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Telluride Film Festival: A Source of Good and Unusual Movies

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PAMELA GENTILE / COURTESY OF THE TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL
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The main difficulty for what to say about the Telluride Film Festival is where to start. So much film was good, and much of that was better than good. During the festival, when people asked what got to me, the first title that popped into my head was Errol Morris’s The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. Recent Morris films have taken on especially tough subjects – Robert McNamara and the war in Vietnam, the infamous photographs from Abu Graib prison in Iraq, and the unbelievable self-serving banalities about war pontificated by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known.

The B-Side is as penetrating as any of Morris’s films about the nature of photographic imagery, its relation to actuality and how photographs carry meaning long after they’re taken. The difference is that Elsa Dorfman is a thoroughly wonderful human being, who chooses to make photographs about people at good moments in their lives. She’s playful, very smart and a terrific photographer who for much of her career worked with Polaroid photography, including the large-size 20 X 24 inch camera.

It’s a pleasure to hear her talk – no pretentions, just straight and clear observations. Dorfman knew and photographed many of the beat poets and most of the good avant-garde artists from the late 1940s into the present. She took especially touching photos of Allen Ginsburg, whom she obviously adored, and the film includes voice mails from Ginsburg not long before he died. Morris himself said at the festival that he’s always interested in loss, decay and death, and in The B-Side those mediations have never been more touching or beautiful.

On the hilarious plane, which is not common at Telluride, is the new film Lost in Paris, made by and starring Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel. She’s Canadian, he’s Belgian; they’re both skinny and gawky, with expressions on their faces that suggest maybe Martians who took a wrong turn to get here, but have no idea where here is. Abel and Gordon met in clown school, and if you have not seen The Fairy, do it right away. Lost in Paris is daft and loony, with a story that has something to do with her aunt needing help and Abel being homeless, bizarre tango dancing on dinner boats in the River Seine, and the kind of comic physical play that you only see from Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and other great clowns.

The Telluride Film Festival presents three tributes each year – and the third usually goes to the least well-known of the three, which this time went to Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. His new film, Neruda, is about the heroic and beloved Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who bedeviled Chile’s fascists for years, fled the country for a while and finally died under maybe suspicious circumstances during the coup that deposed Salvador Allende.

Larraín’s film only imagines the time when Neruda, an elected senator, was hounded by the fascists until he fled the country. Neruda was an enthusiastic communist, who also lived a raucous life. The film makes no apologies and has no trouble showing Neruda as a carouser who could be arrogant and smug. The picture’s a magnificent jumble of dramatic scenes layered with music, dreamy sequences, a good dose of cynicism, and at times Neruda’s exquisite poetry. He’s chased by a solitary Chilean policeman who worries that he himself may be imaginary. It’s brilliant, exuberant, joyous filmmaking.

At the tribute ceremony, Larraín called Telluride the best film festival in the world. He may be right. Going to the Telluride Film Festival is to have too many choices to make, almost all of them good. A gorgeous 1927 silent film from Germany called Variety about jealousy among circus trapeze artists. The Pagnol Trilogy, three delicious warm-hearted melodramas from France in the 1930s. And from the great French director and film historian Bertrand Tavernier, My Journey Through French Cinema, three hours of magical insight and feeling.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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