One of the best things about going to Telluride is meeting up with people I only get to see once a year, or thereabouts. Some of them will drift in and out of the upcoming events in Los Angeles but not most. They come from all over the country to attend the festival and I have to admit seeing them is always the thing I look forward to. It’s right up there with hot coffee at the morning screening up at the Chuck Jones.
I briefly chatted with film critic James Rocchi who had come to Telluride for the first time, along with his wife. He said he loved it so far but that he felt a little guilty about being “in the bubble” of it all and not being sure whether or not he liked that. He knows that the hype machine begins high up in the Colorado mountains and he is one of the few who chafes against the Oscar race because he wonders why so many people care about the opinions of a few thousand privileged old white dudes. He has a point. He’s always had a point. Most of us come to the Oscar race hoping it will mean more, that sooner or later the Oscar race is going to matter, really matter beyond the sparkle and shimmy of a celebrity parade. Do they matter? I don’t know. I dive in every year thinking that they matter in terms of politics and power in Hollywood and that winning one can make a person feel as though their time was not wasted.
This was a cool weekend in Telluride with a bright clear blue sky, the occasional gusts of chilly wind and always that piercing high altitude sunlight. You could do nothing else but walk around the town and have the best time. That they hide away screenings in Masonic temples and school auditoriums is all the more delightful. Even after coming to the fest for four years now I never know what to pack. I just never end up with the right clothes so that I never wear anything I brought, and curse myself for not bringing the right clothes. Comfortable shoes are a must. No one really dresses up because they all look like REI catalogue models. Hiking boots, jeans and fleece, the occasional puffy jacket, a scarf. Forget the groovy city ankle boots, the short dresses, and above all, the high heels.
Chris Willman has become one of my Telluride pals. We never see each other in Los Angeles, hardly ever, but for some reason we always end up hanging out here or there, waiting in line, etc. He introduced me to the Feed, something I knew nothing about. That is a meal that takes place on Friday after the first screening (this one was Wild). The Telluride fest rolls out a lavish meal for all badge holders. I had no idea. Chris dragged me into it for salmon and a beer. Imagine that. A free meal.
First Showing’s Alex Billington and Film Journal’s Tomris Laffly are part of my pack in the mountains. We tend to gravitate towards one another in line or at parties and always sit together when we can. Theirs are two of the opinions I always seek out because we all three have similar sensibilities. We don’t always agree, of course, but they are both as passionate about movies as I feel movies deserve. Telluride blogger Michael and (artist) Kristy Patterson are two I didn’t get enough time to hang out with before I headed out of town. Michael Patterson’s countdown to the Telluride Film Fest and subsequent opinion gathering are vital aspects to the season. And my old pal Jeff Wells was my roommate. He works himself late into the evening, wakes up at 6am and starts all over again. He’s tireless in his time investment. You could say we were exactly the opposite in that way. At one point I had to just check out and cook a slow meal at the condo for the teenagers and Jeff. It was just like playing house!
I will never catch up with Anne Thompson, Kris Tapley, Greg Ellwood, and other journalists who just do the work really well. As if interviewing Jon Stewart wasn’t enough, Thompson also worked in a book signing for her successful $11 Billion Year at Between the Covers. I value each of their opinions, too, especially where Oscar is concerned. But the Oscar guru is now and will always be Mr. Pete Hammond, who hangs out with Academy members. I spent a gondola ride down with Hammond and his brilliant storytelling wife Madelyn, along with Peggy Siegel and Sig Ganis. They didn’t talk movies but that’s the kind of world Pete dwells in. He knows them. He knows what they like. Actually, they did report that they loved Wild.
“If this thing goes down,” Pete said, “The whole Oscar race goes with it.” Pete and I grabbed a couple of drinks and talked hardcore Oscar at the Fox Searchlight party. We were both on the hunt for “the one.” So far, we don’t know what’s coming. After three greyhounds and two glasses of wine I stumbled out of the Sheridan as the last call lights were coming up. I walked with Pete down the road a bit to finish our conversation then I pulled my puffy jacket on and found my way back to our condo. It was a mistake to drink that much. I could not wake up and face the next day, my last, in Telluride with a raging hangover. A couple cups of coffee, some water, Advil – nothing was helping. It was time to pack it in. There was much left to do but I was facing a two-day drive back to Los Angeles with two teenagers and an abandoned puppy I was becoming more and more attached to as the weekend wore on. I am not sure I will be able to part with him, tbh.
We drove through the Four Corners and Monument Valley on our way to Kingman, Arizona, where our hotel waited for us. We let the puppy out for bathroom break – a dusty, forgotten Res dog sniffing the cracked mud dimpled with carefully assembled homes for dung beetles. One dog found and rescued but hundreds more wander the reservations in packs, gathered around the Burger King. Navajo Preservation Center presented by Burger King.
With Telluride a world away, I was thinking about real life versus the bubble I dwell in. What does any of it have to do with anything? Turns out, not much. It is reserved for remaining few who still believe films can change the world. Or maybe they just change us. There was a Birdman and a Foxcatcher, a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and women who were evacuated out of the West they hoped to help settle. These artists still care to make movies that might make a difference to someone, somewhere. I’m left with the last frame of Jon Stewart’s Rosewater — the image of youthful defiance in the face of oppression.. I just realized I went around the world and back, nestled in the higher altitudes, movies and the people who love them.