Telluride at 25: Secrecy still reigns

Welles' 'Evil' skedded for screening at fest

Shrouded in typical secrecy, the 25th annual Telluride Film Festival is set to unspool Wednesday with all the mystery of a reconstituted Orson Welles film. Indeed, the mountain fest will screen a re-edited version of Welles’ “Touch of Evil” along with a slate of indie and experimental pics.

Re-spun pic was to have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22, but the projector lights were dimmed as granddaughter Beatrice Welles complained that the “altered” version of the film could not be shown without her consent.

Fearing a lawsuit from Welles and not wanting to disrupt the Cannes fest with an ugly confrontation, Universal and October Films canceled that screening.

U and October, planning to release the new Welles around the country this fall, decided through their lawyers that Welles’ claim had no merit and resurrected the preem idea for the Telluride and Toronto fests.

Apparently, Telluride festival artistic directors Bill Pence and Tom Luddy agreed.

Secret screenings

In its 25th year, Telluride has built a bigger, more wide-ranging festival, including a special tribute to Meryl Streep, a program of black-and-white pics and a screening of King Vidor’s “The Crowd” with live musical accompaniment and an introduction from guest helmer Peter Bogdanovich. Apart from that, you won’t know much about Telluride until you get to the Colorado city.

Pence, his wife Stella, and Luddy are maniacal about keeping the list of festival pics secret until the opening day. Last year, the Pences explained their decision as keeping the films on a level playing field, so that bigger pics can’t dominate smaller ones. And, to the fest’s credit, seats are doled out on a first-come, first-serve basis for any of the festgoers who shell out $500 for an overall pass. Only patron pass members, who pay $2,500 for a festival pass, are allowed to cut in line.

This year, the silver gala is expected to draw some 3,500 people. It is unclear how many features Telluride will screen, but a spokeswoman says that with the extra day for this year’s event, the number will be greater than the 33 pics screened in 1997, all of them a surprise.

“That surprise element is a really good thing,” says Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics. “The anticipation is that you’ll be surprised by something that will then be meaningful in the marketplace over the course of the next year. It’s like going to see a sneak preview of a film that will be the hottest film of the year.”

Surprise factor

Barker points to “Blue Velvet,” “Reservoir Dogs” and “Sling Blade” as three gems shown at Telluride to unknowing auds.

“You’re surprised. You’re just knocked out when you see films like that,” Barker says.

Though Sony Classics will have several pics at the fest, Barker would not divulge their titles. Miramax is expected to bring at least one pic. Lions Gate has one entry. And there will also be the requisite number of indie pics without distribs looking for a deal.

Though many other titles have been rumored for the fest, no one was talking, respecting the wishes of Pence and Luddy.One thing that Pence is not worried about discussing is the role of sound technology at the festival.

Dolby Laboratories has inked as an official sponsor for the fest. Dolby will also sponsor the fest’s Great Expectations sidebar, which features shorts from emerging helmers.

“Dolby has been a kind and generous friend to the festival for many years, and we know that a good part of our success and reputations is due to the quality of our film presentations,” Pence said in a prepared statement.

Dolby has set up its own cinema processors at the fest’s seven venues this year, including the Outdoor Theater.

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