Simply Potent: Dispatched from the 2016 Telluride Film Festival

Every Labor Day weekend since 1974, filmmakers, critics, historians, students, moviegoers, and a handful of outdoorsmen and women converge on the quaint mountain town of Telluride, Colorado, to celebrate the past and present of their beloved art form. They come to the Telluride Film Festival, one of the best in the world, not for red carpets, galas, awards, or competition, but for the simple, unadulterated pleasure of sitting in a theater with 650 people and watching images unfold on a giant screen. It’s a sight worth savoring.

Now in its 43rd iteration, the Telluride Film Festival is known for showcasing movies that will shape the back half of the year’s releases—with a few of them cleaning up the major awards. And this year’s lineup is a promise of positive things to come. The first festival movie to make it to neighborhood screens is Sully, a dramatic retelling of US Airways Flight 1549 and Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson.” Tom Hanks plays Capt. Sully in director Clint Eastwood’s dual examination of an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation and the posttraumatic stress generated from such an event.

Clive Oppenheimer and Werner Herzog go Into the Inferno. Courtesy Netflix.

Werner Herzog’s latest, Into the Inferno, makes its way to Netflix in October, but should the opportunity arise to see this documentary in theaters, do not hesitate to see it big and hear it loud. Herzog teams with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to study the awesome and destructive power of active volcanoes while exploring human connection to these natural wonders through local mythologies, including a long look into North Korea’s relationship with their sacred Mount Paektu. Communist countries and animated paleontologists aside—the movie has both in spades—Into the Inferno features astounding photography and teeth-rattling sound design of magma snarling and spraying against mountains and ocean waves without remorse. Not many movies can convey such a sense of primal power, but not many filmmakers are like Herzog.

Two more: My Journey Through French Cinema—filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier’s sweeping and heartfelt survey of his fellow countryman’s best work—and Bright Lights, a warts-and-all look at the mother-daughter relationship of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. Both docs are a must for cinephiles, but with Reynolds’ and Fischer’s snappy repartee, Bright Lights is destined to draw in the Gilmore Girls crowd, leaving them begging for more.

But as good as the above are, and they are quite good, they are all known quantities. What makes Telluride, indeed any film festival, such a memorable experience are the discoveries. And this year, that honor belongs to Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins’ rousing, personal, and poetic triptych about a gay black man coming of age in Miami. Told in three parts—youth, teenage, adult—Moonlight is a gripping drama that explores the basic need of identification. From the use of Boris Gardiner’s silky-smooth lyrics in the opening to a startling conclusion that harkens back to François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Moonlight is simply potent.

Alex R. Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Courtesy A24.

The above report first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 24, No. 5, “All about the show.”