‘Rushmore’ buzz mounts

Telluride wraps on high note

TELLURIDE, Colo. — The Telluride Film Festival’s 25th anniversary closed Monday with attendees buzzing about the pleasant surprise of Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” in a year of depressing nihilistic fare.

“Rushmore,” a quirky comedy starring Bill Murray and produced by Barry Mendel, is a Touchstone Pictures release that was one of the few studio pics to screen at Telluride. This silver anniversary year was abnormally low on studio screenings. Disney, however, had two festival favorites with “Rushmore” and “Endurance,” a docudrama about an Ethiopian long-distance runner.

“I felt a lack of balance in the films that were chosen,” said Andrew Marlowe, scripter of “Air Force One” and a regular festgoer. “Films tended much more toward a darker vision. It was nice to see ‘Rushmore’ as a breath of fresh air in the middle of that darkness,” he said.

Oscar talk for Streep

Sony Pictures Classics garnered interest for several of its five pics in the fest, including John Boorman’s “The General,” Erick Zonca’s “The Dream Life of Angels” and the Meryl Streep starrer “Dancing at Lughnasa.” Streep, who was in attendance at the festival, was lauded for her performance in the Irish drama and cited by Sony Classics co-presidents Tom Bernard and Michael Barker as a possibility for Oscar consideration.

Streep, who was also feted at the festival with a tribute, said she found the entire Telluride experience pleasurable, including the landing at the town’s high-altitude airport. “I don’t know what I expected when we landed at that airport,” Streep said. “I have never been this high — recently anyway.”

Streep, Clint Eastwood and Rosanna Arquette all showed for several events. In addition, Janet Leigh and Dennis Weaver flew in to introduce the re-edited version of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil.” Directors, however, were in abundance with 25th anniversary co-directors Bill Pence and Tom Luddy bringing back a number of helmers from the ’60s and ’70s, as well as the ’90s.

Few acquisitions

Acquisitions were at a minimum, with just a few titles available. Bruce Wagner’s “I’m Losing You,” which Lions Gate produced, is available, though sources said Lions Gate would likely wait until Toronto to consider whether to sell the picture. An unexpected title that screened for acquisition execs was Sherwood Hu’s “The Passage.” Pic was produced by Francis Coppola and Wayne Wang and described as a Hawaiian-Chinese ghost story.

Miramax was repped at Telluride by only one picture, Udayan Prasad’s “My Son the Fanatic.”

Buzz touched on why the pic, which Miramax had picked up at the Cannes Film Festival in l997, had not been released. Prasad denied that Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein had demanded a reshoot of the ending, though Prasad admitted that they discussed the ending and considered alternatives before settling on the current close.

Regarding “Rushmore,” festgoers agreed that the pic, though enjoyable, may have a difficult time at the box office if it receives an “R” rating from the MPAA.

Equally provocative at the festival was Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” which Good Machine is distributing following October’s abandonment of the film at Universal’s request.

Universal had feared that the film was too racy and dealt in themes too difficult for public-owned parent company Seagram. But festgoers agreed that it was one of the most interesting and riveting of this year’s slate of pics.

‘Silver Age’ golden

One of the festival’s highlights was a director-studded panel about the “Silver Age of U.S. Film: l967-74.” Variety film critic Todd McCarthy led a group of filmmakers from that era, including Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Rafelson, Buck Henry, Michael Ritchie, Monte Hellman, Saul Zaentz and John Boorman.

Most agreed that the era was a revolutionary period for American film, both artistically and financially.

“Almost none of these movies had a happy ending,” said Ritchie, who directed such films as “Downhill Racer,” “The Candidate” and “Smile.”

“Of 99% of the studio movies out now, that happy ending is always going to be there,” Ritchie said.

Zaentz, the Oscar-winning producer of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (l974) and “The English Patient” (l997), lamented the sorry state of development at the studios and, often, the intrusive nature of studio executives.

“In ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ the studio said, ‘Why can’t the nurse die and Jack live?’ ” said Zaentz.

Rafelson, whose directorial credits include “Five Easy Pieces,” characterized the era as “a move towards employment” for these filmmakers, as opposed to a planned artistic revolution.

Said Rafelson, “I had already punched out one head of a studio, and I knew it would be hard for me to work in that sort of environment.”

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