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Telluride Film Festival 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

The Telluride Film Festival 2008

Telluride 2008 seemed to lack the obvious Hollywood Oscar contenders of previous years. In fact, there were fewer American movies in general. This might be the consequence of the writers strike. Or it might be the consequence of the general malaise of the Hollywood studios which are still struggling to adapt to DVD's, hometheater and declining theater attendance. I've seen a couple of industry articles lately detailing the moves by the major studios as they shut down their small film or art film branches, laying people off and consolidating to their traditional business. This means more gambles on big blockbusters, not the type of film favored by the Telluride Film Festival.

On the technical front digital projection is still making only incremental gains at the festival, film still dominates by a wide margin. As usual the presentation was first rate. Dell replaced Apple as the premier sponsor of the festival. Dell added some public internet access and some kiosks sprinkled about town with up to the minute information about the numbers of folks already queued at the various theaters around town. The idea being that film goers could make more informed decisions and avoid getting shut out. Personally I did witness fewer shutouts and excessively long lines than last year but that is by no means a comprehensive survey, just what I observed at the movies I happened to attend.

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It's not possible to see all the movies you'd like to at Telluride, here are some films that I couldn't get to but won wide acclaim from folks I talked to while in line…

Slumdog Millionaire: the latest from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days) was universally praised.
American Violet: a movie with an important political message, perhaps lacking in the artistry department but still recommended by most.
I've Loved You for So Long: A French film starring Kristin Scott Thomas. Seemed to be much loved by those who saw it.

Here are the films I did see, roughly in the order of my favorite to least favorite. Some of these are older films and so are not likely to be seen in theaters but could be rented. The newer films are likely to be picked up for distribution to theaters if they haven't been already but that can be a slow process. Please excuse the graininess of some of the pictures, Telluride's new photo policy this year banned the use of flash.

Hunger (U.K., 2007)

Bobby Sands was a member of the Irish Republican Army who died on hunger strike while in prison in 1981. Those old enough to remember saw the process of self starvation play out on the nightly news. What they didn't see first hand was the conditions inside the prison during the preceeding  blanket and no-wash protests. The IRA criminals claimed political prisoner status and therefore refused to wear the supplied prison garb which would mark them as criminals and they refused to participate in prison life by not showering or washing themselves. The prison officials took it upon themselves to force hygiene on the prisoners. This movie by contemporary artist and cinematographer Steve McQueen is the height of cinema artistry with incredibly beautiful images of terrible situations and violence. The direction and performances are superb.

Flame and Citron (Denmark, 2008)

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The true story of two key members of Nazi resistance in Denmark. Impeccably crafted and beautifully shot the film opens with small amount of documentary footage from the German invasion of Denmark in 1940 and we see a bit more of that later and even though the documentary footage is in black and white it blends seamlessly because the rest of the movie takes you back to this time as well as any movie can. This is a film everyone should see. The violence level is high as befitting the actual events. Flame and Citron are two key but low level members of the resistance, carrying out assassinations as they are assigned. Trust is a rare commodity in a situation like this and the story proceeds with as much intrigue as any gangster movie you care to name. A remarkable true story.

Waltz With Bashir (Israel, 2008)

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An animated feature in documentary style with some interviews and animated recreations of battle scenes as the Isreali army accompanies the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia group to a Palestinian refugee camp within Lebanon in 1982. The animation is terrific and it is used quite skillfully to make the battle scenes all the more harrowing. Emotionally wrenching. Director Ari Folman spoke briefly before the film played: "I can't really say 'Enjoy' but hopefully the movie will take you on a journey as it did me."

Happy Go Lucky (U.K., 2008)

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It was not all war and suffering at this year's Telluride. This latest offering from English director Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets and Lies)  asks us to look at how we treat the emotionally wounded among us. With copious close-ups and the usual knock out performances that Mike Leigh gets from his actors this movie will stick with you. It will make you think and with any luck the solar-furnace sunny disposition of its main character (played by Sally Hawkins) will find a place within you. I was able to hear Mike Leigh talking about his movie making process at a lunchtime forum. He has an unusually long pre-production process where he works with the actors while the script is still in development, the script is written with the actor specifically in mind. The results are extraordinary.

