On Telluride's trendy turf, movie buffs think they've died and gone to heaven

September 26, 1993|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Contributing Writer

TELLURIDE, COLORADO — Telluride, Colorado--Imagine you've stopped to catch your breath as you stand nearly 9,000 feet high in southwestern Colorado. The spectacular snowcapped mountains around you are begging to be climbed, explosively colorful wildflowers and rushing streams add to your Rocky Mountain high, and civilization and its discontents seem even farther away than Denver.

So what do you do? Scale that cliff? Fish for trout? No way. Instead, you go to the movies. Again and again and again in the course of a September weekend that transforms a former mining town named Telluride into a center of world cinema.

Probably the most beautifully if improbably sited of film festivals, the 20th Telluride Film Festival proved itself the place to catch that hot New Zealand flick, ogle Hollywood stars, pay homage to an ancient cinematographer rescued from obscurity, and puzzle over first films by young American directors who may become household names tomorrow.

Infinitely smaller and more highbrow than most festivals, Telluride prides itself on showcasing new art films and older films deserving recognition. Telluride is also singular in that it absolutely refuses to release its schedule until the day before the festival starts, meaning the hundreds of cinephiles who head here are trusting souls.

On the festival pipeline, it comes months after Cannes and days before Toronto and New York. A lot of films touted as receiving their American premieres at the New York Film Festival in truth have their first public screenings in this country at Telluride. (And yes, these movies will even get to Baltimore -- "The Joy Luck Club," for example, opens here Friday.)

Past Telluride festivals have included the first stateside look at "The Crying Game," "My Left Foot," "Reversal of Fortune," "Cinema Paradiso," "Roger and Me" and "Prospero's Books."

Celebrity second home

Many directors and actors accompany their films to Telluride to introduce them in an opera house, school gym, Masonic lodge, town park and other venues transformed into movie theaters for the occasion. If these starry types feel comfortable in Telluride it's because the mega-trendy town has become something of a celebrity second home. Oliver Stone, Oprah Winfrey, Keith Carradine, Peter Yarrow and Daryl Hannah are among those who keep houses here, and a few years ago Tom Cruise came here to marry Nicole Kidman. (The lanky Ms. Hannah was actually part of this year's festival with her directorial debut, a short film titled "The Last Supper.")

Although distribution deals are struck here, as at any film fest, the event's aura is more movie-buff heaven than movie-biz hard sell. Ranging from the highly commercial to the hopelessly arcane, almost all the films unspooled at Telluride force you to put on your thinking cap.

As German director Wim Wenders put it at one of this year's panel discussions: "Like a book, a film has 'lines' and you can read between the lines and invent yourself in the film. I have a feeling that Hollywood wants to make more and more films that leave no space between the lines. . . . Telluride is wonderful because it keeps up the spirit of movies [in which] you can read between the lines."

If the British presence was strong at this year's Telluride fest, it must have been partly because director John Boorman ("Deliverance," "Hope and Glory") was the guest director helping coordinate the festival schedule. Mr. Boorman also showed a 44-minute autobiographical film, "I Dreamt I Woke Up."

A festival highlight was a tribute to his fellow British director Ken Loach, who has championed working-class consciousness in such films as "Kes" and "Riff Raff." These films have a near-documentary feel and offer rough slices of life unlike any you'll encounter in "Masterpiece Theater." Mr. Loach's new film, "Raining Stones," about a jobless plumber in Manchester who'll do just about anything to buy his daughter a first communion dress, is a wrenching comic-pathetic portrait of a society of determined people who can't seem to come out ahead.

Also unveiled was the new film by another British director, Mike Leigh ("High Hopes," "Life Is Sweet"). "Naked" concerns a smart but good-for-nothing bloke (David Thewlis) whose abuse of the several women in his life is often painful to watch. This bleak comedy was too long for my taste, but fans of spontaneously naturalistic acting will have a field day with it.

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