TELLURIDE, Colo. — As 3,000 attendees gasped for air at 8,700 feet, the 25th anniversary of the Telluride Film Festival kicked off Thursday with a tribute to Meryl Streep. Other events included the world preems of Bruce Wagner’s “I’m Losing You,” Leslie Woodhead’s long-distance-running docu “Endurance” and a midnight screening of Miramax’s Udayan Prasad pic “My Son the Fanatic.” John Boorman’s “The General,” which bowed at Cannes this year, also unspooled.
The fest unveiled a sked of indie and experimental fare that is expected to garner industry interest, including Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” Pat O’Connor’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” (starring Streep), Stefan Ruzowitzky’s “The Inheritors,” Walter Salles’ “Central Station,” Joan Chen’s “Xiu Xiu — The Sent Down Girl,” Rolf de Heer’s “Dance Me to My Song,” Erick Zonka’s “The Dreamlife of Angels,” 18-year-old Iranian Moshen Makhmalbaf’s “The Apple,” Lodge Kerrigan’s “Claire Dolan” and Eric Rohmer’s “Autumn Tale.”
Studio fare is unusually absent from this year’s fest. Disney will release “Endurance,” but major studio films, like last year’s fest opener “U-Turn,” are not to be seen.
“We have nothing against studio films. Of the films that were submitted from the studios, we didn’t see any we liked,” said Tom Luddy, a co-director of the festival along with Bill Pence and Stella Pence.
Luddy said the selection team was eager to include Jonathan Demme’s “Beloved” from Universal, as well as several other studio pics, including the Carl Franklin-directed Streep starrer “One True Thing.” But he added that some studios seem uninterested in having their films play at festivals.
Wagner, who made his helming debut with “I’m Losing You,” adapted from his own novel, said he was “thrilled” to see his pic selected. He explained that he was only able to direct after producer Christine Vachon wrote a positive review of the book in the Advocate. “I approached her about it. I had already adapted it as a screenplay as an exercise for a spec,” Wagner said.
Wagner added that he worked closely with director of photography Rob Sweeney on the look of the pic, which stars Rosanna Arquette, Frank Langella and Andrew McCarthy.
Solondz said “Happiness” was chosen for the fest before all the controversy over October Films’ abandonment of the pic after October parent Universal said that it was too racy to release by a major. Good Machine, which has a new deal with Universal, stepped up to distribute domestically.
Solondz added that U, October and Good Machine never forced him to tone down the pic, which deals with pedophilia, masturbation, sexual degeneracy, murder and dismemberment.
“No one asked me to cut anything,” he said.
Such edgy fare may be perfect for the festival itself, which is an odd mix of indie filmmakers, industry legends, Texas oil millionaires, a few studio reps, a handful of agents and managers, a bevy of critics and a passel of ex-hippie locals who serve them.
“It’s so reassuring to see the poor serve the rich with a smile on their faces,” said one attendee drolly.
But the fest’s boasts of egalitarianism for viewers and its panoply of accessible films are somewhat disingenuous. In fact, Telluride is a great fest for the rich, who shell out $2,500 for “patron passes.” Those ducats provide access to virtually any screening as well as an exclusive “patron’s brunch,” which lets the holders hobnob with a few of the filmmakers.
The hoi polloi are relegated to basic passes at $500 a shot or Acme passes at $1,250 per. In both cases, the buyer is not guaranteed a seat at any screening.
One studio acquisitions exec said she stopped attending the fest because the $1,800 she had to pay to get a full-blown pass wasn’t worth it when she could only see two or three screenings during the fest.
Still, studio execs laud the festival as groundbreaking in the titles it screens.
“It’s the single best festival to launch films in America,” said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics along with Tom Bernard and Marcy Bloom. Barker and Bernard, who are attending the fest for the 20th year, had five entries included in the lineup, including “Dreamlife of Angels,” “Central Station” and “Dancing at Lughnasa.”
Added Bernard: “You could almost say it’s the anti-Sundance.”
“The one thing that’s never a surprise at Telluride is that they bring together an extraordinary mix of talented filmmakers,” said Anne Sterling, VP of acquisitions for Buena Vista Intl. She pointed to such pics as Jan Sverak’s “Kolya” in 1996, which was distribbed by BVI and went on to win the Oscar for best foreign film.
Co-director Luddy also noted something organized especially for the 25th anni. The fest invited all former guest directors back, giving them the option to screen and introduce a classic film of their choice.
Some of those who took Telluride up on the offer include G. Cabrera Infante, who selected Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”; Peter von Bagh, who chose the 1976 Italian pic “We All Loved Each Other So Much”; Kirill Razlogov, who picked Soviet filmmaker Boris Barnet’s 1934 “Outskirts”; Bernard Tavernier, who chose Edmond T. Greville’s “Remous”; John Simon, who selected Louis Malle’s “The Fire Within”; Boorman, who favored Arthur Robison’s 1929 version of “The Informer”; Errol Morris, who chose Leo McCarey’s 1937 “Make Way for Tomorrow”; and Philip Lopate, who picked Max Ophuls’ 1948 “The Reckless Moment.”