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As the metaphoric curtain rises on the 44th Telluride Film Festival, which is set to run Friday through Monday, the lineup of world premieres that will be unveiled in the Rocky Mountain town includes Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father, which re-creates life under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s; Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris‘ Battle of the Sexes, which stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell as tennis rivals Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs; Scott Cooper’s Western Hostiles, starring Christian Bale as an Army captain escorting a Cheyenne chief; Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, in which Gary Oldman steps into the shoes of Winston Churchill: and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, with Saoirse Ronan in the title role.
Additionally, such high-profile titles as Alexander Payne’s satirical Downsizing, starring Matt Damon; Guillermo del Toro’s spooky The Shape of Water; and Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete, in which Steve Buscemi plays a washed-up horse trainer, will be dashing to Colorado after debuting at the Venice Film Festival.
Francis Ford Coppola is also bringing a new cut of his Harlem-set The Cotton Club, which will be titled Cotton Club Encore, that includes footage he was forced to cut from the 1984 release version of the film. “It’s a wonderfully restored vision,” says festival executive director Julie Huntsinger. “It’s what everybody should have seen. Nobody should have seen the version he was required to release years ago. There are minutes that have been added back in — Lonette McKee singing ‘Stormy Weather’ — things the world was robbed of.”
The fest will present its Silver Medallion Awards, which include onstage tributes to Bale, who will be accompanying Hostiles to the event, and also to cinematographer Ed Lachman, whose two tribute sessions will be accompanied by, first, director Todd Haynes’ 2002 Far From Heaven and, then, Haynes and Lachman’s new film Wonderstruck. A Special Medallion also will be given to Katriel Schory, director of the Israeli Film Fund.
And what other festival has an Oscar winner curating its shorts program? But that’s just what Barry Jenkins, a long-standing member of the Telluride family, will be doing this year. After debuting Moonlight at 2016’s fest — the film, of course, went on to win the best picture Oscar, while Jenkins earned the best adapted screenplay trophy — the filmmaker has assembled the shorts program that first screens Friday evening, and, says Huntsinger, “He’s such a great human being — he’s as enthusiastic, organized and exceptional as ever.”
As for the overall shape of this year’s Telluride program, which per tradition was not released until Thursday as the weekend’s attendees were already heading to the mountains, Huntsinger says: “I love it. I think it’s eclectic and that’s how it should be. We have something for everyone — massive, imaginative, audacious films right next to tiny little glorious gems that you need to take time to absorb. There’s such a diverse selection from the wildly surreal like Downsizing to the quiet, majestic Western that is Hostiles. You really see the panorama of humanity, for sure.”
Asked what might be the biggest surprise for this year’s festivalgoers, Huntsinger cites Jolie’s First They Killed My Father, which is based on Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir: “It’s set in Cambodia, nobody speaks English, it is a tremendous accomplishment, a fantastic film.” Huntsinger explains that she watched the film with festival co-director Tom Luddy, “and we were thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be so interesting to have people see this film and not tell them who the director is and have their reaction be whatever it would be?’ I wish so much there was a way that could happen, but it won’t. But I think there will be a lot of emotional reactions to this stunning achievement.”
Among the other films that she predicts will have audiences talking, Huntsinger cites: Darkest Hour, saying, “People, having seen The Crown, may have thought John Lithgow delivered a Winston Churchill that was spectacular, but Gary Oldman — I don’t know how to find the right hyperbolic words to describe his performance, such magnificence”; Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in which Jamie Bell plays a young man who becomes enamored of film star Gloria Grahame, played by Annette Bening; and Lady Bird, in which Ronan plays a Sacramento high school student looking to escape her life.
There are films that wrestle with weighty subjects: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried as churchgoers who have each lost family members. And Barbet Schroeder’s documentary The Venerable W. looks at the tensions between Muslims and Buddhists. “It’s a frightful, awful subject, but he tells the story in a solemn, quiet way that devastates you over time,” Huntsinger says.
Other documentaries include a sampling of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s upcoming PBS series The Vietnam War — the fest is screening episode nine — and the filmmakers will take part in a conversation with Coppola. Also on the docket are all six episodes of Errol Morris’ new true-crime series Wormwood that is heading to Netflix and Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s Love, Cecil, a portrait of British photographer and designer Cecil Beaton.
As for animation, filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman are bringing Loving, Vincent, which is animated to look like a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, whose life it recounts.
Rounding out the main lineup are: Arthur Miller: Writer, directed by his daughter, Rebecca Miller; Christopher Quinn’s doc Eating Animals, based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer; the legendary Agnes Varda’s latest film, Faces Places; Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman; Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot; Rezo Gigineishvili’s Hostages; Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow; Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult; Camille Magid’s Land of the Free; Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless; Mohammad Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity; Aki Kaurismaki’s The Other Side of Hope; Chloe Zhao’s The Rider; and Kantemir Balagov’s Tenota.
Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) is serving as guest director and has selected the following titles: Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small; Jon Bang Carlsen’s Hotel of the Stars; Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter; Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Salam Cinema; Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies; and Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
In addition to Cotton Club Encore, other restorations and revivals will include Marcel Pagnol’s The Baker’s Wife, Aleksander Volkoff’s Kean, or Disorder and Genius and Carl Junghan’s Such Is Life.
The fest’s Backlot sidebar, which focuses on films about movie and artists, includes: Sophie Bassaler’s Cinema Through the Eye of Magnum, Tony Zierra’s Filmworker, Rudiger Suchsland’s Hitler’s Hollywood, Michael Weatherly’s Jamaica Man, Volker Schlondorff’s Portrait of Valeska Gert, Stacey Steers’ Edge of Alchemy, Anthony Wall’s Slim Gaillard’s Civilisation and Goran Hugo Olsson’s That Summer.
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