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by Walter Chaw I left Telluride a day early this year.
On my last day at the festival, Sunday, I ran into a couple of dear friends who are both going through things a lot harder than anything I'm going through. I gave hugs. I told them I loved them. I tried not to cry. On my last day, I realized that some folks I had thought were friends were only friends because of where I worked, but I left my job at the end of June and I don't think we're friends now. Experience has taught me that these are things dangerous for my depression. I'm old and I can contextualize and compartmentalize with the best of them. I'm old and I have a lot of friends, and a family, and I'm fine. I can manage it--but it takes time. So I left.
I had planned on seeing Boy Erased, Joel Edgerton's sophomore feature and Nicole Kidman's second film at the fest this year, but I couldn't hack it. I'll catch up with it another time. I wanted to see the Ralph Fiennes film, and Cold War. In less than a year, maybe before the end of this year, I'll catch up. The gap between these exclusive festival premieres and wide and easy availability is closing and that's a good thing. Telluride, all film festivals, suffer from their own exclusivity. Most film societies, Denver's included, are non-profits that answer to boards as homogeneous, generally, as the audiences who can afford these festivals. Exclusivity means privilege. Privilege means abuse.
I went on a seal watch at Chatham this year. I was terrified. Where there are seals, there are sharks. Privilege is seals.
Exclusive festivals are the only place where a film like downsizing could ever find an audience in 2017 that would think it was anything but a colossal piece of shit. This year, it's The Front Runner. What both movies have in common is that they're products of extreme privilege that are otherwise entirely tone deaf to the temperature of the room. They are smug; uniquely arrogant. They're racist probably, misogynistic definitely. There's a reason people who actually like movies react to films that do well at Sundance with suspicion. There are obvious exceptions. And then there is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Sundance produces bad movies for young people. Telluride produces bad movies for old people.
It's too consistent to be an accident. Festivals understand who's writing the checks and are loathe to challenge them. There was a screening of The Old Man & the Gun for Telluride "patrons" this year. Patrons spend about five grand on their passes. The room holds 450 or so people and they turned away a significant number. The festival audience is less diverse than the mainstream audience, and less tolerant of difficult films, elliptical storytelling, dangerous subjects. Festivals like this are large investments for their attendees. Festivals endanger that investment at their own existential peril.
On my last day, I got the gondola that serves as Telluride's public transformation system (hooray for socialism!) and rode it thirty minutes up the side of the mountain to my car. I lucked into an empty compartment for my trip. I listened to the rain against its metal shell, watched it leak onto the seat next to me, looked at the clouds covering a few peaks off in the distance that were already dusted white with snow.
Walking from the station, I took out the umbrella I had packed but didn't open it. Sometimes it's better to get rained on a little bit. I walked the mile or so up the mountain to where I was parked. I put my bag in the passenger seat, got the MP3 CD I burned for this occasion cued up (Mo singing Bleachers' "You're Still a Mystery"), and started driving the six hours back. 550 to 50 to 285, then back into the Denver metro area. You pass through towns like Cimarron, Sapinero, Vernal, and Ridgway, which has a nice little coffee shop/used bookstore I try to stop in every year but didn't this year.
I'm not doing well, but I'm fine. I'm not doing well, but I'm going to be fine. As I write this, I'm getting ready to spend a few days in Los Angeles with friends. I'm going to have coffee and dinner and meetings. And then in a few more weeks, we're going to run out of money. I'll need to find work before then. That part's easy. The hard part is finding the right fit. In this life you get, you have a finite amount of soul, just like you have a limited amount of skin at any given time. Skin grows back when it gets scraped, so long as you don't lose too much of it. I hope the soul does, too. Scars are the price of survival.
The best films at Telluride this year were concerned with poverty and the collapse of the middle class--with the importance of family, the ones we choose and the ones that choose us. The Magnetic Fields is a wonderful band, of course, and they have a song called "The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing." It's the 63rd track on this six-hour mix I made for myself and it came on right about when I was passing Black Canyon. I rolled down my window and let the rain in so the wind could whip around the inside of the car. The bridge goes like this:
Maybe it's you
You know your eyes are awful blue
Maybe it's more
Maybe you're all I ever waited for
After all the endless nights
When I wished I could still cry
So the sun goes down and the world goes dancing
And the stars come out and they all go dancing
And there is nothing I'd like more
Than a twirl across this rickety old floor
Well, I don't know why but I just feel like dancing
I can't imagine why but I feel like dancing
And there is nothing in this world
That I'd like better than a twirl
Across your rickety old floor
I'm not the man I want to be, though I'm working on it. It will be the work of the rest of my life to be okay for the people who love me. I know they love me; I'm old now and I don't have to understand why.
I love you back, you know.