Musings on the 44th annual Telluride Film Festival

In what other universe does one attempt to cram 9+ movies in over the course of four days? Besides another film festival, there aren’t usually that many life experiences that result in spending so much time in a dark theater in an otherwise gorgeous setting of a town.

On Thursday, August 31st, we descended upon (more like rose upon) the always stunning town of Telluride. This little gem of a town in southwestern Colorado is tucked away in the San Juan mountain range, and isn’t exactly the most accessible of cities hosting a film festival. Which is probably why I love the Telluride Film Festival even more. We look forward to this trip each year. Though this is only our fourth year attending, each year the experience roots itself deeper into our beings, becoming a second-nature vacation every Labor Day Weekend.

With the buzz looming from Venice and the impending buzz approaching from the Toronto International Film Festival, the Thursday prior to Telluride is like that hour before you open gifts on Christmas morning. There’s speculation about what films will show and premiere at the base of Bridal Veil Falls, but it’s the film industry’s best kept secret. Around 10 a.m. the list is released and you immediately head into planning mode as you look to work out your schedule to catch as many films as you can.

2016 was a great year of film, with the pinnacle being Moonlight and director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar win. Being able to experience that film in Telluride, the very festival that stole Jenkins’ heart years ago as a film student, made for a magical time (though every time you’re in Telluride it’s magical). Would 2017 live up to 2016? It’s always a gamble. The films you’ve heard the most buzz with may turn out to be a flop. Or the sleeper foreign film could leave you with the largest lasting impression.

So, did 2017 live up to 2016? In short, no. But that’s partly due to my poor planning in scheduling out my movies. There were four or five we couldn’t catch, of which I anticipate would have stole my heart. So, what did we see? Glad you asked. In order of my preference, we caught 9 movies.

  1. Hostiles
  2. Lean on Pete
  3. A Fantastic Woman
  4. Eating Animals
  5. Wormwood
  6. First Reformed
  7. The Shape of Water
  8. Downsizing
  9. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

It was apparent that there was an underlying theme to this year’s festival, with at least half of the films showing having been directed by a female. Three of the nine films I saw had an environmental undertone to them (Eating Animals, First Reformed, and Downsizing).

While I didn’t leave blown away by anything, I did leave with a reminder of why we come back year after year. Besides the fact that Telluride is probably one of my favorite places, if not my favorite, on earth, the festival is a good reminder that people are invested in art. While I struggle with the fact that so many of the festival goers don’t like talking about the films they don’t like, or they have a tendency to go after the blockbuster films (like Darkest Hour), there are always a few folks who challenge your reasons for liking a particular film. Or something they say sparks an interest in seeing a film that otherwise wasn’t on your radar.

Each year it gets harder and harder to leave, and I’d like to think it’s being able to spend time amongst the cinephiles, regardless of how great (or not) the movies might be, is why my Labor Days will forever be spent in that sleepy little town.

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