The rain continued its moody descent upon Telluride village, ebbing and flowing at its own discretion. The festival can’t stop for the rain, nor can we whine about having no sunshine because that would be unseemly. Telluride looks the way it does because of the rain. Nonetheless, it made for a somewhat less celebratory mood. My morning started out with a trip up the gondola for an early screening of No, written and directed by Pablo Larraín about the election to unseat Chilean Augusto Pinochet in or around 1989.
You never know what kinds of conversations you’ll be having on the ride up the gondola, depending on what combination of people you end up with. I met a couple this time, on their first trip to Telluride but already so much more organized about it all than I have ever been. They knew what time was the best time to get into the long lines. They knew where the best wi-fi was and how to tether their computers to their blackberries, if the wi-fi didn’t work. They’d been going to Sundance for years but it became “too much of a zoo.” Since there had been so much buzz around Telluride in the last few years they figured they’d give this a try. I wondered what it would be like to just come here for the sheer fun of it, for the love of cinema, to hang out with someone who really liked doing film festival stuff for fun.
The large number of senior citizens who attend this festival is a hopeful harbinger of what might lie ahead for some of us. When kids aren’t at home, when there’s no more 40-hour work weeks, there are film festivals in beautiful cities all over the country. It’s a thing to do, anyway. “How are you doing,” the coffee barista at Between the Covers asked one of the elderly customers. “I wonder if I’ll remember anything later,” she said.
The Gondola spit up out at the top of the mountain and I walked with my gondola companions down to the Chuck Jones theater, the best theater in Telluride. Festival-goers were already lining up, as they must do every time unless they are a “Patron,” wherein they pay a hefty amount to get to the front of the lines. As press, we get a few of these passes, which enables us to see movies we would be too spoiled to wait in line for. The perks and all of that. I had to leave my companions at the regular line while I got to go up to the front and use my pass, feeling slightly guilty about this entitlement, especially when I happened to see Tom Sherak wandering around. I like it better when I’m part of the us and he is part of them. But standing up in front of the line I was definitely a them.
Once inside, I grabbed a coffee and a caprese sandwich, half of which I gave to Jeff Wells, who, upon leaving the theater, lost his glasses. They were retrieved by the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern. No played well to this crowd, even if it didn’t exactly hold my interest as it should have. It was mesmerizing, for sure, and an interesting look at how you bend and shape public opinion. Gael Garcia Bernal plays an ad rep who must convince the people of Chile that Pinochet is wrong for them by creating the “No” campaign. It couldn’t be insulting, had to be eye catching and ultimately persuasive. It starts out fairly light but builds to a conclusion — advertising is silly but human rights can be no laughing matter. The film makes this point powerfully, convincingly.
No is apparently a runaway hit in Chile. After the film, Garcia Bernal came out for a q&a with the director. Without his appearance it would have been difficult to draw such a large, attentive crowd. Everything feels political now, and this movie resonates more because of the timing.
With plans to podcast later that afternoon with Jeff Wells (and apologies for using podcast as a verb), I took the opportunity to hang out with my old friend Kris Tapley, from InContention. He wanted to go get lunch in the mid-point between gondola stops on the way back down to the village. But the restaurant there was closed so we wandered around until we found something we liked. Turned out to be an Italian place, expensive and well populated with a few recognizable faces. Kris told me the last time he was there he’d sat down with Colin Firth, Tom Hooper and Geoffrey Rush on the even of the King’s Speech’s coup d’etat.
It was great to catch up with Kris, newly married and living in New York for a year We’ve been friends for as long as I’ve been blogging the Oscars, around 12 years or so. Our lives have grown around what we do and he is one of the few working this beat who gets that it is mostly meaningless; you can’t really build memories Oscar blogging. Real life pulls you back out of the little world “in here.” Real life marches on. And believe me, it’s “out there.”
After lunch I hugged him goodbye, not knowing when I would see him again. But the great thing about “in here” is that, in many ways, we all stay connected all of the time and there is never any kind of permanent goodbye. Still, I’ve watched him grow up — from teenager, to college student, to journalist, to grad school major, to husband and soon, to father. When I hugged him goodbye I felt that maternal twinge. Silly, I know. But what can you do. Once you become a mother you are forever changed.
Jeff Wells was already waiting at the Oak Beer restaurant. As usual, he is not only punctual but always where he needs to be before he needs to get there. The timer is always ticking on Jeff Time. You don’t slack off or waste time or sit around with your feet up shooting the shit. It’s always, “When are we doing this?” No one is more motivating than Jeff Wells. The dude works 24/7. I always feel like the pack mule pulling up the rear. Nonetheless, I had the computer and we would record on that. Jeff’s son Jett was along this year. Jett is striking, with model good looks and impossibly long legs. He takes after his dad in the sense that he’s serious about what he’s doing — serious about seeing movies, assessing them and giving his impressions. Also along for the podcast was the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg. He’s another one I’ve known a long, long time and watched his career take off. Scott, like Jeff, does not chafe against the job like Kris and I do — he fits into it well. He’s good at it. He’s also great at public speaking. He doesn’t talk out of his ass like Jeff and I sometimes do. I always figured Scott and Jeff would be the ultimate podcast team.
The other two participants were cinematographer Svetlana Cvetco and editor/screenwriter David Scott Smith. They are faithful festival-goers and good friends of Jeff’s. Cvetco shot Inside Job and is one of the more prominent women in the male-dominated arena of cinematography. I always feel sort of lucky to know her because I figure someday she’ll be as well known as Wally Pfister and Roger Deakins. Neither she nor David wanted to talk much, which worked out since neither Jeff, Scott nor I could not stop talking. As usual, I said way too much. I don’t know when I’m going to learn to keep my trap shut good and proper. As some of my website’s meaner commenters always remind me, nobody likes an outspoken woman.
My main beef was with Jeff and Jett’s complaint about Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and Kevin McMahon’s memorable, effective and brilliant documentary, the Central Park Five. I will probably be arguing with Jeff for the rest of the season about this movie. He’s wrong. I’m right and there is nothing more to say about it. He, Feinberg and Jett were, in my opinion, nitpicking. The thrust of the film, the importance of the issue is what matters. It’s a story that needed to not only be told but for those responsible to be held accountable, and that includes the DA’s office in New York, the politicians who piled on, the cops and especially the media.
We tried to change the subject but once we hit a knot like that it’s more difficult to find our rhythm. The job was to talk Oscar movies in Telluride. Amid beer and music, with clouds and rain surrounding the tables it was not easy to stay focused. We wrapped it up once Scott’s schedule caught up with him. I stayed for a while to talk to Svetlana and David about the state of things. Telluride, blogging, journalism — what it means to be called upon to seek out Oscar movies. It was a moment between breaths, a meaningful conversation that almost had no business taking place then and there. Might have been nice to enjoy a more relaxing conversation that didn’t feel like an extension of the podcast, but you can’t really do that when you’re talking with people who aren’t really made for small talk.
Before long, night had fallen. The day was over. For me it was time to find dinner and head back to my room. I could feel a cold coming on, one that would ensure the last hours here would be trying. Breaking Bad’s season finale was on but by that time I couldn’t hold my eyelids open. Back in the real world everyone is readying for the Democratic National Convention. But here in Telluride we are still closing out the show.
Sleep came hard and fast. Everything I use to communicate shut down for the night. All I could hear was nothing at all.