As summer begins to wane, the film festival circuit begins to heat up. There are many festivals, but a few stand out because they regularly have the fortune of screening films that are potential contenders for Academy Awards. The Telluride Film Festival is a great example because filmmakers who hope to contend for Oscar gold clamor for a coveted invitation to show their movie at the festival.
Another reason there is such great buzz surrounding Telluride is because the lineup isn’t announced until right before the festival begins. This is in stark contrast to festivals that announce their lineups weeks in advance in order to draw attention and media buzz. Telluride organizers have finally released their lineup, with a few films already coming under award scrutiny.
“Argo,” a film directed by Ben Affleck, is said to be one of the contenders once awards season begins in January. The movie is an adaptation of the book The Master of Disguise by Tony Mendez, which tells the declassified story of a CIA operative who devises a plan to free six American Embassy workers who are in hiding in the Canadian Embassy in Iran. It is a period piece, set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Affleck directed and stars in the film along with Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler and Taylor Schilling.
The Telluride Film Festival prides itself on showing several movies each year that have not been shown anywhere else. In the past, it has been the site of the world premiere for films like “Slumdog Millionaire,” which took the top prize at the Academy Awards the following year. Festival directors hope for more of the same with the premiere of “Hyde Park on Hudson,” a much-anticipated film starring Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt. The actor is known for his comedy roles, so this dramatic film is a rare departure that has served to amp up anticipation of its Telluride debut.
Actress and screenwriter Greta Gerwig has been best-known for her role in the 2011 “Arthur” remake, tackling the role made famous by Liza Minelli in the original. That is all about to change with “Frances Ha,” a movie she co-wrote with her boyfriend Noah Baumbach. The comedy was filmed in black and white instead of color and features a number of notable performances from Gerwig, Adam Driver and Grace Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep.
Notable films that were rumored to be at the festival this year but weren’t on the lineup include “The Master,” which was thought to have already had too many scheduled screenings. The movie, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is said to be about the controversial Scientology religion. It stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joacquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.
Foreign language films are a big part of the Telluride lineup each year, and 2012 is no different. As with any year, many of the foreign language entries will likely be vying for the coveted Academy Award in their category. Some of the standouts include “Barbara” out of Germany, the Austrian film “Amour,” “The Attack” from Lebanon and “Wadjda,” made in Saudi Arabia. “Wadjda” is of particular note because it is the first Saudi film in history to be directed by a woman.
One of the surprises on the festival lineup is the somewhat quiet entry of “The Gatekeepers,” a powerful film out of Israel. Unlike most of the other dramatic films with scheduled showings, “The Gatekeepers” is a documentary that has the mood of a dramatic film. It investigates Shin Bet, the very controversial internal security organization in Israel. Director Dror Moreh gives an unflinching view of some of Shin Bet’s practices that harm innocent people across the country, which could start a political maelstrom. The film is making its North American debut in Telluride and has lots of Oscar buzz surrounding it in the documentary category.
This will be the 39th installment of the festival, which has become a movie industry mainstay. Though the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Oscars are still months away, the Telluride Film Festival serves as a barometer of sorts to see where the big films are now. There are still a few, like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” that are expected to be award contenders but will not be finished in time to screen at Telluride. Nonetheless, the festival is still an excellent way to see which rumored contenders are real and which are just pretenders.