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Summer slopes up at Telluride

'Quills,' 'Assassins,' lift spirits at film fest

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Although everyone seems to agree that it’s been a dismal year for movies thus far, you wouldn’t know it from the evidence of the Telluride Film Festival, which unspooled its 27th edition over the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-4.

Stirring together the event’s usual mix of world premieres (seven this year, not including a preview of Ken Burns’ upcoming 19-hour documentary series “Jazz”), highlights from other recent fests (eight from Cannes among them), offbeat special programs and continued loyalty to archival programs, tributes and silent cinema in particular, fest co-directors Tom Luddy and Bill Pence created a typically lively program that sustained Telluride’s reputation as the world fest scene’s purest manifestation of cinephilia.

Highest profile premiere was Philip Kaufman’s beautifully crafted look at the Marquis de Sade, “Quills,” which Fox Searchlight will release this fall. Among the more surprising and affecting new pictures was Barbet Schroeder’s Spanish-language film “Our Lady of the Assassins,” about a gay author’s return to his native Colombia after many years abroad, while Andrew Dominik’s true-crime opus “Chopper” worked as a late-nighter. New York entries were not too strong this year, with Al Pacino’s “Chinese Coffee” and commercials director-restaurateur Bob Giraldi’s indie “Dinner Rush” having left auds feeling undernourished.

Fest was dedicated this year to the late helmer John Berry, whose final film, the Athol Fugard adaptation “Boesman and Lena,” received a strong response, as did its stars, Angela Bassett and Danny Glover.

Docu duo hit big

Two of the weekend’s biggest hits were documentaries, Kevin Macdonald’s Oscar-winning “One Day in September,” about the Palestinian massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and George Butler’s “The Endurance,” a gripping account of Captain Ernest Shackleton’s astonishing effort to survive a failed voyage to Antarctica in 1914.

Ang Lee’s Cannes favorite “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a smash in its North American debut, and the Cannes Camera d’Or winner, Bahman Ghobadi’s “A Time of Drunken Horses,” about the plight of Kurds on the Iraqi-Iranian border, was a favorite among some viewers.

Other U.S. preems included Hans Petter Moland’s “Aberdeen,” part of a tribute to lead actor Stellan Skarsgard; Jonathan Teplitzky’s “Better Than Sex,” fresh from its triumph at the Sydney fest; Liv Ullmann’s “Faithless”; “Chunhyang,” part of a tribute to South Korean veteran Im Kwon Taek; Terence Davies’ “The House of Mirth”; Amos Gitai’s “Kippur”; Kristian Levring’s “The King Is Alive”; Paul Cox’s “Innocence”; Javier Rioyo and Jose Luis Lopez-Linares’ docu “About Bunuel”; E. Elias Merhige’s “Shadow of the Vampire”; Patrice Leconte’s “The Widow of St. Pierre”; and Edward Yang’s “Yi Yi (A One and a Two).”

As always here, virtually all the films’ directors and many actors were in attendance and easily approachable on the small town’s main drag or at social events, making for the most fluid mix between filmmakers and attendees at any fest.

A public favorite was veteran character actor, producer and director Norman Lloyd. Best known to contempo viewers for his role on TV’s “St. Elsewhere,” Lloyd acted for, and was a close associate of, such towering figures as Orson Welles, Charles Chaplin, Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchcock. At a special tribute, he held the audience spellbound with tales of his long career.

Leonard adapts

Also in for a lively talk was writer Elmore Leonard, who was joined by the directors of two film adaptations of his work, Barry Sonnenfeld and Paul Schrader, the latter also in to unspool his film “Forever Mine.”

Fest guest director Edgardo Cozarinsky brought along three extreme archival rarities: Dimitri Krsanoff’s Swiss feature “Rapt” (1933); Pierre Chenal’s 1950 adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” shot in Argentina with the author himself in the leading role; and Joseph Losey’s first European, post-Blacklist picture, “Stranger on the Prowl” (1951), with Paul Muni in his next-to-last screen appearance.

Other revivals included the long-awaited UCLA restoration of Budd Boetticher’s first Randolph Scott Western, “Seven Men From Now” (1956), and, from the Pordenone silent fest, William Wyler’s “Hell’s Heroes” (1929) and a recently discovered Buster Keaton short, “The Cook” (1918), starring and directed by Roscoe Arbuckle.

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