Fighting The Good Fight: Films of Telluride (12 Years A Slave, Prisoners, Blue, and More)

This year’s lineup at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival was nothing short of epic.  The amount of diversity and talent introduced this year was immensely overwhelming, and such wide range of styles and artistic value was truly an impressive thing to witness.  As an awards junky, I couldn’t help but squeal being able to see some of these films that have such huge Oscar implications but aren’t coming out for months.  But getting past those few layers, I tried to allow myself to appreciate the film itself and not worry about how the film will play out in front of the Academy.  Overall, I didn’t hate any film, on the contrary, I thought I appreciated almost everything I’ve seen.  Maybe it’s my change of attitude to the creative process of filmmaking, but overall, I haven’t had any kind of cinematic experience like I had in Telluride, and I’m pretty sure nothing will come close…until I go back of course.

12 Years A Slave

Easily the movie everyone is talking about.  I’m a fan of Steve McQueen, and his earlier work qualifies himself as a natural artist, but integrating himself into a story like Solomon Northup is quite innovating but yet understandably sensible, and there’s no other director I would’ve rather have seen take this story and making into something more.  I greatly appreciated his ability to put the audience and his main protagonist with a little bit of separation emotionally.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some scenes in the film that make you cry and destroy you inside, but overall, there isn’t this automatic connection we have with Northup, and at first, I was a little confused by that.  I thought it would easily be about how the audience will relate and throw themselves to the screen for this unbelievable true story about survival and hope, but McQueen doesn’t use cheap tactics to get his story more appealing.  The free African-American who was enslaved illegally for 12 years has enough gravitas to be the centerpiece, and McQueen allows it to be, which is a lot easier said than done.  With some pretty career-defining performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o and consistently solid work from Michael Fassbender, we have a tour de force here.  I had some issues with the film (the music sounds like Inception!) as I do with any film, but overall, it’s immaculate work that deserves much praise.  Don’t be surprised if we already have our Best Picture winner (as it should).

Prisoners

Although it was already released in the States by now so much of my opinions or thoughts on the film is meaningless (that may be true for all films), I thought Prisoners played like a really well done thriller.  I love Dennis Villeneuve’s direction in this well crafted film about child abduction and a father’s rage that consumes him.  I’m not sure if it was The Palm’s intense sound system, but the film is one of the most suspenseful experiences I’ve had at a theater.  I’ve never been on the edge of my seat more than I’ve had in Prisoners, and it’s a testament to characters and the look & feel of the film itself.  The ending felt a little too “of course” for me, and it be almost two hours and 30 minutes is a little redundant, but Prisoners took me out of my seat and gave me an entertaining show.  Awards implications?  Not really.  Even in a less competitive year, I’d say it’d be a long shot, but especially this year?  No way.  But it’s going to do well in the box office so hip hip.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

My favorite film of Telluride.  I literally want to write a thesis on this film, from all the different themes and elements it portrays about love, humanity, sexuality, and all things surrounded on the coming-of-age story.  It is the best coming-of-age story I’ve  ever seen, and it plays out as one of the best human dramas ever seen on screen.  Big words I’m stating, but as the film plays out on screen, it sent me to another dimension, letting go of all the films I saw prior, and totally divulging into this story about Adele and her discovery of her own identity.  The two leads in Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are incredible, allowing these characters to become their own selves, and getting the simplest of details on point.  It’s debatable how people will react to watching something like this, especially with the controversial 10-15 minute lesbian sex scene that has been labeled as “grotesque, gratuitous, and borderline pornography”.  First off, if you’ve seen porn, you’ll know this is not porn.  And second, the sexual connection the two characters have is rare and special, having it be a part of their foundation in their relationship, and that chemistry and sexual intensity that they have is a necessary component for us as audience members to see.  I don’t argue with people who may see it the other way, it’s a truly polarizing film, but for me, it worked in every way imaginable, and this was the one film that entranced me in ways I’ve rarely ever been in movies.  Only the French can make movies like this.  What a shame for the States.  Awards?  Maybe.  Winning Cannes helped, but I can imagine the Academy not doing so well with French lesbian films.

