Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Telluride Film Festival

Just a couple days before the weekend, we decided to head to the San Juans (which, along with New Mexico, are my default top choices for long weekends). J says, "Let's go to Telluride, we haven't been there." Sounds good. What's going on for Labor Day? The famous film festival!

I knew it was a big deal, but only after looking online did I realize it was a Big Deal (capital B, capital D). The festival truly is a world-class event for showing new films, and celebrating the people who make them. Stars would be in town, such as George Clooney, whose career was being celebrated this year. (I killed time on the drive over by wondering to myself if I would be upset if George Clooney kissed my wife...and surprised myself with my own answer!) Anyway, most festival-goers have passes that cost hundreds of dollars, whereas single movie tickets go for $25/each, if available. So it's not an event to take lightly.

However, there also happens to be free outdoor showings each night in the park. The only catch is getting a spot on the grass. And, the titles aren't announced before the weekend, so it could be anything. We decided to show up and push our luck, hoping that Sunday night would work out better than Friday or Saturday.

So we rolled into Telluride about 5pm. The lady at the visitor center told us where to park, and that we should grab a spot to sit (for the 8:30 show!) immediately, if there were even a spot left! I didn't know about this system of saving seats, but the thing to do is show up with a tarp or blanket or chairs in the afternoon. Fortunately, we were able to find a spot in the back, but unobstructed in the middle, which fit our 2 small chairs. Now we could relax and check out the town itself.

I expected qualities of Aspen or Vail -- in a bad way. Ostentatious houses dotted the canyon walls: 2nd homes of stars that barely use them a week or two a year, when they fly in to the local airport on holiday. Some of these stars are no doubt environmentally-conscious, as the solar panels on their 4000-square-foot homes can attest. But, hey, at least there's a Sotheby's in town!

But then Telluride surprised me. We didn't see George Clooney, or any other stars, but instead we saw a town genuinely celebrating the art of film in a beautiful way. Local buildings are repurposed into theaters, with colorful decor and lighting, making the town feel even cozier in the waning summer sunlight that leaves early in the box canyon. We took a break at Smuggler's Brewpub and enjoyed hanging out on the patio. The beer was decent and the food was OK, but the staff was friendly and "real" and the prices weren't too bad. We then headed up the canyon to check out Bridal Veil Falls, and enjoyed quiet, distant views at sunset.

Realizing that I needed to refill water bottles, we stopped at the town park, which is a lovely green space with camping and free showers. A couple was staying in their van in the parking lot, and some kids were playing badminton. A guy was waiting for his cell phone to charge in a restroom outlet, and another couple were having a wine picnic on a picnic table. I was struck by the simplicity and openness of the place, and my curmudgeonliness gave way to bemusement, and ultimately wonder.

And then hunger and thirst.

We headed back down the road into town, and stopped at a coffee stand (out of several coffee shops that looked promising and were open past 8pm) for coffee and tea. Wanting just a bit of dessert -- chocolate, specifically, because somebody is addicted to chocolate -- we wandered back to a truffle store I had seen earlier. Yes, a truffle store, but when you want just a simple but quality hint of a dessert, it's not such a bad deal, is it? The girl behind the counter was friendly, patient, and European. I asked if she was here for the skiing, but she waxed poetically on the imminent Autumn. This is the first time I've ever heard a ski bum that was interested in September!

Now it was time to take our seats, prepared with chocolate, coffee, and some beer in a Nalgene (waste of time: everyone else was openly pouring from bottles of wine). But would our chairs remain where we placed them hours earlier? Yes! No sooner had we sat down, then I learned about the free popcorn stand, and no sooner had I learned about that than I stood up again.

The lady at the visitor center had told us that the film was a comedic remix of clips from surf movies. I was excited, having seen "The Endless Summer" as well as various big-wave documentaries, and Jack Johnson's surf film.
True story: 6 years ago, I was on-shore after finishing a surf session in Del Mar (Full true story: I suck at surfing but am enthralled by it), and started chatting with a guy on shore. Somehow we were talking about the epic wave that had hit Teahupoo the week before; and he told me he was there! It was such a big wave that even casual people like me had heard about it. I started buying his story, he was very cool about it, and I kept listening, but then wondered if I had been suckered. Later, at home, I was googling around, and I found an article with his picture on it! This ended up being "Big Wave Hunters," I believe.

So back to Telluride...turns out Sunday night was a free Double Feature! The "bad news" was that the surf film, "Hollywood Don't Surf," didn't begin until 10:15. The prospect of driving up the rocky, one-car-wide Alta Lakes Road at midnight-thirty was daunting even to me, so we would have to miss it. Instead, the film we would see was "The Island President," which ended up being as good or better than anything else I could have expected, and deserves it's own separate review, as well as an Oscar nod next year.

At 8:15, the lights of the surrounding buildings dimmed. Behind the blue screen was a sheer canyon wall, with a crescent moon hanging overhead. An occasional moth would cross the stream of light from the projector, flitting about like fat snowflakes. And around us were people snuggling up in blankets and down jackets and hats.

This setting, this spot, was absolutely magical and spectacular. The show was about to begin.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fun time. Only been there once because it's a bit far, to say the least. But that valley is spectacular. I hope you took the gondola.

    Vail may have $25 parking, $15 lunches and entitled rich snobs, but I can't deny the fun I've had losing myself in the back bowls. I'll just be careful not to get run over by a fund manager, or worse: hit one. The Chamber of Commerce chick can (bleep).

    Actually I almost got hit a couple of times in Aspen, once by a city bus. Every time was on a legit "Walk" traffic signal.

    For me the saving grace of mountain towns is the core of down-to-earth folks who value quality of life and don't care about the audience.