The Telluride Film Festival shares a double distinction, as one of the best of all festivals, and as one of the hardest to get to. But this weekend, instead of flying to Denver, transferring to the Montrose flight and then driving 90 minutes into the Rockies, movie lovers can simply find their way to the Film Center at the School of the Art Institute, where a selection of the Best of Telluride '97 will be playing.
The festival was founded and is booked by Bill and Stella Pence of Dartmouth College and Tom Luddy, a San Francisco-based producer, and they seem to know and treasure all of the best filmmakers. Telluride has no room for merely commercial openings, no truck with junkets, no interest in star premieres. Instead, it showcases new discoveries and old treasures, and its reach is illustrated by the weekend's selections at the Film Center.
For me, the highlight will be the 8 p.m. Saturday screening of Buster Keaton's classic "Steamboat Bill Jr.," not just for the film, which is a timeless masterpiece, but because the screening will be accompanied by a live performance of an original score by the Anvil Orchestra, a group of three very hardworking musicians who between them play a dozen instruments and create countless sound effects.
I first witnessed one of their performances several years ago at Telluride, and their annual returns are a highlight of the festival. They provide a reminder that silent films were never silent, anyway: They just didn't talk.
Another weekend highlight will be the Toronto word-of-mouth favorite "Unmade Beds," by British documentarian Nicholas Barker, who interviewed 500 New Yorkers who placed personal ads, and chose four of them for his film about people who meet through the classifieds - and what happens then.
Alain Berliner's "Ma Vie En Rose" (8 tonight) won the Golden Camera Award at Cannes this year, and tells the story of a young boy who thinks he is a girl, greatly inconveniencing his conventional suburban French family.
Alexander Sokurov's "Mother and Son" (6 p.m. Sunday), a German-Russian production, tells the story of a son nursing his dying mother, while being greatly affected by the surrounding images from his childhood. "Lea" (6 p.m. Saturday) is a Czech award winner at the 1996 Venice Festival.
Most of the programs are sold out, but there may be some tickets at the door for Film Center members. Luddy and the Pences will be in town for the weekend, and will help introduce many of the films.
The Film Center is at Columbus and Jackson. Tickets to the opening-night screening and party are $10 ($8 for Film Center members). Tickets to each remaining film are $8 ($6 members). A festival package is available for $34 ($26). Call (312) 443-3737 for more information.