Put Yourself in Telluride's Hands

Mark Schoneveld/Flickr Creative Commons

A festival veteran weighs in on why the Colorado event is worth all the secrecy.

The guessing game is on as to what will be shown during the 38th edition of the Telluride Film Festival, the only major such event in the world that doesn't announce its lineup ahead of time. Such is the confidence in the Labor Day weekend event that Tom Luddy, now in league with Gary Meyer after years of running the show with Bill Pence, has built over the years that audiences trust him implicitly to deliver a program that is more than worth the effort and considerable monetary outlay necessary to get to the remote Colorado mountain town to spend 31/2 days in the dark when it's usually so gorgeous outside.

Virtually from the beginning, Telluride has performed an exquisite balancing act: between old and new, foreign and American, the esoteric and the accessible, the expected and the unknown. As at a great restaurant, it's best to just place yourself in the chef's hands and sample what's served. Some dishes are better than others, of course, but you can rarely say something was bad or a waste of time. Because of its limited duration, Telluride can afford to be discriminating, which only works to the benefit of the viewer.

Because of its maverick status, Telluride never felt much need to publicize itself, and it doesn't crow about world premieres, even though it's had some big ones. However, thanks to its position on the very cusp of what's now called the awards season, Telluride has become the much-sought-after first domestic stop for specialized films with Oscar dreams.

So what does that portend for this year? If Fox Searchlight continues to favor Telluride with its gems, it won't be a huge surprise if it sends along Alexander Payne's much-anticipated The Descendents (already announced for Toronto and New York). There are new films in the offing from previous Telluride invitees -- David Cronenberg, Steve McQueen, Andrea Arnold, Todd Solondz, Werner Herzog -- and Martin Scorsese's marathon documentary about George Harrison could be a good bet on the basis of the festival having world-premiered Scorsese's earlier documentary treatment of Bob Dylan. Of course, there will be la crème de la crème from Cannes, vintage treats, unexpected documentaries, oddball titles no one's ever heard of and a must-see program by the sorcerer of the archives, Serge Bromberg.

One thing is for certain: Based on past experience, this year will be worth everyone's while.

Telluride International Film Festival
Sept. 2-5
Venue: Sheridan Opera House