For almost half a century, the Telluride Film Festival has staged the ultimate disappearing act, sweeping into town each Labor Day weekend, and transforming venues you likely wouldn’t look twice at any other time.
“Out of necessity, we’ve built them,” the fest’s website explains.
The conference center in Mountain Village “puts on its bunny ears to become The Chuck Jones Cinema.” The middle school gym “morphs into the Melies-inspired Galaxy.” “A Victorian-flavored theatre emerges from the town’s Masonic Hall.”
Imaginative as these makeovers may have been, there was something missing. The fest is nearly half a century strong, and has never had its own base. “Our headquarters would often rotate into different buildings, depending on who had space available that year,” fest spokesperson Shannon Mitchell explained.
All of a sudden, that’s changed (“Spit spot! And off we go,” as cinema’s magical nanny Mary Poppins might have put it). Earlier this week, the Telluride Film Festival and the National Film Preserve LTD announced the acquisition of a “regional jewel” to be “a permanent hub” for the fest: the historic Nugget Building.
Formerly the First National Bank of Telluride, the Nugget seems ideal as a hub for the film festival.
In Hollywood parlance, the building is ready for its closeup, “an iconic piece of Old West History” on Telluride’s Main Street, freshly renovated in a multi-million dollar project financed by its former owners, Katrine and William Formby.
“We’re extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in bringing this 129-year-old building back to its former glory,” the couple said. “All of our decisions have been made with the following in mind: ‘What is best for the Nugget Building, and for Telluride?’ Selling the Nugget Building to the Telluride Film Festival sounds like a happy and appropriate end to our time as stewards of the building.”
For its part, the fest has the best interests of cinephiles in mind. So while “It’s a lovely building,” Mitchell said, the next step is to upgrade the inside — to make its brains, in effect, worthy of its bones by turning it into a state-of-the-art spot to screen the newest works by the biggest talents (the Telluride Film Festival has had remarkable success debuting films that go on to win multiple Academy Awards later each season).
“The theater needs better sight lines — that is, better views from each seat to the stage,” Mitchell said frankly.
It also needs better sound, and a new screen.
“Two of our sponsor partners, Dolby and Meyer Sound, will be working with the festival to create new sound and a new picture, and adding a bathroom,” Mitchell said even more frankly. “Who knew, right? The projectionists need their own, in case the lines to the public restrooms get too long” (the show must go on, on time).
To help pay for all these upgrades, the festival has launched a capital campaign titled “Nugget Project: The SHOW at 50” (make a donation and learn more at telluridefilmfestival.org). Changes are planned not only inside the theater, but also atop it. The intent is to transform the roof — with its 360-degree views of surrounding peaks — “into an open party space for our stuff, and, obviously, other events that come through town,” Mitchell said. There’s also a plan to build a three-story space in the alley behind the Nugget “which will be for visiting filmmakers, who’ll stay there and program a worth week’s of films at the Nugget.”
The building will become not only a setting for the Telluride Film Festival’s movies every Labor Day weekend, in other words, but a place “where local cinephiles can learn more” year-round, Mitchell said. Festival executive director Julie Huntsinger “also intends to make the building available to other nonprofits, such as Mountainfilm,” she added.
The Nugget may appear swank, but much remains to be done to transform it still further, into a state-of-the art screening facility replete with rooftop lounge, plus a retreat for visiting auteurs. And this has not been an ideal time to do any of that.
“Getting anyone to just come and look at it and see what they can get started on” has been a challenge, according to Mitchell. But progress is being made: “Julie did just have a first meeting with an architect.”
“We’re working toward having everything completed by the 50th festival two years from now,” Mitchell added. In its nearly half-century of existence, the festival has provided a venue for thousands of films to screen from for the first time. “It will be nice,” Mitchell allowed, to at last “have a home base.”