Even by the sky-high standards of Colorado’s famous fest in a Wild West-era town, the 40th Telluride Film Festival (running Aug. 29-Sept. 2) is a rip-snorting cinematic bonanza. The lineup includes the world premiere of Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet in an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel and, fresh from opening the Venice International Film Festival, Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D space odyssey Gravity.
The lineup also includes a number of films that were introduced at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, such as Joel and Ethan Coen’s ’60s-era movie about a Bob Dylan-ish antihero in Greenwich Village, Inside Llewen Davis; Alexander Payne’s laconic father-and-son drama Nebraska, which earned star Bruce Dern a best actor nod at Cannes and could fetch Dern a long-overdue Oscar nomination, and J.C. Chandor’s lost-at-sea epic All Is Lost, which aims to do the same for star Robert Redford, who will also be the subject of a Telluride tribute.
In a normal year, at least one of the latter three might have skipped Telluride for Toronto, but it’s not a normal year. “The festival’s founders [Bill and Stella Pence] are in their 70s, and we wanted to celebrate this incredible thing they built and we’re carrying on, in a really big way,” says executive director Julie Huntsinger, whose fellow fellow directors are Gary Meyer and Tom Luddy (also a festival cofounder). “We’re adding an extra day to the festival, and also a new theater with 650 seats.” The new venue is named after festival favorite Werner Herzog, who will screen his classic Aguirre: The Wrath of God and his new documentary, Death Row. ”Instead of one guest director, this year we have six: Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Buck Henry, B. Ruby Rich and Phillip Lopate, showing these amazing archival films, and they’re all shown free.” Mia Wasikowska stars in the Australian desert trek film Tracks, one of whose screenings is outdoors and free.
But you’ll have to pay to see Felicity Jones in Ralph Fiennes’ drama of Dickens’ dark love life, The Invisible Woman, and the eye-popping beauty Adele Exarchopoulos in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Cannes-screened sensation Blue is the Warmest Color.
The festival, which traditionally doesn’t unveil its slate until attendees are already heading for the Rockies, also reserves several spots for TBA surprises. And while those titles aren’t revealed in advance, the betting is that they will include Steve McQueen’s civil war story 12 Years a Slave and Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Telluride is increasingly renowned for political films and globally important debates. “We reflect the state of society,” says Huntsinger. Errol Morris, whose 2003 Fog of War cast shocking light on Vietnam, will screen his documentary about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld titled The Unknown Known. Israel’s Yuval Adler is bringing Bethlehem, a cat-and-mouse thriller about paranoia and Palestine, and Oscar nominee Agnieszka Holland screens Burning Bush, her film about the suicide who sparked the 1969 Prague Spring.
“And I’m so proud we have three Iranian films,” says Huntsinger. “Mohammad Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn is an incredibly well-made thriller, and the fact that it was clandestinely made is another feather in the cap.” Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi screens his first film made outside Iran, The Past, and Mitra Farahani brings Fifi Howls From Happiness, her film about reclusive artist Bahman Mohassess. Expect Persian cuisine at the Opening Night Feed on Main Street Thursday night.
“Francis Ford Coppola, who was at Telluride One 40 years ago, will accompany his granddaughter Gia Coppola for her film Palo Alto, a strong, strong debut,” says Huntsinger. “Emma Roberts is fantastic, and James Franco’s writing is great.”
There will be a tribute to the Coens and their four-time music producer T Bone Burnett, and a pre-fest show by the actual bluegrass greats heard on the soundtrack, the Punch Brothers, Tuesday night at Telluride Town Park. The tiny, historic town’s streets and parties (including one hosted the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and The Hollywood Reporter celebrating the visiting filmmakers) may be starrier than usual.
“Robert Redford is making his first visit to the festival, and even directors who don’t have a film are attending: Phil Kaufman, Michael Moore, Josh Marston, Greg Nava,” says Hungsinger. “And Laura Dern’s fondest wish is to surprise her dad. We’ve never sold out passes so early — in May and June instead of July.”
Telluride launched four of the last five best picture Oscar winners, from Slumdog Millionaire to Argo. In its 40th year, has Telluride forged an identity as the springboard to the Oscars? But Huntsinger demurs, saying, “We really shy away from that whole discussion.”