Gravity

If there was a real polarizing film in regards to audience reactions, Gravity wins the award for it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an unreal visual journey that we are taking with Sandra Bullock’s character, and the film itself is a complete 90-minute thrill ride, never letting go of its audience in ways that may be completely new for people.  I’ll say this: some are going to completely love this movie, and some are going to hate it.  For those who hate it, before we start criticizing the film for what it was and how it ended, you need to ask questions before labeling and operating on the film, and why the story took us there.  It’s so easy to point out different reasons why a film doesn’t work, but in general, you need to ask these difficult questions and try to see the purpose in it all.  I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t a huge fan, which broke my heart cause Alfonso Cuaron is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, but as I gave myself more time to think about it, the film is one giant metaphor, and my issues with the film started to heal as I thought about the choices and the reasons things were done.  It made me actually appreciate those pinpoints more, and my overall feel for the film is very much in appreciation.  When it comes out in a week, I think I’ll have a more firm understanding of where I stand, but if anything, the execution of Gravity is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and visually, it’s up there with anything we’ve ever seen before on screen.  Gravity will be a frontrunner throughout the awards season, and look for a large amount of nominations.

Nebraska

Alexander’s Payne newest installment, Nebraska is a different kind of drama that doesn’t necessarily fit the filmmaker’s typical style or direction, but I really appreciated what he did here.  Considering this is the first film he’s done that’s not from his own original writing, I can see the stark change and tonal diversities, which was interesting to watch as you sometimes felt this wasn’t a Payne film, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  What I love about Nebraska is the simplicity of its story and its characters, never overdrawing or over-complicating a family’s situation more than it needs to be.  Bruce Dern puts on a heck of performance, saying less than usual, but being more powerful.  I don’t know how well it’ll do come awards time because of the competition this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it being snubbed in some of the major categories.

It’s almost impossible to discuss about all the films I watched, including Labor Day by Jason Reitman, All Is Lost by J.C. Chandor, The Past, and the beautiful Ida. but in general, all these films left a mark, and I greatly respect and adore these filmmakers and what they’re able to transpire on film.

Top Five of Telluride

1.  Blue Is The Warmest Colour

2.  The Past

3.  Ida

4.  12 Years A Slave

5.  Labor Day

Surviving the Telluride Film Festival & Its Life-Changing Moments

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This is an extremely late post, considering its been almost three weeks now since the 40th Annual Telluride Film Festival has closed shop.  There is not enough time or words to describe the entire experience, that’s something very few people will have enough patience to ever hear or understand.  I’ve been meaning to try and express it all in a blog post, but I feel that I may write a novel instead of an entry.  But simply put, Telluride easily changed my life, but in very particular ways.

First off, Telluride is a such a beautiful pure place.  Surrounded by mountains, rivers, and some of the most picturesque landscape I’ve ever seen, it amazes me that a legitimate film festival takes place every year there.  Not necessarily because of its small size or its intimate community, but mainly how polarizing it sometimes feel to be spending most of your hours watching a screen instead of soaking in the outdoors.  You compare that to the typical nature of American cinema, that clash like two trains heading in different directions.  But then the beauty of Telluride and its correlation with the festival is the emphasis in the art.  I heard so much about how TFF is all about films and nothing else.  No press, no paparazzi (except from the passholders), and no bullshit.  The focus here is about movies, and the purity of the festival goes hand-in-hand with the purity of the town.  It’s such a revelation to experience something like this, where the combination of two such important aspects is a small glimpse of heaven.  I mean, who can ask for anything better than movies and nature?  It’s a rare equation that works so beautifully, and just having that kind of atmosphere alone made the whole trip worth the money and the journey (though it wasn’t as difficult as one would presume).

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The symposium itself was quite the interesting experience, as I’ve never been engaged in such intense and diverse discussions about the artform.  I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t necessarily all positives for me, as I needed time for myself to just contemplate and divulge through my own meditative ways, but overall, the privilege of watching a wide range of films from different countries and cultures with an immensely intelligent and thought-provoking group was a huge blessing.  Being thrown into a room full of people you’ve never met before, it’s uniqueness is understated and is easily worth the application process.  The people in general were pleasant and gave me ton of perspective.  I learned so much that I thought my head was going to explode, and one day I literally thought I was going to pass out.  Though there were struggles with certain criticisms, strong-armed opinions, and a sense of film snottiness that almost overpowered the entire week, at the end of the day, it was such a rarity to be given such a gift that I felt nothing more than just overall gratitude to be a part of it all.  Everyone comes in with different backgrounds, understandings, cultures, beliefs, etc.  Then add in the particular trait of passion and love for film, you get a melting pot of ideas and opinions that always provide for some mind-bending conversations.  As an aspiring writer, there’s nothing better more important than listening to people.  It’s one of my most important activities and methods that I partake in in regards to inspiration and the creative spirit.  Perspective is such a crucial part of my writing identity, mainly because I don’t want rely on my own to be the main source of material.  I may not have gotten much progress done specifically with my own stories or work, but being part of the symposium opened my eyes in so many ways and in so many different levels.

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What I really adored however was the symposiums with the filmmakers and discussing with the symposium alumni.  With the former, it was unreal hearing Asghar Farhadi or Werner Herzog talk about films, their methods, and how the process works for them.  To be given an opportunity to just sit down in a classroom and just listen to these incredible individuals speak was indescribable.  When would I get an opportunity to ask questions to Ken Burns or Steve McQueen (this was during a public discussion for the entire film festival)?  In general, the festival is so intimate that filmmakers, actors, and directors all rub shoulders with the general public, which in itself is amazing.  Watching Jason Reitman get sent to the back of the line for Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known was hilarious and mind-blowing at the same time.  Sitting next to Alexander Payne and talking to him for about 10 minutes with a fellow student before the Polish film Ida (which was one of my favorites of the entire festival) was truly a special moment in my life.  Discussing movies with these immaculate and talented people gave me a real sense of normality to them.  Yes, they are some of the most renown faces of film and the entertainment industry, but they are also human beings.  They have their families, their own hobbies, and their own lives to take care of, and the way they get their films made in as much of a struggle as it is for us lowly folk to just break in.  Nothing comes easy in this line of work, and if you really want it, you must work your ass of constantly and you must stay committed to it.

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Though talking to celebrities and filmmakers was exciting all in itself, being able to talk to the past student symposium participants and see where their lives have taken them was also just as gratifying.  Being given advice, seeing their line of work, and just speaking honestly with more mature and wiser individuals was so important.  I learned and took away so much from them, and regardless of how far these relationships will take me, that time I got to spend with them was itself one of the more important memorable experiences that I had at Telluride.  These people have so much to say, and sometimes people don’t give them the time of day, but it just showed me the necessity I need to have in being open and be willing to connect with an array of people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, etc.  But all those supposed barriers aside, and just connect with another person.  That was special, and I hope to continue to build off of what I learned from that.

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There were many instances and moments throughout those six days that I wish I could overly dissect and share, but I’m getting a headache just thinking about Telluride (in a good way).  From waiting in lines and talking to random strangers, taking a hike and witnessing Telluride’s beauty from up above, riding the gondolas at 1 a.m. after Blue Is The Warmest Colour screening (my favorite film of the festival), and running through a rain storm after the Punch Brothers concert where we were a few meters away from the Coen Brothers.  It doesn’t get much better than the Telluride Film Festival.  As an aspiring writer and filmmaker, I learned and took away so much that adds to my motivation, my necessary involvement in this line of work, and just who I am as a person and how that reflects what I want to create.  Take all the run-ins and pictures, the films, and all the people that I met away from me, I still will have gained something so precious, which is a better sense of identity.  I know myself better, not just from a writer or filmmaker’s point of view, but my own satisfactions in life and what I want to pursue and achieve.  Watching The Past and discussing such deep conversations with Farhadi revealed to me how much I want to share his emphasis in humanity and the individual’s story.  Talking briefly with Alfonso Cuaron and how much he cared about the smaller films allowed me to understand that the superficial benefits like box office returns, critical acclaim, and awards are not the priorities in filmmaking.  The foundation should always be in the story and in the art, regardless of how successful or disappointing the result may be.  And most importantly, be proud and honest to who you are.  Don’t shy away from the things you enjoy or like just because the majority may not support those arenas.  Standing on your own two feet and weathering whatever comes at you is such a vital ability, not just as an artist, but as as a person in general.  There’s always going to be negativity, disinterest, and lack of support from different groups of people, but the person you must be most connected to and support is yourself.  There’s always room to be better, but let that journey take its own pace, and constantly grow in ways that will help you.

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The untold theme of the festival was easily survival, as films like All Is Lost, Gravityand 12 Years A Slave obviously take its specific theme.  But all the other films that played through Telluride told survival stories about love, passion, identity, family, structure, etc.  It’s not just about surviving and weathering the storm, but it’s about the aftermath, and how you as a person will stand.  In all these films, the protagonists attached themselves to one specific thing that kept them going.  If it was from family, their significant other, fame, or freedom, it pushed them to not quit but strive for their goals.  Telluride has given me such an experience where I’m ready to not just survive, but so excel and succeed in writing, film, and as a person.  And success as an individual doesn’t come from fame, money, or qualifications, but through my own character.  Though I dreaded the end of September (because I have no clue what I’m doing next), fear is not an option anymore, and I’m excited for where the road leads.

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(I will blog about the films on the next post).