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Preview of the 43rd Telluride Film Festival

On my first trip to Telluride, maybe ten years ago, I found myself in a hotel room with several people, none of whom I knew, all frantically perusing the just-released catalogue—more of a booklet, really, about 50 pages, slimline, easy to tuck into a coat pocket—and exclaiming in mingled delight and pain. 

The delight was because of the many, many tempting titles. The pain was because of the realities of scheduling and time: one can’t see everything.

I had a beautiful realization: I was among MY PEOPLE.

Over the years, I’ve learned to start out by choosing the one-shots: I must see the silent film with live musical accompaniment, presented by the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. This year it’s E. A. Dupont’s 1925 film "Variety," with music by the witty Alloy Orchestra (a name familiar to fans of Ebertfest). I saw this new DCP restoration (courtesy of Murnau Stiftung) at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2015, but with its recorded score—and I’ve been wanting to see it again ever since.

Another one-time-only event is the premiere of the new DCP restorations, by Janus Films, of Marcel Pagnol’s famed Marseilles trilogy, "Marius" (1931), "Fanny" (1932), and "César" (1936). An added enticement will be the Frenchy snacks served in between the films, inspired by Alice Waters, whose famed Chez Panisse restaurant was named for a character in the films. (Last year’s similar marathon screening, of Fritz Lang’s "Die Nibelungen," with free bratwurst and beer served during the intermission, was, as I told Telluride Director Tom Luddy afterwards, not only my peak experience at the Show, but my peak filmgoing experience of the year.)

It would be difficult to miss a screening of the documentary directed by Benoit Jacquot, Pascal Mérigeau and Guy Seligman, "Gentleman Rissient," about the extraordinary film guru Pierre Rissient. It will be shown in the Telluride theater named for him, the Pierre, with Rissient in attendance. I declined the honor of appearing in a previous documentary about Pierre—a mentor since I was in my teens—Todd McCarthy’s 2007 film "Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema," because I was then making my living as a restaurant critic. And in those dear dead early-internet days, showing your face in media was frowned upon. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

I also do a quick perusal of the lineup to see what’s also playing in Toronto, where I’m headed right after Telluride, to assuage that “you can’t see everything HERE” feeling. Telluride exclusives include (in the order they appear in the program booklet): "Lost in Paris," "The End of Eden," "Sully," Bertrand Tavernier’s wonderful "My Journey through French Cinema" (at 192 minutes, the longest movie in the Show), "Men: A Love Story," "Through the Wall," "Gentleman Rissient," "Finding Oscar," "California Typewriter," "Bright Lights," "A Fanatic Heart – Bob Geldof on WB Yeats," "Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown," "Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman," "Cool Cats," "The Family Whistle" and "Gulag" (at 190 minutes, the SECOND longest movie in the festival!).

However, I’ve been dying to see Maren Ade’s "Toni Erdmann" since it was a surprise hit at Cannes in May. Why not see it here, with Ade onstage for a Q&A, instead of at an anticlimactic press screening in Toronto?

And I’ve also been longing to see Kenneth Lonergan’s "Manchester by the Sea" for even longer—since its debut at Sundance way back in January. Here it will be part of a tribute to Casey Affleck, to be awarded Telluride’s Silver Medallion, as part of a presentation that includes a clip show (I do love clip shows) and an onstage interview.

A few days ago I cursed the fates that showed me an entirely-too-explicit trailer of "Arrival" by Denis Villeneuve (I do hate spoiler-filled trailers). But today I hail the fate that offers me Amy Adams on the combo platter, "Arrival" plus another Silver Medallion, clip show, and onstage interview.

The same skein of trailers (shown with "Hell or High Water") included "Sully," which I might not have rushed to see in normal life (despite being a fan of Eastwood, both as an actor and director). But Eastwood will be in attendance, making his first trip to Telluride as a director since 1990’s "White Hunter, Black Heart" (he returned in 1998 to appear at a Meryl Streep tribute), and Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, friend-of-Telluride Laura Linney (who met her husband Marc Schauer at the festival in 2004) and Pierre Rissient, Eastwood’s longtime French producer’s rep. Telluride just might be the best place to experience it.

The third Silver Medallion is being awarded to director Pablo Larraín. He's here with his new "Neruda," about the Chilean politician/poet, starring Gael García Bernal, who is making another of his frequent appearances at Telluride (most recently in 2014 with "Rosewater").

Another friend-of-Telluride is the mellifluous Werner Herzog. He'll be premiering his documentary "Into the Inferno," in which he visits volcanoes all over the world with co-director Clive Oppenheimer and paleontologist Tim Miller. It will be shown in the exquisite theater named for him, the Herzog, one of the most beautiful movie theaters I’ve ever been in, with flawless projection and sound.

Fellow documentarian and friend-of-Telluride Errol Morris is also premiering his latest here, "The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography," about the large-format specialist. 

Barry Jenkins, a longtime Telluride curator, is premiering his long-awaited second feature, "Moonlight." I loved his charming 2008 debut, "Medicine for Melancholy," which was not shown in Telluride. "Moonlight" will be shown with most of the cast in tow, sure to be an emotional experience for all concerned.

I’ve heard ecstatic things about Robin Swicord’s "Wakefield," starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner. It's based on an E.L. Doctorow short story about a man in midlife crisis (not necessarily my favorite subject), and will be making its world premiere here.

And I could actually be happy sitting all day long in the Backlot theater (at 50 seats, the smallest Telluride venue), which will be showing an eclectic lineup of documentaries. This includes two I’ve seen and loved, María José Cuevas’ "Beauties of the Night," a look at the women who were Mexico’s beloved showgirls, stars of '70s and '80s sex comedies, as they are today; and "Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman," about the irrepressible French New Wave star who died in 2013. But I’d also love to see "Cool Cats," about jazzbos Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon (who starred for Bertrand Tavernier in "Round Midnight"), "The Family Whistle" (about the Coppola clan) and "Mifune: The Last Samurai," among many others. 

And, although I often breathe a sigh of relief when I see a movie programmed that I’ve already seen, such as several in the selections by this year’s Guest Director, the delightful and ebullient Volker Schlöndorff—how can I not see "Spies" again, the Fritz Lang 1928 silent, especially with live piano accompaniment by the delightful and ebullient Donald Sosin? Or Jean-Pierre Melville’s rarely programmed "Les Enfants Terribles"? Two of Schlöndorff’s choices are new to me: an East German film from 1968, "I Was Nineteen," and a USSR film from 1970 on the same subject (the Red Army’s invasion of Germany), "It Was the Month of May," appealing to the eternal film student in me. 

And it’s now time for me to try and figure out what I really have time to see. Like my colleagues from a decade ago, I’ll be tearing my hair out. But I know that there’s probably a movie hiding in the program that will make the remaining hairs on my head stand up. Even a paradise for cinephiles can be a little hellish.

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