One of the primary charms of the small but mighty Telluride Film Festival has always been its chance meetings. Sharing a gondola ride with an auteur. Trading theater line gossip with an exec. Reaching for the same hat at that shop on Colorado Ave. as an Oscar winner (it looks better on her, obviously).
But this year, thanks to Hollywood’s dual strikes, Telluride arrives with a high potential for awkwardness. And that’s because everybody in the business … kind of hates each other right now. At least judging by social media, picket-line signs and dueling press statements.
Telluride kicks off its 50th annual festival on Thursday in the Rockies, with an extra day of programming ending Monday. This year’s slate of Oscar hopefuls, including the first public screenings of films like Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers (Focus Features), Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn (Amazon) and George C. Wolfe’s Rustin (Netflix) it’ll be the first time many key players in the U.S. film industry have convened since the Screen Actors Guild joined the Writers Guild in striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers July 14.
“This is where we physically come together, and you’re going to have to not recoil, and you can’t hide behind social media,” says Telluride director Julie Huntsinger. “You can’t hide behind anything but your smile or lack thereof, and you have to face people.”
Despite the strike, actors will be attending, Huntsinger says, some of whom appear in films covered by one of SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreements, which allow them to promote work made for companies that are not AMPTP members. But in a sign of what a delicate moment it is in Hollywood diplomacy, Telluride’s printed program won’t name the actors who plan to be there this year, as it usually does.
“There’s going to be plenty of sparkle and glitter in places, but we didn’t list any of it in-person, because I don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable,” Huntsinger says. “You’ll see in the Q&As, if people decide to get up on stage. You’ll see in the intros, if they want to make themselves known. You’ll also see a lot of people sitting in the audience just like a regular pass holder, enjoying the festival. Their faces just might be really familiar to you.”
Films screening for the first time at Telluride include Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Nyad, a biopic of swimmer Diana Nyad starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster (Netflix); Jeff Nichols’ motorcycle movie The Bikeriders, which stars Tom Hardy and Austin Butler (Disney/20th Century Studios); Andrew Haigh’s romantic fantasy All of Us Strangers starring Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal (Searchlight); Kitty Green’s thriller The Royal Hotel, with Julia Garner (Neon); Christos Nikou’s sci-fi drama Fingernails, starring Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White (AppleTV+); and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Annie Baker’s Janet Planet, starring Julianne Nicholson (A24).
Acquisitions titles making their debuts at Telluride include Wildcat, Ethan Hawke’s biopic of Flannery O’Connor starring his daughter Maya as the novelist and Laura Linney; Christy Hall’s Daddio, with Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn; and Robert Kenner and Melissa Robledo’s Food Inc 2, a sequel to the 2008 Oscar-nominated documentary on corporate farming.
Other documentaries that will bow at the festival include Kevin Macdonald’s High & Low—John Galliano (MUBI), about the controversial British fashion designer and JR’s Tehachapi, an acquisitions title about an art project at a prison.
The last several years, at least two of the festival’s silver medallion tributes would go to actors, but because of the strike Telluride has pivoted this year and is honoring all filmmakers — Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose Emma Stone film Poor Things (Searchlight) will have just premiered at Venice, Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher, whose period romance La Chimera (Neon) premiered at Cannes in May and German filmmaker Wim Wenders, whose documentary Anselm (Janus) and narrative film Perfect Days (Neon) premiered at Cannes.
This year’s festival is the first since two of Telluride’s founders, Tom Luddy and Bill Pence, died and the focus on filmmakers, though driven by the strike, is in some ways a return to the kind of festival they launched in 1973. “We’ve always been a really auteur-centric festival,” Huntsinger says. “I’m so proud to continue what they started.”
Prominent filmmakers who have a history with the festival are also serving as guest directors this year, with Alfonso Cuaron, Adam Curtis, Hawke, Rachel Kushner, Steve McQueen, and Mira Nair curating a selection of older films.
The festival will also include the first North American screenings of Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall (Neon), which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest (A24), which won the Grand Prix.
Amid the strikes, Huntsinger says she has asked industry festival sponsors to continue their financial support, but without the branding bump they usually get from backing festival venues. “We asked for no logos, no signage,” Huntsinger says. “I want people to feel like Telluride is Switzerland. Let’s take away all the business of it. Let’s come and have a birthday party, and love movies.”
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