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The North American awards-industrial complex revved up again on Thursday in the Rocky Mountains — some 17 months after the pandemic largely shut it down — with the launch of the 48th Telluride Film Festival.
Interestingly, the first film to screen at the fest, and in the highly-coveted Patrons Preview slot — which has previously launched films like The Descendants, Argo, Wild and La La Land — was not one of the many films in this year’s lineup that is already the subject of considerable awards buzz: Michael Pearce‘s Encounter, starring Riz Ahmed, who was a serious contender for the best actor Oscar earlier this year for his work in Sound of Metal. And it remains far from certain if/how it will figure into the awards conversation.
Pearce, who won the best debut by a British writer, director or producer BAFTA Award for 2018’s Beast, here tackles a genre-hopping story, which he co-wrote with Joe Barton, that is essentially about a largely absent father who is nevertheless idealized and revered by his young children. It is, in many ways, very similar to Sean Penn‘s Flag Day, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival back in May — beat for beat, in several instances — only with an added sci-fi veneer.
As with Flag Day, the best performance in Encounter is given by the actor who plays the father (Ahmed), who can make almost anything interesting. (The British actor, despite being just 38, was to receive a career tribute at this year’s fest, but was ultimately unable to make it, for reasons that have not been shared.) But, also as with Flag Day, the film feels a bit heavy-handed and ultimately not up the traditional alley of the motion picture Academy.
The Telluride audience, which generally responds to films in a manner similar to the Academy, seemed — both during the screening and in conversation afterwards — largely mixed on the film, wowed by its opening sequence, which features impressive VFX, and to some degree by Ahmed’s performance, but not with the film overall.
Amazon, which released Sound of Metal, is also behind Encounter, and will next take it to the Toronto International Film Festival. No further release plans have been disclosed yet.
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