Yesterday, I wrote a few thoughts about the uniqueness in setting and atmosphere of the Telluride Film Festival. For today’s festival diary—before getting into some thoughts about two films that have the festival abuzz—I’d like to write a little bit about the the very theaters that the films play in, as that adds to the charm of the already charming festival.
There are ten screening arenas in Telluride. And many of them are converted from other practical uses for the town. For instance, three of the theater rooms are school gymnasiums or rec centers, converted into a theater with temporary classic red-cushioned chair seating. Surprisingly, this does not make for an echoey viewing experience, each theater that I’ve attended at this festival—large or small— is fitted with a sound system and sound-proofing flats that is better than many theaters across the country.
The Telluride theaters are functionally placed into old opera houses, older movie theaters, and old hotels. And many are surrounded by beautifully maintained parks and streams. One theater is at the top of one of the mountains, and is only accessible via the gondola lift.
Another thing that is extremely rare about the presentation at Telluride Film Festival is that sponsors are only mentioned briefly over the microphone. No film is preceded by a montage of ads from the sponsors. After a discussion with the director and cast, it goes straight to the film. It’s small, but it’s certainly an additional way to highlight the laid back approach to this festival: it’s solely about the movies.
Speaking of movies, look below for thoughts on two films that have been major psychological talking points from the 42nd Telluride Film Festival; and a few that got great buzz but I was not able to attend.
Yesterday, I pointed out that Room was the most talked about film at the festival, and now I can officially say that Lenny Abrahamson‘s drama owned the Telluride Film Festival. More than 200 people were turned away after its fourth screening, and two more showings were added on the final day (today). That’s how strong the word of mouth is on this one. And now I can personally say, it does indeed live up to the hype.
Featuring astonishing performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, Room also has the most tense elongated sequence that I’ve seen in a theater since Josh Brolin’s river escape in No Country for Old Men. Room made me grip my seat, cover my mouth, hold my breath, and I damn near shouted at the screen. The tension is expert. And the drama that follows is truthful.
So what is Room? I actually think the less you know, the better, so here’s the basic set-up: Larson plays a mother who’s raising her son, Jack (Tremblay) in a shed that they’re being held captive in. Her son has never seen the outside world, and after his fifth birthday, she decides to let him know the reality of their situation—and they attempt to get out of “room”. The film is narrated from the child’s imaginative voice, and Abrahamson occasionally pivots the camera to be from his POV—and these moments are awe-inspiring.
Since Jack uses a succession of nouns to describe his living space, I’ll string together a bunch of adjectives to describe Room: harrowing, strong, truthful, lean, heartbreaking and (surprisingly) life-affirming.
‘Room’ will be released in Los Angeles and New York theaters on October 16, and expand to select cities thereafter; look for a more in-depth review from Collider during TIFF. Telluride was its World Premiere.
Cary Joji Fukunaga‘s True Detective follow-up is not life-affirming. In fact it makes you feel awful to live in a world where you know that the events depicted on the screen are actually close to reality for thousands of African children. Beasts of No Nation is an extremely brutal—but beautiful and extremely well made—loss of innocence tale. It begins with a lively, cute and imaginative scene of a group of boys passing the time by acting out various TV tropes behind a hollow television set. The boys are not in school because their unnamed African country is preparing for an encroaching war.
We meet the close-knit family of the young boy, Agu (Abraham Attah), in a series of warm familial scenarios, before he is separated from his mother and younger brother, and witnesses the death of his father and older brother—when the tanks and soldiers converge on their village. Alone in the jungle, Agu is discovered by a rebel unit that is mostly made up of children, and led by a sadistic Commandant (Idris Elba). Sparing his life, Agu is asked to fight on behalf of their rebel acronym which is in opposition of another acronym (the acronym names for the soldier groups—like NDF, PLF—are always changing, highlighting the idea that these are not wars between nations, but between always-emerging factions).
Fukunaga uses long takes for many of Agu’s brutal kills, as the child deliberates on whether or not he can (or should) kill the person in front of him. There is a scene in which he confuses a woman for his mother and walks around shaking his head, dizzy from the surrounding violence in the woman’s flat, unsure how to respond. This room to room long-take is more astounding in execution than the famous True Detective long-take, because there is a strong emotional connection to Agu—who cannot escape the violence around him.
Beasts of No Nation frames human ugliness and a child’s helplessness with a poetic beauty. It is a very difficult and devastating—but also an important and well-crafted—watch. Beasts of No Nation will linger in your brain long after it has hollowed you out.
‘Beasts of No Nation’ will play in select theaters on October 16, and be released on Netflix’s streaming service soon after; look for a more in-depth review from Collider during TIFF. Telluride was its North American premiere.
Closing Thoughts on Telluride: Telluride is the first film festival I’ve been at that I actually am not ready to leave. Alas, I have to. Despite being much more relaxed than other film festivals I’ve attended, it’s still very fast, though. Three nights to see movies, with a fourth day to catch-up on the more popular titles, that I am unfortunately flying on. So you do really have to choose what you see. And these are a few of the films that I heard many good things about but was not able to catch:
- Spotlight. A drama about the Boston Globe newsroom uncovering the decades-long Catholic priest sex abuse cover-up in their city; starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams, look for Collider’s coverage of the film from TIFF.
- Rams: An Icelandic film about two sheep ranching brothers who’ve not spoken for 40 years, but have to break their silence when a disease outbreak hits the farms in the area.
- Viva: A Cuban-set film that has been a crowd-pleaser at Telluride, following a hairdresser at a drag club, who dreams of becoming a drag queen but his father—who’s just re-entered his life—does not approve.
- Heart of a Dog. Laurie Anderson‘s documentary essay about life in New York post-9/11, surveillance culture, and the comfort she receives from her dog.
I’ve been told that Telluride handled their TBA section much different than in years past, where they announced new titles each night of the festival. This year all the additional screening times were filled with the more buzzed about films. Some titles that were rumored to appear here will instead be appearing at TIFF, perhaps as a peace offering between the two—very different—festivals that share many films, but are screened at Telluride first.
With Telluride a wrap, the fall Film Festival circuit is officially kicked off. The best films that I saw at the festival were Carol, Room, and Taxi—but Beasts of No Nation might leave the longest and most unshakeable mark in my mind. Stay tuned for more from the festival circuit when Steven, Adam, Matt, and Perri venture to TIFF this week.
In the meantime, check out this rare Telluride celebrity sighting.
Click here for all of our Telluride 2015 coverage. Click on the links below for my other reviews diary round-ups: