More From Telluride – Or How I Choose The Films I Review

Sep 14, 2018

When I told a friend about the films at the Telluride Film Festival which I thought were important, he said that in what he’d read, none of those films had been mentioned. So, he asked why.

There are only a few festivals with Telluride’s status -- Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, Venice -- even though it’s much smaller, has no competitions, does not do glitzy red-carpet galas, or make a fuss for the press. Telluride is hard to get to. You may feel locked in when you’re there, and that box canyon is so beautiful, you can feel overwhelmed by the natural beauty as well as by the art. Telluride also goes for only three and a half days, over Labor Day weekend, and it shows just a fraction of the number of films those other festivals put on display. But the movies are chosen with great care, and they’re mixed in with unexpected documentaries, restored older films and pictures that will never show up in conventional theaters. 

This year, Telluride showed The Other Side of the Wind, a movie Orson Welles – the maker of Citizen Kane – started 48 years ago and never finished. It’s become legendary. A group of people helped to get this movie finished, finally, and it showed at Telluride and at Venice a day earlier. And Telluride also showed two documentaries about how The Other Side of the Wind was finished after all those years.

At the same time, Telluride showed the actress Emma Stone’s new picture The Favourite, White Boy Rick, and a few other movies with serious advertising budgets and stars who catch large audiences and press coverage. But I can’t see going all the way to Telluride to see films that will be in hundreds of theaters in a month, or two weeks. I have nothing against movies with Emma Stone, who got a tribute at Telluride, or Matthew McConaughey, but White Boy Rick  opens today.

It’s also been true for many decades that if the critics in The New York Times do not praise a movie, there’s a good chance that picture will not show up in a theater around here. It will eventually be available from one of the streaming services, and it MAY get a week at The Alamo Drafthouse, one of the Landmark Theaters, or one of the specialty theaters, but the theatrical release will go pretty much unnoticed.

Will The Other Side of the Wind play on a full movie screen, so you can see it as it should be seen? I hope so. The French director Alice Guy, a woman filmmaker who started in the late 1890s, was the first movie director ever to have a credit on screen. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché will not be a hit at your local theater, but it’s important and interesting – and not just for a film critic. The same is true for Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh’s Graves without a Name, Hirozaku Kore-eda’s Shoplifters or Mike Leigh’s Peterloo. As a film critic, and as a lover of film, I must see and talk about these movies. Otherwise, I’m just part of the commercial apparatus and I perpetuate the story that movies really don’t matter to human life and are simply easy ways to pass the time.

That’s why I talk about the films I do – films like these treasures from Telluride, or The King, the brilliant documentary about Elvis Presley, or the nasty little British film The Bookshop. It’s not that these movies are good for people, like medicine, or that I think expensive commercial releases are somehow less than so-called “art films.” These films with small advertising budgets sometimes have a complex richness. They can be real art and real entertainment at the same time. You might come out of Shoplifters changed somehow, and glad for it.