Adam Resurrected (Germany-Israel, 2008)

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Getting back to the war theme, from director Paul Schrader (Auto Focus), Adam Resurrected stars Jeff Goldblum as German entertainer and magician who saves himself from execution while in Nazi concentration camp using his skills as an entertainer. With similar moral questions as last years excellent 'The Conterfeiters', Adam adds some magic realism and focuses more on the recovery than on the trauma. As such its message can be applied to us all. The setting is an institute established to aid the recovery of concentration camp survivors, Adam is the king of the roost but recovery means coming back to earth.

Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love (Senegal/France, 2008)

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You know Yassou Nadir's voice but you might not know that you know. You probably heard him first in the duet 'In Your Eyes' that he performed with Peter Gabriel. In Africa and especially his native Senegal he is the Beatles and Elvis combined. This film doesn't add much to the standard music documentary genre but it does add something extra, Yassou is a Muslim and an African, he is comfortable with his combination of those cultures but the same can't be said for everyone. If you have any interest in Yassou or world music it's a must see. Telluride attendees had the added benefit of a live concert immediately following the screening.

Philanthropy (Romania, 2001)

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This 2001 film from Romania (Filantropica) will not likely be in theaters nor can I find it on Netflix. So, I recommend it but chances to see it will be rare. Ovidiu is a high school teacher getting little respect from his students and not-enough money from his salary. He stumbles upon a unique way to make a buck and finds that he's living in a city of scammers. Quite distinct from the dark Romanian fare that we have become accustom to, this is an expertly crafted comedy.  Guest festival director Slavoj Zizek chose this film because of that distinction, he had a tendency to give away too many plot lines in movie introductions, causing some in the audience to cover their ears while he was talking.

Everlasting Moments (Sweden, 2008)

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This is a sepia toned and sepia themed movie based on the memoirs of Director Jan Troell's wife's grandmother (Maria Larsson). Jan Troell was the recipient of a tribute at this year's festival. The movie may seem to drag a bit as it follows the life time of this woman in Sweden in the early 19th century. But that is the nature of life-times and movies that show them. Even if you aren't a fan of such films (I keep thinking of 'Beaches' but there are many), there is historical significance here as the story is true. Alchoholism and the role of 'Temperance Societies' play a prominent role as does the plight of women when men seem to hold all the cards.  Much of the story centers around Maria's newly discovered talent for the emerging practice of photography. Some of the threads explored by the film are left hanging but as I said, there's a lot of ground to cover here.

Kisses (Ireland, 2008)

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Child actors just seem to get better and better. Either kids are getting smarter or watching TV too much. In any case, the incredible talent of the two child stars is what makes this movie possible. Starting on Christmas day in a poor section of Dublin, two pre-teen kids make their escape from abusive homes. The rest of the movie is about their attempts to get by on the streets of Dublin. While some of the events depicted are at the limits of believability, this is a movie after all and the production and talent are more than enough to make this worth watching.

Faraaq (India, 2008)

In 2002, long after India was divided into India and Pakistan by the British, tensions between Hindus and Muslims was still high, especially near the border region. A dispute over the payment or non payment for tea at a train station led to a riot and the burning of a train car killing 58 people. This led to further riots in the region with more than 1000 others killed. Faraaq follows several characters, Hindi and Muslim as they deal with the ongoing violence. This film portrays no one as saints and so will likely be unpopular with partisans on both sides in India. The film suffers from some stiff acting especially in the early scenes but it is adequately constructed and should draw you in by the end. Of course it's hard to find answers in situations like these but the film does offer a reason to lay down arms.

Helen (U.K., 2008)

This is an art film or experimental film but it turns out that some of the choices that make it such were economic rather than artistic. With a budget of about 1/10th that of a standard Hollywood film, the film  makers chose to save money in editing by using long takes and to save money up front by using many non professional actors even in key roles. In order to smooth the difference between professional and non-professionals, the actors are all instructed to keep their delivery flat, nearly monotonic. In spite of these severe restrictions the film does manage to have a moment or two as an orphan (in the British 'Care System' of foster homes) volunteers to be a stand-in for the police as they try to recreate the disappearance of a popular girl from a conventional family. Overall the film is though provoking from both an artistic standpoint and along the lines of its theme about being an outsider. However, the severe restrictions imposed by the directors choices will leave many in the audience behind.