Tall tales and tributes top Telluride fest

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Directors David Fincher and Jan Troell and actress Jean Simmons will trek this weekend to the Rockies, where each will be feted with a tribute at the 35th Telluride Film Festival.

The pocket-size festival, which traditionally doesn't reveal its lineup until the last minute, gets under way today in the Colorado mountain town and runs through Monday. Despite the all-American locale, this year's event will have an especially international feel.

"Internationally, this has been another terrific year," Gary Meyer, who serves as fest director along with Tom Luddy, said of the lineup the two have assembled.

The only soft spot might be the U.S. component.

"The trend that all the fall festivals are facing," Meyer said, "is that because of the writers strike, a lot of high-profile American films that might have been available just aren't going to be ready in time."

That, in turn, could affect the way some of the participants perceive Telluride. By unveiling such movies as "Walk the Line" and "Juno" in recent years, the festival earned a reputation for providing an early peek at the developing awards season.

But while Meyer said those films deserved the spotlight Telluride trained on them, "We don't want to become known as just a showcase for a bunch of Hollywood movies."

Certainly, there will be plenty of films on hand likely to attract awards buzz. For example, Mike Leigh's comedy "Happy-Go-Lucky" already has handicappers doing cartwheels over Sally Hawkins' performance as a cockeyed optimist. Meyer noted that the fest, which has a long-standing relationship with Leigh, spotted the movie in Berlin in February, booking it even before Miramax picked it up for U.S. release.

Marc Abraham's "Flash of Genius," in which Greg Kinnear plays the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, is expected to pop up, unannounced, in one of the sneak preview spots. And Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire," set in Mumbai, could well show up in another preview slot.

A number of films that established themselves at Cannes also will be on hand, like the animated Israeli feature "Waltz With Bashir," Matteo Garrone's Italian crime drama "Gomorra" and Steve McQueen's prison study "Hunger."

But Telluride also will unveil several new films, including Paul Schrader's latest feature, "Adam Resurrected," an adaptation of Yoram Kaniuk's novel in which Jeff Goldblum plays a troubled concentration camp survivor. "It will split audiences right down the middle," Meyer predicted. "We had a small screening of it, and people stood around in the lobby for over an hour discussing it."

Other titles that could stake out turf at Telluride include the French film "With a Little Help From Myself," directed by Francois Dupeyron, in which Felicite Wouassi, heading an African-French cast, turns in what is said to be an award-worthy performance; Tim Disney's "American Violet," starring Nicole Behaire as an black single mother; the Indian feature "Firaaq," which will be introduced by Salman Rushdie; Ole Christian Madsen's "Flame & Citron," set amid the Danish resistance to the Nazis; and the documentary "Learning Gravity," Cathal Black's portrait of Thomas Lynch, an undertaker and poet.

As for the tributes, Fincher will be lauded as a contemporary filmmaker whose work has steadily become more rich as he's moved from such films as "Alien 3" and "Seven" to the recent "Zodiac" (Telluride will screen the director's cut of the latter film). The tribute is also likely to include a first look at footage from Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which Paramount is releasing Christmas Day, just as last year's honoree Paul Thomas Anderson used the occasion to show footage from Par Vantage's "There Will Be Blood."

Simmons, whose extensive credits range from "Great Expectations" (1946) and "Guys and Dolls" (1955) to "Hamlet" (1948) and "Elmer Gantry" (1960), will look back over her long acting career. "When you really start looking at her filmography, when you really see her performances and range, it blows you away," Meyer said.

Although Troell received two Oscar nominations for writing and directing his 1971 film "The Emigrants," Luddy and Meyer felt that his more recent films had not received the attention in the U.S. they deserve. The program will include his latest feature, "Everlasting Moments."

Slovenian-born culture critic Slavoj Zizek, serving as this year's guest director, will aim his spotlight on three examples of vintage film noir: Edmund Goulding's "Nightmare Alley" (1947) starring Tyrone Power, Nicholas Ray's "On Dangerous Ground" (1952) starring Robert Ryan and John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966) starring Rock Hudson.

The fest also is presenting a special salute to Romanian director Nae Caranfil with showings of two of his films, "Philanthropy" (2002) and "The Rest Is Silence" (2007).

Meyer and Luddy are hoping to cut down on some of the lines that had attendees complaining last year. They've trimmed back the program, and this year instead of five sneak previews, there will be only two. They've also resorted to some strategic scheduling so that films expected to be hot tickets are programmed against each other, forcing festivalgoers to make some tough choices.

"We don't want people to feel they have to stand in line one or two hours in advance," Meyer said. (partialdiff)
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