I just returned from the Telluride Film Festival, which has become, during my 47 years attending it (I missed the first year), one of the premiere film festivals in the world. And still, after all these years it remains true to its roots as almost a “family” affair as staff and volunteers return year after year. This year they added an extra day, starting on the Thursday before Labor Day. In addition to a few Hollywood pictures there was a plethora of documentaries, independent, foreign and classic films (there were even two silent films). Virtually every film had a director, actor or producer in attendance.
The festival grew in another way this year too, they bought the historic building that houses the Nugget Theater, Telluride’s only year round movie house which the festival has run for years. Rumors circulated about what was going to happen — added screens, or maybe filmmaker residences where they can work on films away from the frenetic pace of big cities. The festival’s offices will be moved to Telluride, which brings to mind our upcoming film festival.
Founder Ellen Kohner Hunt founded Filmfest as a festival for Aspenites. Over the years this has become problematic as more and more communities started their own film festivals — to the point where studios and filmmakers began to choose which ones best served their interests, i.e. which ones got the word out about their films and created media buzz. Aspen’s fest can ride the coattails of our town’s name recognition, but I fear today it is not enough. Filmfest needs to grow.
Mel Blumenthal, in his column a couple of weeks ago, did Filmfest and Aspen no favors when he opined that movie theaters were dead and that the city’s attempt to save the Isis was a frivolous waste of money. For Filmfest to grow, the Isis screens must stay. Mel says with all the online films available without leaving home no one will make the extra effort to go out to movies. I remember another time when movie theaters were said to go the way of dinosaurs. It was the early 1950s and television stations were cropping up all across America. People would watch movies from the comfort of the home — theaters were a thing of the past.
Mel complained that neither the city nor Aspen Film would know how to run a movie theater. Balderdash! It’s easy. I’ve done it successfully for years and without the big Hollywood pictures. Film festivals deal with studios and distributors all the time. To guarantee its future Aspen Film needs the Isis. We need the Isis. There will always be a market for the big-screen experience, with the great sound and viewing without distraction in the dark.
Oh, and what was my favorite film this year in Telluride? “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song.” Another doc that was excellent was “The Real Charlie Chaplin.” In the narrative category Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” (yes he was there) was excellent as was “The Duke” starring Helen Mirren.” So many films, so little time. Hollywood isn’t going away and neither should we.