What was the greatest thing about the 40th Telluride Film Festival?
There are a lot of alternative answers to choose from: the fact that the TFF is stronger than ever in its 40th year, both a bigger player on the world cinema’s stage and a better experience for passholders; the fact that the festival opened a terrific venue this year in the Telluride Town Park Pavilion, creating its fourth large venue and spreading out the audience; the fact that the festival is evolving into something subtly different than what it has been in the past, but something even more enjoyable and important; the fact that, as has been the case the last forty years, terrific movies premiered here once again; the upgrade in food at the festival feeding events….
Or could it be that this year the festival demonstrated that five days are better – which is to say much better – than four?
I don’t really want to pressure the festival directors to step up to a five-day festival into the future, but…they really should give it serious consideration. How better can they embed the growing prestige and sheer pleasure of the festival into its basic structure?
I understand that the festival directors feel that the fifth day this year put an enormous strain on them and their staff. But that fifth day came the same year that they created the new Werner Herzog Theatre in Town Park, so it won’t be as stressful next year if they step up to it. I say, add the fifth day and increase the size of the staff, giving staff more time off to see movies, relieving staff stress; but don’t add more programs, so that staff plus passholders plus sponsors and guests add up to a less frenetic festival than the traditional four event.
Over five days, everyone who attends the festival will feel less pressure to catch four or five movies a day, and feel will freer to take a hike, eat dinner at one of Telluride’s fine restaurants with friends, or, even, take a nap or sleep in late. Because they will still be able to see most of the programs they most want to see. And one of the subtle changes in the festival in recent years has been a growing emphasis on parties and food and socializing outside a theater. A five-day festival would allow that to deepen.
I have now attended more than half of the forty Telluride Film Festivals that have taken place (though I can’t offer an accurate count). I’ve loved each in its own way. But for me this was the most enjoyable, and I do believe the main reasons were the Herzog and the extra day. The movies that come here are not possible to rank from one year to the next. That’s because the magic of the festival is that it’s not about any single program a particular passholder might see in any given year, but is, rather, about a unique narrative that unfolds for each person who is here over a period of intensely stimulating days. Each year, for each person, that narrative is different.
As it happens, the two programs I most enjoyed this year were Slow Food Story and Inside Llewyn Davis. Slow Food Story was not seen by a large number of those in attendance, but it expressed an idea that to me was profound: Yes, we can change the world by slowing down and enjoying our lives. To say that the personal is political need not be trite. When I think about my own life, nothing over the last 60 years has changed more than how I eat. The food I enjoy and eat daily is not only far more delicious and healthier than what I ate 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago, but it’s better for Planet Earth as well. So if we should slow down in how we eat, mindfully and convivially, as Slow Food Story demonstrated, shouldn’t we also slow down in how we attend the Telluride Film Festival? I rest my case: five days of the TFF is fundamentally more enjoyable than four!
The fact that Inside Llewyn Davis spoke to me more than some of the other hits of the festival is more of a commentary on how the festival can deliver something satisfying for most of us who attend, even if it’s not the same thing to each of us. My son, Carlos, had no interest in catching Inside Llewyn Davis – set in the folk era? – even though I’d like to think he would have enjoyed it if I’d been able to talk him into it, and he would have recognized why I liked it, but he loved Palo Alto, which I didn’t race to see, and might not have liked as much, but would have, hopefully, understood. This is as it should be. We don’t all need to respond the same way to the same artistic expressions, given our various tastes and life experiences. The TFF somehow manages to meet most of us who attend where we are, which is to say a place where we are transfixed, entertained, and inspired.
Again, I’ll argue it works better, a lot better, over five days than over four.
The TFF has been so adept at staying abreast of changes in the film industry that it is more important culturally than ever, which is another reason to give it another day to work its magic. Movies now fall into one of two categories: the blatantly commercial and the aspirational, or artistically ambitious. Those in the latter category need to be launched just so to have a chance of finding their audience, and that is why the TFF is increasingly important. For proof, look no further than the fact that four of the last five Oscars for Best Picture went to movies that had their U.S. premiere here. Far removed from the expense, pressure and hype of larger festivals, filmmakers can find a receptive audience here, and from here they might just break out.
So, esteemed festival directors, Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer and Julie Huntsinger, and esteemed TFF Board of Directors, I know that right now, just a few days after the festival ended, you are tired and absorbing many lessons from the last five days. I know that I am not nearly as aware of logistical and financial factors as you are. Maybe, for some reason I don’t understand, five days a year won’t be workable. But please don’t rule it out. Amortize all you do every year over that extra day: use the venues a day longer; let Telluride bask in the glow a day longer; allow passholders to get just a little more out of their passes and more value out of the expense they’ve incurred to get here; allow your audience to relax just a bit more. Times have changed, the TFF has changed, and thanks to you, many of us are beginning to understand the imperative to slow down to more fully enjoy the wonderfully rich experience you provide us.