Unchained at Telluride: The Recap


Until next year, Telluride!

Okay, here it is. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to finish this particular film fest wrap-up about my time in Telluride. I think I’ve finally put my finger on why it’s been so difficult. I just don’t think I can do it justice. This was the experience of a lifetime and here I am at a loss for words. Combine that with my recent move to LA and you’ve got one dusty WordPress draft.  Finally, today in-between the job and apartment hunting, I found a quiet moment to just sit and reflect.

I worked at the Telluride Film Festival.

Woah.

I talked about pre-festival life in my previous “Unchained at Telluride” posts HERE, but it was definitely seeing my name listed in the official program that made it seem real. The official selections was kept a secret from all of us Dogs (along with the media) the entire weeks prior to the event, so now it’s time to finally spill about the films I saw.

MY 39TH TELLURIDE LINEUP:

A ROYAL AFFAIR

RUST AND BONE

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN

THE SAPPHIRES

AMOUR

AT ANY PRICE

WADJDA

PARADISE: LOVE

THE SAPPHIRES

GINGER AND ROSA

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE

**My top 3:**

THE SAPPHIRES

It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam. (IMDb.com)

It’s been a few years since a movie musical has appeared just in time for Oscar season and captured my heart. Ladies and gents, meet the Sapphires! In my overnight Googling of the freshly printed festival program, I saw that the film was being described as a mix of “Dream Girls” and “Good Morning Vietnam”. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to sell me on the film. While wonderfully familiar, the film stood out in many ways. It brought together a fun ensemble cast of female actresses to play the aspiring Aboriginal soul singers and even threw in the lovable Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids”) as their boozy manager. What more could a girl ask for? The film was a breath of fresh air after a series of screenings with White European and American protagonists. It’s not that I have a problem with those kinds of films at all. I just related to four Aboriginal girls of 1960’s Australia more. I felt THE SAPPHIRES, because of its historical context, hit home especially regarding skin politics and the power music has in escaping one’s personal pain. Chris O’Dowd makes a great speech to the singers, saying the most defining characteristic of soul music is about using the heartache to propel yourself through it. Perfection the film is not, but I did leave the theater with a new respect for a group of young women I might not have learned about otherwise. Helmed by the Weinstein Company, I predict a full force “Dream Girls” or “Chicago” style awards campaign this winter.

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE

A documentary that examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime. (IMDb.com)

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE is the first Ken Burns documentary I’ve ever seen and it was not what I expected at all. I’d heard all the praise over 6-hours docs about baseball and the Civil War, so I was little hesitant. I’m happy (if happy can even be used when talking about this case) that this particular film will be the first thing I think about when folks mention the acclaimed documentarian. I can’t forget to mention that Sarah Burns, Ken Burns’ daughter, co-directed the film with him. This important fact seemed to slip in the cracks when the film screened at Cannes and all anyone could talk about was how there were so few female directors in the lineup. It was absolutely fitting that Sarah introduced the film as it originated from her college thesis and book on the case, saying “I hope this makes you angry too.” I learned about the case literally from watching the doc and it was fantastically frightening and frustrating. In addition to unearthing a little more about U.S. history, the story stays with you due to the fact the directing team opted to let the five men accused speak for themselves instead of traditional objective narration. THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE serves as more of a reflection since the once incarcerated teens are now free adults, but it also is a reminder of how dangerous it is to be a man of color in this country. Yes, I did leave the theater angry but assured too that a new generation will learn this story and get angry too. Look out for the film which is coming to a PBS affiliate near you.

WADJDA

A story set in Saudi Arabia and focused on the experiences of a young girl who challenges her country’s traditions. (via IMDb.com)

Many of the films I saw at the fest have been building buzz since screening at Toronto last week. However, there is one in particular that has been keeping a low profile. I immediately listed this film on my must-see list the second I read the program description. Are you ready for this? WADJDA is the first film shot entirely on location in Saudi Arabia by a Saudi Arabian female director. I think that alone was enough to pack the premiere screening, which I did not make it into. I wasn’t mad though. It was so inspiring to see a smaller story attracting the same level of buzz as the bigger studio films. The film reeled me in with its simplicity and complexity. I didn’t see it as a political statement about women’s roles in Saudi Arabia, but instead a well-constructed tale of a girl who just wants a bike of her own. I ran into director Haifaa Al-Mansour while I was working and we spoke about how the constraints of her production (she had to rehearse with actors via radio from inside a van due to men and women not being allowed in the same room) led to a tight script that resonates across cultures. There aren’t public movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, so I’m anxious to see what lies ahead for this inspiring film both abroad and in the States.

If you’re able to, I highly recommend applying for the DOG program. Telluride is a pretty exclusive festival and even housing/transportation to the beautiful mountain town takes serious planning. Working as a PA makes the event much more meaningful too. Imagine sitting with hundreds of people who love film as much as you do in a high gym that you spent weeks assembling into a celestial theater dubbed “The Galaxy”? I could go on and on about the friendships, the mountain view, and unique experience you’ll add to your budding or veteran resume. They say a little hard work never killed anybody. Well, I’d even say that a lot of manual menial labor can jolt you back to life. At least it did for me. If you want to know more, visit the Telluride site HERE for festival video clips and HERE for the DOG application. Also, feel free to shoot me any questions below in the comments section.

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