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Telluride 2011: Sights and Sounds

A recap of this weekend's events, parties, and buzz at the Colorado festival.

Michael Barker and Tom Bernard
Alex Wyman/Getty Images

Sony Classics Dinner
On Saturday evening, Sony Pictures Classics held its annual dinner at La Marmotte -- the best restaurant in Telluride according to Jeff Wells (on the basis of my admittedly limited experience in town, I agree). The intimate gathering was attended by SPC co-chief Michael Barker (who had just gotten off the plane from Venice, where he had attended the world premiere of A Dangerous Method, one of his big awards contenders this year; co-chief Tom Bernard was unable to attend the dinner); Christopher Hampton, the Oscar-winning scribe who wrote the screenplay for A Dangerous Method; Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian writer/director of the Cannes/Telluride hit A Separation, which SPC acquired in May; and Agnieszka Holland, the Polish director of the Holocaust drama In Darkness, which SPC acquired in February. I sat next to Barker and Hampton and across from Farhadi, and therefore got to pick each of their brains a bit.

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Barker Is Bullish on SPC Slate
Barker says there are few dramas made today that are as smart as Method, for which he credits both Hampton and Cronenberg, who he says will each get big awards pushes; he was also tremendously impressed with Mortensen's charisma as Freud, who he said he never imagined that way, but now realizes had to be the case. He is, of course, also thrilled with the critical and commercial success of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which was recently re-released in theaters and -- my words -- will probably end up being an even bigger Oscar player than Method.

Hampton Happy
I asked Hampton if he was responsible for Knightey being cast in Method, since she had also appeared in the last film that he wrote, the best picture Oscar-nominated Atonement (2007); he said he doesn't think he was consulted about it, but he was thrilled that she was ultimately cast, and feels that she is a far better actress than the press generally -- but particularly the often ruthless British press -- tend to give her credit for. He noted that Cronenberg is, not surprisingly, a little quirky (the director apparently requested a script of exactly 87 pages, but Hampton gave him 100 and let him cut down the rest), but an absolute joy to work with (he invited Hampton to visit the set whenever he wanted, so the writer spent a few days observing in-studio and on-location). Hampton was offered the option of going with the film to Venice or Telluride, and says he chose Telluride because he had fond memories of his last visit here 16 years ago. He said he was excited to see the film for only the second time (outside of the editing room) later that evening (and wound up introducing it at its second Telluride screening, as well).

Farhadi Feted
Farhadi fielded compliments left and right for his powerful film, which won the Berlin Film Festival in May, and which he will be accompanying to Toronto later this week, and -- if issues with his Travel Visa can be worked out -- to the New York Film Festival in October, as well.
He and I chatted about the city of Tehran, where he still lives for several months of the year (he spends the rest of his time in Berlin), and the unexpected upheaval that has been taking place, of late, throughout the Middle East.

Silent Era
Prior to the second screening of The Artist on Saturday, the festival's "ringmaster" at the Galaxy Theatre stepped up to the microphone to make a few remarks about the film... only, the mic wasn't working properly, so nobody could hear anything he was saying. Several members of the audience quickly shouted out that it was a perfectly appropriate way to introduce a silent movie!

Oscilloscope Reception
At a reception hosted on Sunday by Oscilloscope Laboratories to celebrate We Need to Talk About Kevin and its star Tilda Swinton, studio co-founder David Fenkel told me that he's excited not only for audiences to see Kevin, but also Rebirth, a powerful documentary about five survivors of September 11, 2001 that Oscilloscope will be distributing. We also chatted about Marshall Curry's excellent doc If a Tree Falls, another O-scope title, which I think is as deserving of Oscar attention as any doc that I've seen this year... although that doesn't necessarily mean anything with the Academy's documentary branch, which is famous for its weird selections and snubs.

Tilda Time 
Jeff Wells and I chatted for about 10 minutes with the woman of the hour herself, who was accompanied by her boyfriend and, as always, was sporting a stylish haircut and outfit. After chatting about Michael Clayton (2005), the film for which she won the best supporting actress Oscar, we got onto topic of her co-star from that film/fellow 2011 Telluride honoree George Clooney (noting that his latest film, The Descendants, ends with a long shot on him just like Clayton) and its writer/director Tony Gilroy (who is now at work on the fourth Bourne movie, only with Jeremy Renner instead of Matt Damon). Upon being half-jokingly asked, Tilda said that she -- one of the hallmark faces of artsy/indie cinema -- would indeed be open to starring in a big-studio action movie (think Salt) if it was directed by someone of Gilroy's caliber. She implied that she hates being put in a box by people, including one Telluride audience member who stated during a Q&A that, based on "the sort of movies that you make," he was curious to know what the last movie was that she bought a ticket to see. Her answer: Transformers 3.

Tilda Tribute 
After the O-scope affair, everyone moved over to the Sheridan Opera House, where a half-hour clip of several of Tilda's electic performances were shown -- although, inexplicalby, neither Broken Flowers (2005) nor Julia (2008) were featured, prompting Tilda, when she subsequently took the stage for a Q&A, to urge the audience to "Go out and see Julia!" (I concur.) Much of the discussion focused on her early work on experimental films with English director Derek Jarman, with whom she was very close, and whose death from AIDS left her reeling. She says she has a hard time thinking of herself as an actor -- she prefers "performer" -- and says she only acts now if she believes she will have the chance to work with an imaginative director and if she can find some personal connection to the material (which she says she often keeps from the press and even the director).

Sponsors Dinner 
Late on Sunday evening, Telluride residents and film festival sponsors Joseph, Diane, and Sarah Steinberg hosted a terrific dinner at their magnificent home up the street from the main street in town. (Joseph runs a huge holding company along the lines of Berkshire-Hathaway.) Among those in attendance were Swinton, former Academy president Sid Ganis, and many other sponsors, journalists, and assorted industry types (I chatted for a bit with a member of the Alloy Orchestra, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based ensemble that provides silent films, including one playing at Telluride this year -- not The Artist -- with musical accompaniment).

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