Riding the Silver Sunbeam
by John Fago
Sep 03, 2009 | 1066 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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GUEST COMMENTARY 5 Years of Black and White Photos of Telluride Film Festival

TELLURIDE – Arriving in Telluride in 1974, my first girlfriend lived in a room above the Sheridan Hotel Bar. Most nights we were awakened by the bar’s closing exodus at 2 a.m. but on one particular night we heard noises, and then bright light began bouncing into the room from the street. John Tutt and a cohort had carried a 16-millimeter projector up the long steep stairs to the empty adjacent room and were projecting Deep Throat onto the then rundown Victorian storefronts across the street. It was a telling introduction to the special relationship between Telluride and film.

It would take 24 more years for me to reach a formal relationship with the Telluride Film Festival. In the interim I snuck into my first festival program through the old laundry in the hotel, crawling across the stage behind the screen and into a side box. I cooked tons of garlic, rice and beans with Les Blank and at an appropriate moment we carried them steaming, through the Opera House during the screening of his Always For Pleasure. One year Robert Downey (senior) came to the Festival with Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight, in which his wife played something like 23 different roles. Saying they’d been on the road for months and wanted to be domestic after the film festival, they cooked me a wonderful dinner at my restaurant, the first time I’d been served a meal there. Another year I did two rolling summersaults down the steep old red-carpeted pre-renovation Opera House stairs. That was the year I drove Julie Christie out to Dunton in my 1949 GMC pickup, something well worth a couple of somersaults to accomplish.

There are many other stories in the above folder but finally (thanks Peter Shelton for passing me a baton!) a simpler arrangement was made with Stella. Beginning with the 24th festival, I was given unlimited access to follow my nose and document the festival photographically. After my first year Stella sent me a Christmas card with a wonderful compliment. She wrote that Bill said I photographed the festival the way he saw it.

Regimes change. This spring I was invited back for another festival but only if I would shoot color digital images. My decision is not without a measure of sadness but I just can’t swap my old Leica for a cell phone with iTunes. After 12 years of festival documentation that has resulted in about 1,500 of my archival silver gelatin prints (chosen by Bill Pence) going to the permanent collection of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I’m moving on feeling good after a wonderful run.

Despite the title, this show is by no means “the final cut.” It is the first time I’ve printed many of these images. It’s neither comprehensive nor definitive. It’s just some images that jumped out at me in the limited time I had to look through more than 400 contact sheets to select prints for this informal exhibit. Another time might well be a completely different set of images, likely with a lot more pix of friends. Still, I think these do a reasonable job of representing my approach.

To those continuing this project digitally, I hope you will resist the temptation to limit yourselves to snapshots of famous faces. Why not create documents that reveal the spirit of this unique cultural event? Turn off the flash, take chances, work the edges, have fun. It’s all about light.

Long live the Telluride Film Festival.
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