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Telluride Film Festival Names ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Author Jonathan Lethem as Guest Director

The Telluride Film Festival has selected novelist Jonathan Lethem as its guest director for its 45th annual fest.

The festival, running over Labor Day weekend on Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, announced the selection on Friday. Lethem will pick a series of films to screen at the festival and plans to participate in discussions at the screenings.

Lethem has written 10 novels, five short story collections, a novella, two books of essays, a comic series, and articles in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and McSweeney’s. He’s best known for his fifth novel, “Motherless Brooklyn,” the 1999 book that won the National Book Critics Circle Award, Macallan Gold Dagger for Crime Fiction, and Salon Book Award.

The film adaptation of “Motherless Brooklyn” — directed by Edward Norton, and starring Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, and Leslie Mann — is currently in production and slated for release in 2019. Lethem’s more recent novels include New York Times bestseller “The Fortress of Solitude” (2003), “You Don’t Love Me Yet” (2007), “Chronic City” (2009), “Dissident Gardens” (2013), and “A Gambler’s Anatomy” (2016).

In “Motherless Brooklyn,” Norton stars as Lethem’s protagonist, Lionel Essrog, who has Tourette syndrome and works as a private eye at a makeshift detective agency, set in 1954. The story focuses on a young woman protesting against a powerful developer, who designs neighborhoods as slums so his people can buy up property. Norton optioned the novel it 1999.

“He did so with my blessing and we mutually agreed that I should not be involved in the movie,” Lethem told Variety. “I did go on the set this March and it was fascinating and a little surreal.”

Lethem has attended Telluride only once. In 2016, he participated with Kenneth Lonergan in a post-screening discussion of “Manchester by the Sea.” He recalled being impressed with the feel of the festival — particularly with guest director Volker Schlöndorff’s selections.

“I’ve been winnowing down my list of films, which won’t be completely obscure, but something of a discovery,” Lethem said. “Hopefully, when people see them, it will be like, ‘Where have you been all my life?'”

Last year’s guest director was documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer. Others have included Rachel Kushner, Guy Maddin, Caetano Veloso, Michael Ondaatje, Alexander Payne, Salman Rushdie, Peter Bogdanovich, B. Ruby Rich, Phillip Lopate, Errol Morris, Bertrand Tavernier, John Boorman, John Simon, Buck Henry, Laurie Anderson, Stephen Sondheim, G. Cabrera Infante, Peter Sellars, Don DeLillo, J.P. Gorin, Edith Kramer, and Slavoj Žižek.

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