My last Telluride Film Festival review
By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY
NEWSPAPERS, the first drafts of history, also used to write the loglines of movies. The logline for “Spotlight,” debuted at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and my hope for a lot of awards, goes like this: A quartet of Boston Globe investigators, publishing under a “Spotlight” logo, shames the Catholic Church, the legal profession and journalism itself in a year of stories about the systematic burying of cases of sexual abuse of children by parish priests. The 2003 Pulitzer Prize panel called the work “courageous,” and the screenplay by director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) and Josh Singer portrays that courage with artful intelligence.
We all know the general story, but this telling is new. It unfolds like a thriller. The reporters discovered a pattern of concerted reaction in contradiction of the “just a few rotten apples” p.r. strategy of the Church. When an activist group supporting the victims, mostly kids from poor Boston parishes, would manage to get a case to court, a conspiracy of silence descended like a dark curtain. A pedophile priest would get some time off and a transfer. The family of the child or children would get a patronizing visit by the archbishop and $20,000 (a limit set by a strange Massachusetts statute). The case would then be officially sealed and the victims, not the defendants, would be abandoned to live in shame.
The Spotlight reporters led by Walter Robinson saw the pattern and were the first to expose it after diligent research. Robinson is played by Michael Keaton, who is not the star because the ensemble including him, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian James is the true star. They repeatedly attempt to interview lawyers who say they can’t talk because they would be disbarred for violation legal ethics. When Robinson ridicules this, a lawyer responds that he was just doing his job. Robinson asks, then, whose job was it to look after the victims?
Documentary Films At Telluride
By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY
To get started on a documentary film you don’t need documents or film. Just take a camera – it doesn’t have to be expensive – to an interesting situation and the world will provide, if you wait long enough. The devil is in the editing. These new possibilities for non-fiction production were delightfully demonstrated in Jafa Panahi’s “Taxi” at the Telluride Film Festival.
He was in big trouble with Iranian security, and if he was seen filming he would be arrested. So he came up with a plan. Masquerading as a taxi driver, he rigged a cab with small cameras and hit the streets of Tehran. The resulting ride is, well, great taxi theatre. We see the actual humor and humanity of a country depicted by our politicians, who have never been there, as a bleak and dangerous enemy.
A loudmouth passenger sits in front complaining that a neighbor in a hurry hopped in his car and it would not go. Then the guy saw all the wheels were gone and it was sitting on blocks. If a couple of these thieves were hanged in public that would stop this car stripping, he says. A diminutive passenger in the back seat, a teacher dressed in black and covered, says, “I can’t believe what I just heard.” An argument ensues at a pitch that would make an American talk show host proud, and the loudmouth gets so mad he orders Panahi to stop and let him off.
And that’s just the first scene. There is a smuggler with a selection of DVD movies, another with banned CD albums. The taxi is flagged down at a traffic accident and Panahi rushes him to the hospital. A film student argues about the rules against depicting reality. A flower lady is going to visit political prisoners. A mugging victim spots his mugger but declines to do anything that would subject him to police interrogation. . . . If you film it, they will come.
My comments on the Telluride Film Festival, 2014
By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY
The threat by the Toronto Film Festival to put a partial eclipse on films that premiered a week earlier at Telluride did not dim any lights on the old mining town’s opera house “SHOW” sign. The 41st Telluride Film Festival directors got everything they wanted for the Labor Day weekend program, according to volunteers who heard it from them.
Harvey Weinstein, adept at Telluride premiers that go on to win best picture Oscars, did not withhold his “The Imitation Game.” Gary Meyer (call him top dog, though he does not even appear on the programs) personally introduced “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” as a sneak preview that “we wanted immediately” and got.
The SHOWs that I saw in the four shining days included those two features; artful documentaries on the photographer Sebastiao Salgado and Roger Ebert; angry dramas against the background of complicity of the courts and local police in corrupt evictions of homeowners in Russia and — same, same — The United States (“Leviathan” and “99Homes”); a Jon Stewart special (“Rosewater”); a peripatetic chick flick (“Wild”); two costume dramas (“Madame Bovary” and “Mr. Turner”); and an enlightening documentary on Russian hockey players (“Red Army”).
My Review Of A Festival Of Films
The 40th Telluride Film Festival opened unceremoniously with the first North American screening of “ALL IS LOST” in a fine new high-tech theatre. Robert Redford stood out of the light as director-writer J. C. Chandor told us: “This film is about YOU.” He paused, or faltered, continuing: “About you and the end of your life.”
