The Original Thinkers Festival is now in its second year. Compared to Telluride’s “legacy” fests — Bluegrass, the Telluride Film Festival — and even those more-recently established in the annual lineup (Cars and Colors, Horror Show), ‘Thinkers’ is just a baby.
And that is exactly the way the fest’s executive director, David Holbrooke, is approaching the experience — with the wonder and trepidation of a new parent.
Which is a pretty original way of thinking about it: Holbrooke, after all, is entitled to a fair bit of swagger. He has deep experience as a festival programmer, given that he’s an ex-pilot of Mountainfilm. He’s also a successful movie director, with an uncanny sense of what viewers want. As the New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger put it of “The Diplomat,” Holbrooke’s documentary about his father, the late statesman Richard C. Holbrooke, the director “puts just enough of himself and his extended family” into the film to give it “audience-friendly poignancy.”
Holbrooke was accepting impromptu well wishes from two Original Thinkers fans, a couple who enjoyed last year’s fest so much they asked to be notified when tickets for this year’s event were available so they could be first to purchase them, in the middle of a call with this reporter. Clearly, the fest generates big love (as well as big ideas). “We put a ton of effort and time to get all these amazing people together — and to see them come together is one thing I’m excited about,” Holbrooke said.
“The flip side of that is the audience. There’s so much we’re still learning. In a way, for me, it’s like a small child, and this is a little unnerving, a little daunting. I’ve never been involved in the creation of something where the results are so uncertain.”
To a reporter, the content of Sunday’s program coincides almost uncannily with current events. The day’s inaugural session includes a screening of the documentary “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project,” about a visionary citizen-journalist who conjured her own, rolling series of assignments: recording every news broadcast she could in order to give, according to a description of this weekend’s events on OT’s website, “American citizens power by understanding what was happening in the world.” A post-film panel on “the critical nature of news and information” follows, with award-winning magazine writer James Fallows, Emmy-winning television producer Yael Levie, and global TV journalist Keme Nzerem, who has reported from Washington, D.C., Moscow, Johannesburg, Rio and London on issues ranging from “corruption, politics, and human rights” to sports.
But, thinking more deeply about that Sunday morning get-together — and perusing the schedule — might send you spiraling not back, but forward in time to Friday, where there is a session on how “decency and kindess” can take a stand in places where global “horrors abound,” with (among others) Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Orlando Von Einsiedel, whose work around the world has focused on capturing “stories of hope from places that appear to be without any.”
Many Original Thinkers events are free: there are three-days-full of talks and panels that will cost you nothing but a commitment of brain-cells and (admittedly precious) time.
“I get that it’s a beautiful weekend, and people may wonder, ‘Do I want to be inside?’” Holbrooke said. The smart answer should be, “Yes, I want to take two hours to be blown away.”
Each day of the festival “has power,” Holbrooke added. “There are two different Downlows, art at the Telluride Gallery, and films at the Nugget, where it’s not the multilayered programming we’re doing up here in Mountain Village, but it’s pretty cool.” Friday’s film is “American Factory,” the first film from nascent documentary-producers Michelle and Barack Obama, about a Chinese-owned, Ohio-based factory and its 2,000 new employees, a “thoughtful, and troubling, look at the dynamic between workers and employers in the 21st-century globalized economy.”
The film scores 97 out of 100 on ratings website Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer.
“We’re trying to create programming that speaks to people: creative experiences, things to chew on for a while,” Holbrooke summed up.
“The audience helps make this, and much of this is up to them. We feel what we built is extremely special.”
For a complete schedule of events, visit originalthinkers.com.