Telluride Unveils Lineup of Films to “Fight About”

Telluride Unveils Lineup of Films to “Fight About”

A tribute to Cate Blanchett, a Sam Mendes romance set in a cinema house and a bumper crop of documentaries are on the agenda at the 49th edition of the Telluride Film Festival, which kicks off Friday in the Rockies and runs through Monday.

The intimate Colorado event serves as the unofficial stateside kickoff of awards season, but Telluride may be most notable this year for the arguments its movies start, says festival director Julie Huntsinger.

“There’s so many more divisive films,” says Huntsinger, who programs Telluride together with Tom Luddy. “There’s so much more angst. There’s just tumult and upheaval in the world, and it’s reflected in the films. People will fight about movies this year more than they ever have.”

Among the movies screening at Telluride that may spark furious debates in theater lobbies are Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, which stars Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Frances McDormand in a Mennonite #MeToo story; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths), a Mexican tragicomedy with a nearly three-hour running time; and Matthew Heineman’s documentary Retrograde, about the last months of the U.S.’s 20-year war in Afghanistan. 

Huntsinger and Luddy have programmed a slate that includes the first public screenings of Mendes’s Empire of Light, starring Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward, and Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder, a drama that stars Florence Pugh as an English nurse investigating a starving girl.

Also planned are silver medallion tributes to Polley, who is bringing her fourth feature as a director; Blanchett, who comes to the festival with Todd Field’s drama Tár, in which she plays the conductor of a German orchestra; and prolific Irish documentarian Mark Cousins, who is screening two new films, The March on Rome, about Mussolini’s rise to power, and My Name is Alfred Hitchcock, about the English director.

Some movies that premiered at European festivals will make their North American debuts, including Luca Guadagnino’s coming of age film Bones and All, starring Timothée Chalamet, which will screen first at Venice; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s South Korean drama Broker, which won Song Kang-Ho the best actor award at Cannes in May; and James Gray’s period drama Armageddon Time, starring Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong, which also screened at Cannes.

This year’s Telluride will look quite different from the 2021 festival, where COVID protocols dominated, with the festival requiring proof of vaccination, a negative COVID test within 72 hours and masks worn indoors. This year Telluride is making no such demands. “I hope everybody wears a mask and I think that many people will, but we’re approaching [COVID] the way the rest of the world is approaching it, that it’s endemic,” Hunsinger says. 

The pandemic is still playing a role in the festival world, however, in ways large and small. Productions are more reluctant to release actors from shoots to promote their films — producers wouldn’t allow Chalamet and Pugh, who are both shooting the Dune sequel in Europe, to fly to Telluride for their movies. The town of Telluride enjoyed a real estate boom during the pandemic that has priced out much of its labor force, and raised housing costs for many Telluride ticket holders, a trend which worries Huntsinger. “I never want this to turn into something where people who don’t have Gulf Streams cannot attend,” she says. And even supply chain issues have hit the fest—this year there won’t be Boylan soda, one of its concession mainstays.

Last year’s Telluride slate reflected a post-Covid boom, as producers and distributors who had held back their movies until theatergoing resumed unleashed a bumper crop. This year the supply of movies has been lower, reflecting the stalling of productions during the pandemic. 

But, Huntsinger says of Telluride’s slate, “We’re always gonna be like Bordeaux. Even in a bad year we’ll have a good vintage.”

The lineup is particularly heavy on documentaries this year, including Bryan Fogel’s follow up to his 2017 Oscar winning Icarus, Icarus: The Aftermath, which catches up with whistleblowing Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov; Steve James’s A Compassionate Spy, about a Manhattan Project scientist; Ryan White’s Good Night, Oppy, about the Mars rover that outlived expectations; Matt Tyrnauer’s The End of the World, about Bennington College in the 1980s; and Eva Weber’s Merkel, about German chancellor Angela Merkel.

A few of the docs come with parental ties: Robert Downey Jr. is bringing a movie about his filmmaker father called Sr., directed by Bad Vegan director Chris Smith; Mary McCartney directs If These Walls Could Sing, about Abbey Road Studios, where her father, Paul, recorded with the Beatles; and Ondi Timoner directs Last Flight Home, about her father’s assisted suicide.

Dissident Russian filmmakers Kantemir Balagov and Kira Kovalenko will be presenting a slate of films as the festival’s guest directors, drawing from the cinema of Iran (1987’s Where is the Friend’s Home?), France (1934’s L’Atalante) and the Soviet Union (1978’s Getting to Know the Big, Wild World).

The festival will also celebrate one of its most distinguished regulars this year, Werner Herzog. The German director will mark his 80th birthday here with two films of his own screening —The Fire Within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft, about two French volcanologists, and Theater of Thought, about the human brain — as well as a movie that is about him, Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, directed by Thomas von Steinaecker. Herzog has been coming to Telluride nearly every year since 1975, and one of its premier theaters, which is also a hockey rink, is named in his honor.