Jim Looney worked at the Telluride Post Office for 20 years. In that time, he became an integral part of the fabric of the community, so much so that when he retired two years ago, a trip to the post office felt, well, off. Looney is a one-man “Cheers” bar — he knows everybody’s name. And everybody knows Jim Looney.
Telluride filmmaker Keith Hill followed the native Iowan during his last two weeks on the job before his retirement in 2018. With a loving lens and a feeling of studied casualness, Hill’s film, “PostMan Jim,” shows a man who loves, and is loved, by the denizens of 81435. The short film will premiere at Original Thinkers Festival, this year held virtually from Oct. 1-11. Passes are now on sale at originalthinkers.com.
Looney can barely walk out his front door at the Miner’s Union without being cheerfully hailed by passerby. As captured by Hill, a typical morning walk to work down Colorado Avenue is punctuated with Looney greeting and acknowledging by name, seemingly everyone he passes. Once at work — Looney’s customary station was at the auxiliary desk in the post office’s northwest corner — he is a figure in constant motion. Not only does he help get packages shipped and sell stamps, but also his smallest fans are treated with packages of fruit chews. And hugs. Lots of hugs. Watching the film during a global pandemic, seeing how we once hugged so easily and frequently is at once heart-warming and heart-rending.
Hill, who has known Looney since he was a child, said that as he filmed the popular postman he came to know Looney in a different way.
“I’d had a relationship with him my whole life,” Hill said.
But trips to the post office with his parents only scratched the surface.
“It’s hard to get to know someone as an acquaintance when you’re a kid,” Hill said. “But he sees you and he respects you. And learning he’d spent the first 40 years of his life farming just blew my mind.”
The backdrop of Looney’s station was decidedly not in keeping with post office conformity. On the walls behind him, countless photos and greeting cards from the Telluride families that fell under the spell of his convivial warmth were festooned on cork bulletin boards. One past postmaster, initially determined to bring the post office into appearance compliance, was so roundly chastised, he decided to let Looney’s collage of fans remain in place. The film captures one smitten child after the other, shyly hitting up Looney for a treat. He bought snacks for his cavalcade of youthful admirers by the case.
As much as the film is a tribute to one of Telluride’s most beloved fixtures it adeptly reveals the soul of the community. For local viewers, every face is a familiar one, and the countless onscreen and unscripted hugs deliver a reminder in no uncertain terms that, for those of us who have made Telluride their home, there really is no place like home.
Looney, who hadn’t yet seen the film (he will be this morning, Wednesday), expounded on what he thinks is so valuable about the Telluride community.
“What means the most to me is the small-town atmosphere,” he said. “How we help each other and care about each other … that’s the part I like best.”
As a runner for 17 years in the Imogene Pass Run, he remarked on how “everyone cheers for everyone.”
The community that adores his authentic, warm nature is loved in return.
“I feel so fortunate to be part of it,” he said. “I fell in love with it immediately. It’s amazing.”
Hill was struck by how Looney relished every interaction he held while working.
“It’s obvious he genuinely enjoyed being there (at the post office),” Hill said. “Postal workers are really part of the community.”
In the Original Thinkers program guide, Looney is described as possessing “abundant kindness and simple wisdom.” There is no exaggeration in that observation. Every smile, every “Hey there!” and every hug Looney delivers is imbued with his grounded Midwestern sensibilities. It’s an endearing film of an endearing human and it’s an enchanting reminder that when one person is kind, we all are better for it.