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Last Day in Telluride — So Hard to Leave

The sun decided to come out as the Telluride Film Fest was coming to a close. “Monday’s not a real day,” Jeff Wells told me via Twitter. But I had no choice. Monday was a real day to me because I wanted to see whatever movies I could see in the time I had left. The great thing about the last day of the film fest is that the crowds have dwindled to a more tolerable level. After three days of moving my rental car from spot to spot I was able to find a great space on the last day. The problem was that somewhere along the line I’d gotten someone’s cold. I’d planned on seeing at least three movies but I ended up only seeing two.

I dragged myself out of bed to go see Frances Ha, one of the most buzzed movies of the fest. I was grumbling that I didn’t want to go see another “precious” movie, especially that early. Noah Baumbach and the impossibly cute Greta Gerwig were there to present it but they’d decided to cancel the Q&A. I bought some tea at the snack bar to help cure my ailing cold. Every theater here has an assortment of things to purchase, all over priced but the money goes to the fest so why not pay $4 for a teabag and a cup?

After the movie, as we scrambled out of our seats and bee-lined it for the bathroom I could hear some twenty-somethings enlivened by Frances Ha — it spoke to them. It WAS them, they were saying. The conversation eventually turned to HBO’s Girls. They liked that show too. The long line to pee stretched out long past the door and into the main lobby. But it was moving quickly and thank god because one way or the other it was going to get ugly.

The only thing I hadn’t done yet was go to my favorite bookstore, Between the Covers. When I got there, Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah were signing copies of her book, The Central Park Five (which ended up selling out). As I passed them Noah Baumbach passed and shook Ken Burns’ hand. I noticed he didn’t shake Sarah’s. Someday he will. I hadn’t realized the Burns’ would be signing today at Between the Cover but it isn’t unusual to see celebrities in Telluride. They are everywhere, all of the time.

I walked through the bookstore and to the coffee shop in back. I’d spent some time there with Chris Willman last year and we kept hoping to hang out there this year but we could never get our schedules to connect. We all tend to pass through the same places but not always at the same time. Late the next day Willman would Facebook that he was stopping off at Baked in Telluride on his way out of town. He drives, every year. I had almost every meal at Baked in Telluride and so did many others and yet somehow we never crossed paths. We’re all trying to hit movies and then find time to write about them — we just didn’t have time to waste, funnily enough. Funny because Telluride is one of the best places on the planet to waste time.

They had rearranged the chairs a bit but the couch was still there so I got a foamy latte and tapped out a few bits of writing, which translates as wasting time on Facebook and Twitter. At some point a youngish woman click clacked in wearing three inch high blue suede pumps and took a seat at the bar. “I got offered an invitation to a party tonight by the filmmakers. The director and the actor. So I figured why not,” she told the barista. She was as much a blank slate as Gerwig’s Frances — the world was nothing but door #1, door #2 and door #3. Her face hadn’t yet registered the knowledge of having lived through all of that enough to know what waits behind each door and to have maybe regretted walking through one or two of them. I really did get why older men must love younger women. They make them forget time.

I’d wanted to see at least one last movie but it was looking more and more like I was going to end the day in bed. After an hour or so I packed up my bag and headed out. In the front of the store Ken Burns was now sitting alone signing copies of his Dust Bowl hardcover. Signing them, it looked like, so the bookstore could sell them later. I’d always wanted to meet Ken Burns. I never thought I’d have the occasion to simply walk up to him and ask if I could buy a signed copy. “Yes,” he said. “If you buy it I will inscribe it for you.”

It’s funny that things can just happen like that, waiting there behind door #4.

The sunshine was making it hard to go do what my body was dictating — to sleep off the cold and get the hell out of Dodge. I was to get up at 3am for a six hour drive back to Denver and from there, back to LA. I walked back to my hotel on a trail that runs by the river. Every glimpse of another angle of Telluride feels like it was shot by Philippe Rousselot. Every flower glowed with sunlight — infused with golden electricity. Such is the hypnotic lure of the place.

I took off my clothes, wriggled out of my leather boots and tucked myself under the sheets, figuring I’d watch C-Span for the rest of the night as they geared up for the Democratic National Convention. I wrote a few pieces with whatever energy I had and then I made the mistake of looking at the Telluride app. And there it was — Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. I’d already heard great things about it but I still wasn’t sure that those great things were real. You never know with people. I tweeted out the question of whether it was worth dragging my sick self out. And of course, the responses were unanimous. Anne Thompson’s recommendation finally got me to get back out of bed, get dressed and head back out onto the sunny streets to Mason’s Hall.

And of course it turned out to be one of those films that changes how you see the world. The first film I saw in Telluride was Argo. The last film I saw was Stories We Tell. Variety’s Peter DeBruge drew the connection between them saying they were the best actors-turned-directors of their generation. What surprised me most about these two films was how far forward these two directors had come, which their early work merely hinted at.

Both films leave you with much to think about. I’m still mulling around in my head what I saw in Stories We Tell. It turns out that the film was a tribute to Polley’s dad. I wonder if she sees it that way? I wonder if he does? When Polley introduced the film she said it was partly funded by the Canadian government, which gives freely to the arts. She also said that in her conversations with them they urged her to tell a more unique, less ordinary story. It isn’t that artists here can’t make great films through traditional fundraising channels — Ben Affleck did it because he made the studio a lot of money with The Town, which usually means to get to make another one. But it’s still hard not to be in awe of a country like Canada that feels no shame in putting money into the arts. In this year’s upcoming election the American people are facing a choice between two parties. One will be committed to removing funding for the arts. That will make us all suffer, in one way or another.

The Stories We Tell changed the way I viewed my own life and probably how I will live the rest of it. How many movies can you say that about? I don’t know if it will resonate with people in general. But for me, it turned out to be worth the effort. Oscar season has officially launched.

Finally my stay in Telluride was over. I grabbed a breakfast for the next early morning at a small, healthy deli near my motel. It was yet another compact piece of heaven with wraps and healthy pizza. Since nothing would be open at 3 a.m. I had to be ready for the next day.

I was grateful to have Ryan always there holding down the fort. Having him there enables me to be able to go to film festivals at all. It’s like we’re a married couple except that we live in different states and have different sexual preferences. But he’s got my back and I appreciate it.

I packed everything up and once again got back in bed. Obama was speaking in Ohio, his charisma immeasurable. There aren’t many Democrats like that. Clinton is one. Kennedy was one. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep. I would toss and turn and glance at the red glow of the digital clock. The next morning I would throw all of my stuff into my rented Hyundai and set out on a long, dark Colorado road that snakes out of the small oasis of Telluride and out into the yawning horizon of Colorado. I would drive for six long hours, kept company this time by National Public Radio. I would wonder what the world would be like if the other side won and they did away with NPR. That thought would lead me to the inevitable truth that our divided country houses a large population of people who not only don’t listen to it but don’t even know what it is. Some who do listen and hate it, others who know what it is and understand its existence interferes with the ignorance they need to succeed. At least I would see my first Colorado sunrise.

Time would stand still until my plane touched down in Burbank. And after four hours of sleep Telluride would seem like a dream. I would wake up feeling like I wanted to catch some of it, to go back somehow and do it all over again. But you can’t catch dreams and you can’t live them again. They are meant to reside in your imaginary sky, like sunlight on the optimistic, tiny leaves of daisies that line the interstate, as fleeting as they are beautiful.