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Screenings — and deals — at Telluride film festival

'Hyde Park on Hudson,' 'The Iceman' and 'Argo' are among the titles awaiting enthusiasts at the Colorado festival, while several filmmakers hope to find distribution deals.

August 30, 2012|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times
  • Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a scene from the "Hyde Park on the Hudson."
Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a scene from the "Hyde… (Focus Features )

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Keller Doss, a retired oil industry lawyer, is a Telluride Film Festival stalwart. The Texas movie buff first came on a lark two decades ago, camping in a park in this mountain resort town. He's been 19 out of the last 20 years and attends the screenings with a couple he befriended on his very first stay.

Because organizers don't announce the lineup until the eve of the festival, Doss has to buy his tickets on faith. But he doesn't mind.

"I just trust these guys to put on films that I'm going to like," said Doss, 61, who lives in the small West Texas town of Marfa, which he said "is about 400 miles away" from the nearest art house cinema, in Austin. "Not every year is stellar, but most are."

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When the festival kicks off Friday, Doss and his pals will get to see some of the most anticipated movies of the fall season, including "Hyde Park on Hudson," starring Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Other high-profile titles screening at the festival, which runs through Monday, include "The Iceman," director Ariel Vromen's fact-based drama about a hit man and dedicated husband played by Michael Shannon; "Ginger and Rosa," filmmaker Sally Potter's coming-of-age drama with Elle Fanning; "Midnight's Children," director Deepa Mehta's adaptation of the novel by Salman Rushdie, who wrote the screenplay; and "Frances Ha," a black-and-white look at a young dancer directed by "The Squid and the Whale" filmmaker Noah Baumbach and cowritten by and starring his girlfriend, Greta Gerwig.

Ben Affleck's "Argo," which officially has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next week, will screen in Telluride as a sneak peak. The film, which Affleck directed and stars in, was inspired by a true story about Hollywood's role in rescuing a small group of Americans who were caught up in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

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The festival, now in its 39th year, also will present several movies that garnered strong acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in May and are seen as early contenders for Academy Awards: director Michael Haneke's end-of-life story "Amour" and Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone," a romance starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Cotillard is being honored in Telluride with a special tribute program.

Though it's more intimate than many other festivals, Telluride has held the world or North American premieres of many films that have gone on to Oscar nominations or wins, including "The Descendants," "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Artist" and "A Separation."

But Gary Meyer, who directs the festival along with Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger, said the Hollywood awards race isn't front of mind when the team is selecting films. "We don't look for films that are going to win Academy Awards, because that would be a losing game for us," he said. "It's not our purpose in life."

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Unlike the Sundance and Toronto festivals, whose patrons include countless show business executives, agents and producers, Telluride regulars are largely recreational film enthusiasts like Doss from all corners of the country. But this year, there may be more Hollywood dealmakers in attendance because four prominent productions — "Iceman," "Frances Ha," "Midnight's Children" and "Ginger and Rosa" — are looking for domestic theatrical distributors.

Festival organizers said the quartet of acquisition titles is accidental rather than by design. In fact, the festival is far happier courting film lovers hoping to open their minds than Hollywood deal makers looking to close a sale.

"We invite a film because we like it," said Meyer. That said, several movies that came to Telluride in recent years without distributors were quickly snatched up, including last year's sex addiction drama "Shame" and before that, "The Last Station" in 2009.

As with any festival, the people behind the Telluride movies up for sale are trying to court two constituencies simultaneously: moviegoers and film buyers.

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"I'm expecting that people will get very excited about it, but I am known to be a very positive and hopeful person," said David Hamilton, who produced "Midnight's Children." He added that he believes the adaptation will satisfy viewers familiar with Rushdie's book, as well as those who are not.

"No one is going to leave the theater thinking they haven't had a cinematic experience," Hamilton said, "whether they like it or not."

Potter last visited Telluride with her film "Yes" in 2004. Bringing "Ginger and Rosa" this year and looking for a buyer, she said, has her feeling "pure terror mixed with a nice dose of excitement. It's like leaping off a precipice."

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