California teens. Clark is known for two other controversial films about teenagers, "Kids" and "Bully."

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Also back at Telluride this year is French director Bertrand Tavernier, a former guest programmer here, who will premiere his "Safe Passage," about directors such as Jean Aurenche and Henri-George Clouzot, who successfully made films during the Nazi occupation of France. Another Telluride favorite, Canada's David Cronenberg, is here with "Spider," starring Ralph Fiennes as a Londoner who has lost his hold on reality.

Arriving with strong buzz from European festivals, Phillip Noyce's "Rabbit Proof Fence" tells the story, based on truth, of three aboriginal children stolen from their families in the 1930s to be turned into Australian domestic servants.

Geoffrey Reggio, whose speeded-up documentaries "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi" were sensations here, is back with "Naqoyqatsi," using high-definition digital photography in a concert that questions its own technology. The film's Philip Glass score is performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

And there will be an exhibit of the art of Chuck Jones, the great animator who died earlier this year, and was a faithful Telluride visitor. The animator of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and the gang already has a cinema named after him here, and his widow, Marion, will be honored at the opening of the exhibit.

And Cinerama? The festival has constructed a giant screen with three projectors, to recapture the glory days of the 1950s obsession with bigger and bigger pictures. For Telluride, this effort is not even a first: In the early 1980s, it linked together three projectors for the three-screen revival of Abel Gance's long-lost silent masterpiece "Napoleon" (1927). The director himself, then in his 90s, sat in the window of his room at the Sheridan Opera House and saw his work projected under the stars in Elks Park, across the street.

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