Film Orgy

An abundance of the best international cinema at the 2006 Telluride and Toronto film festivals

It may seem ridiculous (not to say gluttonous) to travel directly from the densely scheduled Telluride Film Festival to the even more densely scheduled Toronto International Film Festival. But despite their proximity on the calendar (the 33-year-old Telluride always takes place on Labor Day weekend, and the 31-year-old Toronto traditionally begins on the Thursday after it) — and the fact that many of the movies seen at Telluride will also show up at Toronto — the two events aren't clones. It's an annual film orgy I look forward to all year; the festivals fulfill different needs and expectations, but share enthusiastic audiences and impeccable presentation.

The intimate, four-day program in Colorado never announces any of its movies (or its guest director, or the designer of its poster) in advance. Yet it regularly sells out all its passes to an eager, not to say fanatical, group of film buffs, who travel to its somewhat difficult to reach, picturesque location year after year. (They affectionately call the festival the Show.) They're secure in the knowledge that they'll be thrilled, titillated, amused, moved, even challenged by the eclectic program put together by directors Tom Luddy and Bill Pence, their guest director (this year it was Jean-Pierre Gorin, a French filmmaker and educator famous for his collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard and for his own quirky documentaries), and such curators as international film rep Pierre Rissient, theater luminary Peter Sellars, and Bay Area exhibitor Gary Meyer.

Famously intimate and inclusive, the festival starts with a party called the Feed, a dinner to which all are invited, and the festival also invites all pass-holders to a Labor Day picnic in the park. Filmmakers are accessible to one and all, happy to talk about the movies they've seen as well as the ones they've made.

The movies range from prestigious to obscure. Last year's audiences got the first-ever public looks at such popular Oscar-winning films as Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line, and this year's were prognosticating Oscar hopes for, among others, Todd Field's Little Children, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's Babel, and Pedro AlmodÓvar's Volver (since announced as Spain's entry for the foreign film Oscar). Offerings that didn't yet have distributors, much less Oscar hopes, included Day Night Day Night, a Bressonian study of a female suicide bomber, and a documentary about Haiti, Ghosts of Cite Soleil, with a Wyclef Jean soundtrack.

Telluride also features thoughtfully staged tributes to film figures — this year's included famed Oscar-winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch (The Godfather, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Spanish actress Penelope Cruz (star of three AlmodÓvar films as well as such American movies as Vanilla Sky and All the Pretty Horses). A Silver Medallion — a Telluride honor given each year to noted film figures — was also awarded onstage to the visibly moved David Thomson, San Francisco-based author of, among many other books, the indispensable The Biographical Dictionary of Film. Nicole Kidman, the subject of his latest book, also appeared at Telluride in Fur, a fantastic telling of the life of photographer Diane Arbus, by director Steven Shainberg (Secretary).

The revivals, which influence as well as honor archival film programming all over the world, included the delightful 1919 Australian feature The Sentimental Bloke, accompanied by an equally delightful country-music score by fellow Aussies Jen Anderson and the Larrikins; Gorin's three-film tribute to French director Jean Gremillon; and a rare encore performance at Telluride, Paul Fejos' 1928 Lonesome, with score performed by the Alloy Orchestra — cited as a personal favorite and inspiration by Telluride co-founder Bill Pence, who shocked the audience when he announced his retirement, along with his wife Stella, the fest's managing director. Gary Meyer, operator of our very own Balboa Theater, was announced as the new co-director.

My favorite moments at Telluride, always unexpected, included such stunning and previously off-the-radar movies as the British documentary Deep Water, a stranger-than-fiction story of a 1969 race to be the first man to complete a nonstop solo sailing trip around the world; 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, a BBC miniseries based on Gaslight and Rope author Patrick Hamilton's 1930s autobiographical trilogy; and performances by Peter O'Toole as an aging but still lusty actor in Venus and Toby Jones as Truman Capote in Infamous, that other movie covering essentially the same ground as last year's Capote (and, surprisingly, equally effective, if different in style). I loved watching noted editor and author Michael Korda crack up at his own oft-told anecdotes about his famed British filmmaker relatives, uncles Alexander and Zoltan Korda and his father Vincent. I was also so moved by the revelatory "Made-on-a-Mac" presentations that this longtime Mac girl now lusts not only for a G5 with a mighty screen, but also for a laptop, both equipped with Final Cut Pro (who could ask for anything more?).

But my single most treasured memory comes from the Cisco SystemsÐsponsored panel called "The New Media: The Impact of Broadband on the Creative Process and Content Distribution," at which director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) wondered aloud, after rosy prognostications about the future by techies such as Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail), whether somebody was going to invent more hours in the day to watch all this stuff.

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