As the lights went down I wondered if a solo passage on a doomed sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean is truly a good way to die. About 107 minutes later I caught on. It’s a parable.
As Ernest Hemingway (I’ll explain the connection later) might have said, a man must die alone. And, courage is grace under pressure. The man is Redford, playing his usual manly role and playing it very well at about age 75. He is the only person in the nearly wordless film and, Chandor calculated, he is in 98 per cent of the shots.
We know nothing about the character, not even his name. But we don’t need to. He is Redford. Why confuse a pure and simple parable with a back-story? Redford is already, as Chandor put it, “part of everybody’s experience.”
Report From The Telluride Film Festival
By LARRY CALLOWAY
(Originally posted Sept. 9, 2012)
This punch line — the line, not the whole joke — is a running gag in Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” based on the rescue of six Americans who hid in the Canadian embassy during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The line is at home in Hollywood. It was in the mind of Clint Eastwood during his imaginary talk with Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention. It should be propped up in big letters on a Hollywood hill. And it is especially appropriate delivered in the movie by the profane producers played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. It got a laugh every time at the 2012 Telluride Film Festival. (more…)
A Fine High Celebration Of Movies As Art
Photo by Lara Calloway
A group of us with some surprise received a warm personal welcome to the Telluride Film Festival from one of its co-directors, Gary Meyer, who then ushered us in to the intimate Le Pierre theatre for a special screening, just for us. No, we were not the press – Telluride gives no privileges to the news media. And for certain we were not wealthy donors, not even purchasers of the regular $780 pass – those happy folks were all gathering with the celebrities in the center of town for the big Opening Night Feed.
What we were was pass-holding Cinephiles. Three years ago Meyer and co-director Tom Luddy created the pass (and probably the word) for film lovers on a budget. In exchange for a $400 discount, we let the festival choose the menu of films we can see. It is a tasteful menu, heavy with restored or rediscovered masterpieces as well as the characteristic new works reflecting the Telluride philosophy of film as art. (Most of us would have been drawn to this menu even if we had the more expensive pass.)
While the Cinephile Pass was not a ticket to, say, the tribute to George Clooney or the personal appearances by Glenn Close, it did entitle us to see all the other Telluride medallion tributes: to Sight and Sound Magazine, to actress Tilda Swinton, to French actor-director Pierre Etaix. Plus, the menu emphasized programs of short films by students and hopeful new directors and the selection of six favorite films presented by the “guest director” this year, Caetano Veloso. (more…)
Pilot's Knob Surveils the Film Festival
By LARRY CALLOWAY
A RELUCTANT prince is catapulted to the throne in a perilous time. Desperate to overcome a disabling speech impediment, he falls under the influence of a wily commoner who is distrusted by all advisors including the archbishop. Will the new monarch rise to the challenge of history?
“The King’s Speech,” which received its very first screenings at the Telluride Film Festival, is, well. . . Shakespearean. Except, it is a modern history and totally accessible. It’s the story of George VI, who as a young prince was practically struck dumb in public because of his painful stammer. Director Tom Hooper and actors Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who attended two screenings, received standing ovations. Screenplay writer David Seidler, drawn to the story of George VI because he too stammered as a youth, deserves to share in the applause (and in the future awards already being suggested by critics even though the film will not be released until late November). (more…)
Jodie Foster had it nailed 18 years ago
Michael Lerner, a bullish old character actor from Brooklyn, was saying what he likes about Nicholas Cage and other great actors is they are “ballsy.” They don’t let the character bio get in the way of ballsy acting. He was saying this on the stage at a seminar in Elks Park at the Telluride Film Festival. I wondered how the others on the panel would take ballsy. They all were women, and the topic was “The Challenges of Portraying Complex Heroines on Screen.”
My impressions of the 35th Telluride Film Festival
The 35th Telluride Film Festival showed two fight-the-system movies originating with legal cases. The message for aspiring heroes: Don’t settle your lawsuit. Don’t plead guilty to criminal charges against you. Go to trial. The first message in the first film came easily. In the second, the message was artfully disturbing.
As Journalism is about power, so poetry is about life.
In reviewing Sean Penn’s “Into The Wild” just after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival I did not know that the opening was from a poem by Sharon Olds or that she collaborated on the voice-over narration. Like a prologue to a book, the poem defines the tragic story and along with the narrative gives it meaning. (more…)