Telluride is off and running, and it’s not business as usual.
The first day began with the annual patron brunch, where press, talent and other festival-goers mingle in the celebration of the Colorado getaway, now in its 48th year. In attendance were “Belfast” writer and director Kenneth Branagh with one of his stars Jamie Dornan, which screens for the first time later this evening. Others include “A Hero” writer and director Asghar Farhadi, “The Power of the Dog” co-star Kodi Smit-McPhee, “Flee” director Jonas Poher Rasmussen and “Red Rocket” writer and director Sean Baker with his two stars Simon Rex and Bree Elrod.
Afterward, Telluride co-director Julie Huntsinger greeted the media in attendance at the press orientation, speaking about the full slate and everything it has to offer. In an obvious sign of the times, Huntsinger shared that for one of the first times in recent memory, one of their tribute honorees, Riz Ahmed, would not be in attendance. No explanation was given but in the time of COVID, do we need any? The festival co-director also joked about three actors that she wanted to attend — Jessie Buckley from “The Lost Daughter,” Claire Foy from “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” and Rooney Mara, who was going to attend with her partner Joaquin Phoenix for his film, “C’mon C’mon,” but could not because they are currently all filming Sarah Polley’s upcoming project, “Women Talking.” “They’ll no doubt submit the movie next year, but we’ll see,” she joked with the crowd.
The patron screening then followed with Michael Pearce’s “Encounter,” a sci-fi thriller that recalls films like Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” and Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special.”
The film tells the story of a father, Malik (Ahmed), who embarks on a journey with his two sons to protect them from an alien threat. Ahmed was nominated last year for his powerhouse performance in “Sound of Metal,” another Amazon Studios film that was nominated for best picture. This entry could have the goods to have him invited back to the party. You can find similar characters and arcs with past nominees like Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”). Still, some of the disturbing imagery and anxiety-ridden themes could divide award voters and critics.
It’s Pearce’s second feature following his 2017 indie “Beast,” and he shared in his introduction before the screening that he worked on this film for “twelve hours a day, for the last four years.” He’s also a co-writer with Joe Barton. The Academy has never been kind to science fiction, especially with a film that plays with the themes of mental illness within the genre. While they’ve been open to some types of new ideas like Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” which was nominated for original screenplay, this could face an uphill battle in that category.
One place it can find significant traction is Jed Kurzel’s dynamic and haunting score. Already proving himself in indie flicks like “Slow West,” his inflections into particular scenes are the type that the music branch can often be attracted to. The sound design team also feels like something we would have seen the great Johnnie Burn orchestrate, as it mixes in aural shifts and changes that heighten the viewer’s experience.
As “Encounter” kicks off the festival, it may have a tough time breaking through in the upcoming dense season. Let the games begin.