Intimate formula keeps Telluride riding high

No shortage of crowd-pleasers

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- It was business as usual at the 34th edition of the Telluride Film Festival, which came to a close on Labor Day after screening 33 features (plus an additional half-dozen bonus "sneaks") over the course of its four-day run.

Although it was the first year without co-founders Bill and Stella Pence, who announced their retirement at the end of last year's event, co-founder Tom Luddy and his new co-director, Gary Meyer, stuck with the intimate communal formula that has made Telluride one of the world's most unique, and consistently praised, film festival destinations.

While regulars cited the absence of a "wow" film on the level of last year's "The Lives of Others," which was discovered at Telluride and rode that initial buzz right into Oscar night when it was named Best Foreign Language Film, there was no shortage of festival favorites.

Among those titles receiving particularly enthusiastic response from audiences were Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," both Cannes award-winners, as well as Sean Penn's "Into the Wild," Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters" and the animated "Persepolis," based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel about coming of age in Tehran under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeni.

Audiences were also unanimously charmed by Cannes crowd-pleaser "The Band's Visit," by Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin.

But they were decidedly split on "I'm Not There," Todd Haynes' highly original take on the life and times of Bob Dylan during the height of his career. Whether they responded to Haynes' artistic vision, they were all in agreement when it came to Cate Blanchett's remarkable portrayal of the picture's main man.

Reactions were also mixed for "Margot at the Wedding," the latest dysfunctional family tragicomedy from "The Squid and the Whale" filmmaker Noah Baumbach. But again, there was a strongly favorable consensus in regard to the performances of leads Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a pair of estranged sisters.

As is the tradition at Telluride, in addition to the previously announced titles, audiences were also treated to a number of sneak previews that were only revealed the evening before they were shown.

This year's selection included Brian De Palma's Iraq War drama "Redacted"; Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages," starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman; and "Juno," Jason Reitman's follow-up to his well-received satire "Thank You for Smoking," with the latter two titles receiving the strongest reactions.

All three films will also be screened at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival.

It was trickier to see another sneak preview, namely Wayne Wang's "The Princess of Nebraska," which was screening at the same time as his well-regarded "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," Wang's other collaboration with acclaimed young author Yiyun Li.

Whatever the reception, longtime Telluride-goers found themselves having to show up earlier than ever for an increasing number of the screenings.

Even with the addition of a new venue -- the 72-seat Backlot, which was reserved for film-themed films -- veteran pass-holders complained of lining-up more than an hour in advance in front of the larger venues with no guarantee of getting in.

This year, the fest sold a record number of $3,500 Patron passes, giving priority seating to holders.

Once inside the theaters, it wasn't unusual to spot the likes of Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Penn, Robin Wright Penn and acclaimed theater director Peter Sellarscq taking in as many films as their schedules allowed.

This year's line-up of festival tributes, always a Telluride highlight, included the awarding of the Silver Medallion to Daniel Day-Lewis. Doing the presenting was Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed Day-Lewis in the upcoming "There Will Be Blood." The packed house was treated to a 17-minute preview of the movie based on the Sinclair Lewis novel.

Those who attended the Telluride tribute to legendary film and TV composer Michel Legrand found themselves captivated by an impromptu half-hour performance at the piano, with Legrand throwing in a little singing along with intriguing professional anecdotes.

Accompanying the Legrand program were screenings of "Five Days in June" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort," but given those abrupt weekend cloudbursts that go with the altitude, perhaps "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" would have been a more fitting selection.