Have you heard of the Telluride Film Festival? You can go ahead and google it. I’ll wait. No really please do–famous people go! It’s a real film festival I swear. Check it out.
I first heard about the Telluride Film Festival in office hours. I was talking to a professor about Preston Struges, a guy who wrote and directed some of the best screwball comedies of the early 40’s. My professor mentioned he had seen something by Sturges recently, up at Telluride–he said it casually, but knowingly, like it was something I would recognize. I returned a knowing nod, but (just like you now) I had no idea what he was talking about. A quick google search in the hallway revealed that “Telluride” was a small town in Colorado that hosted an annual film festival.
I actually think its kind of fitting that we were talking about Sturges when I discovered Telluride, because in a way Telluride is the Sturges of film fests: it’s not a house hold name like Capra or Chaplin, but to real film lovers, to scholars, people ‘in the industry’ and die hard fans alike it is essential.
The Festival has been running since 1974 out of a tiny one block ski town in Colorado. Think of it as Sundance’s more chill little brother (even though Sundance was actually founded four years later in ’78). Telluride screens a mixture of Awards Season pushes, international films, upcoming indies and timeless classics. It truly is a festival for cinephiles and I would know because this year I was there too!
How did I get there? I first knew her as Linda Williams, the author, when we read from her groundbreaking book Screening Sex in Film 140, but I got to call her Professor Williams a few years later when she came back to campus and taught Film 128. One evening after a screening at the PFA we walked in similar directions up through campus and chatted. I found out that she did her undergrad here at Berkeley and like myself she was a Film and Rhetoric double major. More than that, back then she lived in Hoyt, the Co-op right next door to my Co-op Stebbins. A small world.
Later on in the semester Linda let us know about a small program she ran at the Telluride Film Festival every year. A Student Symposium program that accepts 50 Film Students from across the country, gives then free festival passes and holds special Q & A’s for them with the films’ directors the next day.
Here’s where I’ll brag a bit. At Telluride I saw films that still haven’t come out yet, amazing films. The best may well have been Greta Gerwig’s Directorial debut Lady Bird–a film everyone needs to see. Another hit was a late night Screen of Werner Herzog’s early film “Even Dwarves Started Small,” which was followed by a Q & A in which he told us all about his favorite way to hypnotize a chicken–the notoriously weird filmmaker, who famously once ate his shoe (here in Berkeley I might add) certainly lived up to his reputation.
Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” still doesn’t have a release date but you have to trust me it was amazing!
Heres a clip from the Documentary “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” by Les Blank (featuring the UC Theater in downtown Berkeley)
The Symposium discussions were amazing, not because of our fantastic speakers like Documentary Legend Ken Burns, and Queer Cinema titan Todd Haynes, but because my fellow students were freakin brilliant. It really should have come as no surprise, I suppose, because far from all the glitz and glamor of the mainstream festival circuit this program was all about people who love film. I’ve stayed in touch with some of those folks and I think we’re all really excited to see what we all do next.
Before, when I would tell people I was headed up to the Telluride Film festival I pretty much exclusively get the same response every time, “oh where is that? Is it a big deal. ” I would always end up responding with some weird drawn out equivocal answer like “no, not really but it gets a lot of awards season films.”
Returning from Telluride it didn’t matter, like the professor who first mentioned it to me, I mention it casually, knowingly and if they’ve never heard of it I bet they’ve never heard of Preston Sturges either and that’s okay. Maybe that what makes things like Telluride and Preston Sturges special. They’re just for the people in the know.
P.S. they have some amazing posters: