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).

The Origin of Greatness: Prometheus Review

There’s something to be said about our beginning.  The most important question ever asked by man, “where do we come from?”  As a Christian, it’s pretty self-explanatory my beliefs and where I personally believe mankind started.  For others, it could be the idea of evolution, the big bang theory, aliens, etc.  Whatever we believe, we believe it for a specific reason.  And whatever reason it may be, from peace and acceptance to full on faith, we believe in something, especially our creation and where we come from, because it provides us with purpose.  Where we come from dignifies our motivation to live, to work and to accept our destiny/fate or to accept life as it comes.  Prometheus explores these ideas, these simple but abstract and largely debated ideas.  The line David says, “Big things come from small beginnings” is a continuous theme throughout the film, and strongly rings its presence continuously.

If there’s one thing we are fascinated with as viewers/audiences, it is the presence of mythology.  A story that belongs in not just one episode or film, but borders along lifelong realities, the possibility of something greater than one’s self.  Shows like Lost or films that include Harry Potter, Star Trek, and The Avengers (and all the other superhero films that its under) allows many individuals (mostly geeks) to submerge oneself into a world that seems so distant and farfetched, but yet, so believable.  This is the exact reason why Harry Potter is loved and adored by so many ranging from the young to the old.  It is a world that is impossible, but yet fully capable of being true.  The Alien mythology that everyone has been craving unfortunately is not necessarily fully provided in Prometheus (though it has an amazing reference to it).  But the mythology is present.  Though it’s not really a prequel, it is under the same universe where these “creatures” co-exist and have some sort of purpose.  This all connects as the mythology of Prometheus is the origin of mankind.  Where do we come from?  Why were we created?  Who created us?  All of this is the sole reason the adventure takes place.

Prometheus, the name of the ship, is led by a crew of 17 passengers that include scientists, geologists, medics, pilots, security, and of course, a drone.  Played by the ultra-talented Michael Fassbender, his performance as David is acting at its best.  Though it may seem to be that Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) or Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) may demand the most screen time, David’s presence is what commands the ship and truly is irreplaceable.  Their destination, an undisclosed planet that took over two years to arrive, is believed to be the origin of our existence, as evidence provides this in pictographs simulating similar patterns provided by different civilizations spread across time.  As they reach this planet, their excitement and fascination with this origin is ultimately their doom, as they are slowly revealed, that this is not merely about answers to questions that have existed over the period of Earth, but a closer introduction to their end.

It’s so hard to try and stay spoiler-free in this review, just because there’s so many twists and turns that is constantly presented to the audience.  The premise seems simple, but as the plot is being played out in front of our eyes, the mythology of this world, the presence of these questions, grows imminently and to proportions that are much greater than the original question we asked before.  This is a film that doesn’t provide answers to these questions, it doesn’t supply us with an end, only a continuation of our curiosity.  If you’re looking for the final chapter to a story, a mythology, a purpose to this world, than Prometheus will frustrate you to new heights.  But as this may grow as an agitating characteristic, this for me personally, is one of the reasons why I call Prometheus one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen.

A film that can make you think is something any director, producer or writer should reach as their number one priority.  A seed to the mind is what extends a film’s legacy.  The bigger the seed, the better the film.  And as a filmmaker, you provide just enough to let this idea grow, but you never let the audience see its end-product.  The goal is not to provide the viewers with answers, but to allow them to search for one.  Prometheus excels in this euphoric but often frustrating experience.  The entire film, from beginning to end, is a wondrous and often time, escalating journey that pushes your anxieties, tensions and overall discomfort.  If Ridley Scott truly wanted to make the most intriguing and unmatchable experience, he succeeded immensely (and I personally believe he did).  If Scott, one of the greatest science fiction filmmakers of our time, wanted to create a film that belongs in the conversation with Alien, Blade Runner and 2001, he needs to provide a truly defying film.  And this film uses all these different elements in succeeding to this contagious ride. 

Everything in this film is done so well.  From the special effects, the set pieces, the acting, music, every single part of this film is done with such precision and detail that it allows us to fully engage in the film.  I hate 3D.  I think 3D has done for film what pollution has done to our environment.  But, in very few cases, it is appropriate.  It is exactly what it should’ve been made for.  Avatar is an example of this.  And so is Prometheus.  THIS FILM MUST BE EXPERIENCED IN 3D IMAX.  I cannot overstate this anymore.  You literally are part of the film.  The way the technology is lighted, the maps and screens that are not just seen, but felt.  You experience the depth, the texture, the overall environment.  Everything that is done in this film is so good, it made me feel like a child again.  The experiences I had when I watched Jurassic Park in theaters.  The memories of watching American soldiers landing on the beaches of Omaha in Saving Private Ryan.  Though it’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever seen and it has its flaws, this kind of film experience is rare, especially as we get older and the industry puts less into this, and more into that (that being crap).  Especially in science fiction today, where everything now is handy-cam, crazy and chaotic cinematography and overblown special effects, we are treated to something grand.  Epic.  Finally.

Besides just the visual aspect of this film, we are provided with quite a journey.  If you’re expecting this film to be an all out scare, alien gore, crazy creatures flying everywhere, then you will be somewhat disappointed.  I say somewhat because there are a few scenes in here where you’re literally going to yell, “What the fallopian tube?!” (watch the film and you’ll catch the reference… 😉 ). Though I might’ve liked a little more nasty-disgustingness from these creatures, I was definitely satisfied with what transpired on screen.  What I love about Prometheus though is that it creates this angst, this strong animosity between the characters, the creatures, the overall  world their in.  We have this truly despairing emotion of doom, and we feel it right as they get off the ship.  The success to suspense is not providing the scare, it is providing the possibility of something scary happening.  Everything works so well here, it’ll make you sweat (as I did).

But the most successful thing I felt that was in Prometheus was the mythology.  I can’t get over how it answered or didn’t answered the film’s most important question.  Most may feel it was a cop-out, but I tend to look at this as a stroke of genius.  One of the constant themes that are played over and over is how far are we willing to go to find these answers?  The motivation that is revealed to us from these characters is where we measure their willingness and determination on this voyage.  For some, it was money.  For others, it was their job.  But for few, it was to discover agelessness.  To discover purpose.  To discover connection.  Whatever reasoning it may be, the drive that each character showed or didn’t show is what truly marks this film as an accomplishment.  And I personally believe this type of mentality lies within all of us.  This is the sole purpose of religion, faith, beliefs.  Some of us are willing to go as far as we can go to fulfill these purposes, and some absolutely do not care.  That is what separates us from each other.  How far are each of us willing to go to seek knowledge?  To find truth?  To discover everything that we may or may not want to discover?

Some people may find this film to be anti-religion or anti-God.  I can see where they gain that perspective.  But I personally think that it’s not a negative assessment towards God or the complete annihilation of God and His presence, but more along the lines of our infatuation with God.  I believe God created us.  I believe in the Bible.  But there’s so much to discover about our world, our universe, that we do not know.  We are given the knowledge that we can handle, and we are not given certain information because we cannot handle it.  So the little that we know, how much do you think there is on what we don’t know?

Just the fact that I’m thinking this much is a reflection of how successful Prometheus is.  The film itself is fun and exhilarating.  But it goes much further than just being an entertaining movie.  It’s a story that expands past the 2 hour running time.  It’s a debate waiting to explode.  It’s a conversation that any film enthusiast will conspire and attempt to explain for hours and hours.  In its purest definition, Prometheus is what a masterpiece resembles.

Prometheus gets 4 stars (out of 5).