Telluride spreads broad tents

'Lovely & Amazing', Rushdie generate buzz

TELLURIDE, Colo — To a greater extent than usual, there were several mini-fests under the umbrella of the Telluride Film Festival this year.

There was the strong spotlight on Indian cinema and science fiction, courtesy of guest director Salman Rushdie; there was the expected choice selection of North American premieres from this year’s earlier European festivals; there were some compelling documentaries; and there was, unusually, Telluride as Sundance, with leading indie buyers packing into the world preem of Nicole Holofcener’s humorously dramatic indie “Lovely & Amazing.”

For fest regulars, the 28th edition of the rarefied Labor Day weekend mountain event delivered very much what they expected: interesting and very accessible special guests and tribute subjects, eclectic and mostly first-rate programming, a few oddities and extreme rarities from present and especially past, and lively talk and encounters, all packed within four days.

‘Lovely’ snapped up

For the limited number of industry figures in town — most prominent of whom was suddenly fest vet Bingham Ray, the new United Artists topper — talk centered on the quick pickup of “Lovely & Amazing,” a serious comic study of female insecurity starring Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer and Brenda Blethyn that is most distinguished by its unpredictable mix of moods.

Otherwise, fest was most marked by the surprise presence of Rushdie, one of the planet’s most famous authors who also happens to be a very knowledgeable cinephile. Very approachable and keen to talk movies, Rushdie, who cites “The Wizard of Oz” among his most important influences, brought along a childhood favorite, Raj Kapoor’s “Shree 420,” Satyajit Ray’s little-seen kids film “The Golden Fortress,” a selection of work by the eminent Indian director Mehboob put together by Pierre Rissient and three sci-fi classics, the highlight of which was “Metropolis” with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.

India in spotlight

The Indian connection continued via a tribute to vet actor Om Puri, who also was seen in the world premiere of Ismail Merchant’s “The Mystic Masseur,” the new docu “Ravi Shankar” and a sensational live performance by tabla player Zakir Hussain.

Among other tributees, British director Ken Russell proved as iconoclastic as ever at 74, and auds were treated to some of his little-seen TV work, including his superb 1968 Delius bio “Song of Summer.” A provocatrice of the next generation, Catherine Breillat, was also saluted and presented her latest, “The Fat Girl.” HBO was accorded a special look by way of screenings of the upcoming “Shot in the Heart,” “The Young and the Dead” and an episode of “Band of Brothers,” while Peter Cowie presented a highly instructive (and usefully internationally oriented) overview of a rapidly expanding technology in “The Ultimate DVD Show.”

Among the highlights of the main lineup was Fabian Bielinsky’s “Nine Queens,” a wonderful yarn of ever-mounting swindles that was the biggest hit in its native Argentina last year and could easily be one for Sony Classics domestically; Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French smash “Amelie”; and Zacharias Kunuk’s Inuit Cannes Camera d’Or winner “The Fast Runner,” a special favorite here.

Others were David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”; Aussie helmer Ray Lawrence’s long-awaited return, “Lantana”; Tim McCann’s “Revolution #9”; Guillermo del Toro’s historically set ghost thriller “The Devil’s Backbone”; and Peter Bogdanovich’s droll and beautifully made look at a real-life Hollywood mystery of the ’20s, “The Cat’s Meow.”

World preems included David L. Cunningham’s harrowing look at the building of the Thailand-Burma Railroad by Allied POWs, “To End All Wars,” and Konstantin Lopushansky’s analysis of modern Russia’s dire straits in “The Turn of the Century.”

Also attracting favorite attention were Bille August’s grave romance “A Song for Martin,” Danis Tanovic’s Cannes fave “No Man’s Land,” Dover Kosashvili’s Israeli emigre comedy “Late Marriage” and Lone Scherfig’s Danish comedy “Italian for Beginners.”

Hats off to Disney

Walt Disney received particular attention through a warmly received program of “forgotten” Disney creations from early in the animation pioneer’s career, and in Jean-Pierre Isbouts’ new feature docu, “Walt,” which will be broadcast soon on ABC-TV.

Other docus acclaimed by auds here were Ken Burns’ two part “Mark Twain,” which will air on PBS in January, Wilfried Huismann’s steady account of an outlandish life, “Dear Fidel,” the story of a German woman who was Fidel Castro’s mistress in 1959 and subsequently worked for the CIA, and Don and Susan Sanders’ “Drive-In Movie Memories,” about the all-but-extinct breed of movie theaters.

Revival highlights included Harold Lloyd’s “Speedy,” with its extraordinary view of 1928 New York City and an extended appearance by Babe Ruth, and Milos Forman and Saul Zaentz presenting what was dubbed “Amadeus 2001,” with 20 minutes added to the 1983 Oscar winner.

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