The film industry is in the midst of the biggest transformation in its history. Yes, the transition from silent to sound movies in the 1930s was major. The adaption to the rise of television in the 1950s reshaped the industry. Still, the advent of streaming services is the biggest disruption yet. Some worry that local cineplexes and urban art houses are on the endangered businesses list. In the coming year, the number of huge and wealthy streaming services will double, with Apple and Disney entering the fray to compete with Netflix and Amazon.
As this transition occurs, prestigious film festivals grow ever more essential for art house and award-season films.
Streaming services have a virtually insatiable hunger for more content, resulting in funding for more filmmakers. Streaming content need not attract a mass market audience, which leads to more diversity. This is good news for people who love movies.
Festivals help separate the nutritious wheat from the humdrum chaff. We can see what’s happening by perusing the program of recent Telluride Film Festivals — with increasingly more selections produced by streaming companies. And Telluride, the smallest major international film festival, drawing an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 attendees (the number of passholders, plus staff and guests is not publicly reported), has an outsized influence. Precisely because it is small, and so peerlessly curated (by festival directors Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger), Telluride is an ideal showcase for ambitious movies not conceived for the multiplex. It offers the finest of the year’s cinema to an influential gathering of press, industry and tastemakers each year.
Would Barry Jenkins’s “Moonlight” have gained enough traction to win the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture if it had not premiered here? Maybe, but maybe not. Telluride is small enough to allow unheralded movies by lesser-known filmmakers to break out.
With all of this, the TFF occupies a sweet spot now and foreseeably in the future of filmed art and entertainment. And the festival’s setting, Telluride, is a crucial part of it.
The TFF is now in its 46th year. I have attended more than half of those festivals, some as staff, some as a passholder. Adding up the long weekends, over six months of my life have unspooled at the TFF. Thinking back, I am struck that the TFF has continuously evolved to build its equities — for the local community, filmmakers and audiences alike.
Telluride is so rich in amenities that there are plenty of reasons to come here: the outdoor recreational opportunities, the scenery, the historic small town, and other thriving events like Bluegrass, Blues & Brews and MountainFilm.
To me, the TFF is the jewel in Telluride’s cultural crown.
The notion of the summertime cultural retreat goes back centuries. European aristocrats would escape the sweltering cities, before the invention of air conditioning, for a cool escape, complete with glorious music. Think Salzburg, Austria. Later the idea gained purchase with music festivals in the Berkshires and Aspen. This idea is now, thanks to the TFF (and the other summer festivals), a big part of what makes Telluride Telluride.
Meanwhile, our world, politically and environmentally, has never been more threatened, making a small and remote mountain retreat not only increasingly expensive, but all the more precious.
These last thoughts may represent a stretch from thinking about the value, adaptability and unique qualities of the Telluride Film Festival. But it’s not, really. This weekend, as for the last 45 Labor Day weekends, audiences in Telluride will escape from the heat of the lowlands to deeply engage with all of the problems of the world as they are depicted on the screen by film artists. They (we) will be in gorgeous, remote and relatively unspoiled Telluride in order to spend most of our time in darkened theaters.
The movies this weekend will inspire and challenge us, as Telluride itself inspires and challenges us, to recognize our immense privilege in being here, and to do what we can and what we must in these most perilous times.
Thank you, TFF, for bringing so very much into sharp focus.