‘Birdman,’ ‘Wild,’ ‘Imitation Game’ and an ‘Apocalypse Now’ treat set for 41st Telluride

TELLURIDE – With all the reindeer games going on in the fall festival world, a lot of the drama and mystery surrounding Telluride's perennially on-the-lowdown program began to seep out like a steadily deflating balloon this year. Toronto, Venice and New York notations of “World Premiere,” “Canada Premiere,” “New York Premiere” or “International Premiere” and the like made it all rather obvious which films were heading to the San Juans for the 41st edition of the tiny mining village's cinephile gathering, and which were not. But the fact is, if you're in it just for the surprises – or certainly, for the awards-baiting heavies – you're never going to be fully satisfied by the Telluride experience. That having been said, this year's program might just be the most exciting one in my six years of attending.

Starting with all of the stuff we were expecting, indeed, Cannes players “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner” and “Leviathan” will play the festival from the Sony Pictures Classics stable. SPC co-chiefs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard have been two of the most vocal detractors of Toronto's strictures this season, though it has always been clear that Telluride – with its focus on high brow and concentration of Academy voter attendees – has always been the better fit for their brand of product. The company will also hold its annual dinner in celebration of the talent from these films and more (“Merchants of Doubt,” “Wild Tales”).

Other Cannes premieres set for a North American launch here include the Dardennes' “Two Days, One Night” with Marion Cotillard, Xavier Dolan's award-winning “Mommy,” Gabe Polsky's Cold War/Soviet hockey team documentary “Red Army” and Tommy Lee Jones' western “The Homesman,” with Hilary Swank.

Meanwhile, after opening the Venice fest on Wednesday, Alejandro González Iñárritu's “Birdman” will land stateside here before bypassing Toronto en route to New York in October. (Fox Searchlight will in fact have another hefty presence in Telluride with both that film and Jean-Marc Valleé's “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon.) Other Venice titles that will drop in Telluride after premiering on the Lido include Ramin Bahrani's “99 Homes” with Andrew Garfield and Joshua Oppenheimer's “Act of Killing” follow-up “The Look of Silence.”

Like “Wild,” The Weinstein Company will debut Morten Tyldum's “The Imitation Game” with Benedict Cumberbatch here before heading up to Toronto next week, as will Open Road Films with Jon Stewart's directorial debut “Rosewater.” And after seeing his break-out moment, “Starred Up,” land at Telluride a year ago, actor Jack O'Connell is back with another play ahead of his big “Unbroken” turn later this year in Yann Demange's “'71.”

Speaking earlier of Swank, the two-time Oscar winner will be receiving the festival's highest profile tribute this year, the early workings, perhaps, of a significant Oscar push for “The Homesman.” New kid on the block Saban Films acquired the film out of Cannes, but Roadside Attractions will be handling campaign particulars. German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff will receive the other tribute as his latest, “Diplomacy,” screens in the program alongside his 1992 Billy Wilder documentary “Billy, How Did You Do It?” and his 1970 Bertolt Brecht adaptation “Baal.” Gian Luca Farinelli of the Cineteca di Bologna, meanwhile, will receive a Special Medallion, in keeping with Telluride's commitment to spotlighting what many at this fest consider God's work in the field of film preservation.

But let's talk about what really has me hopping for this year's festival. Again, those who have come here in recent years clamoring for just the Oscar stuff miss out on powerful presentations like a fascinating and painstaking “Trip to the Moon” restoration, or a 70mm screening of Ron Fricke's “Baraka,” or just last year, a new DCP of Werner Herzog's masterpiece “Aguirre the Wrath of God.” Well, this year, let's just say “Apocalypse Now” fans will have a whole lot to chew on.

I had a feeling last year that, on the occasion of Telluride's 40th anniversary, festival brass might reach back to inaugural tributee Francis Ford Coppola for something special. They held off a year, is all, and with the legendary director's iconic 1979 opus celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, the festival will be presenting a new DCP of the film's original cut, supervised by Coppola himself. But that's not all. A once-in-a-lifetime experience is here to be had as filmmaker James Gray (“The Immigrant”) hosts a close-up of the film with producer Fred Roos, editor/sound editor Walter Murch, Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and Coppola himself. Roos will use screen tests to discuss casting of the film while Murch, Storaro and Coppola will present sequences to reveal how and why they were created.


Naturally, with any “Apocalypse Now” retrospective, a screening of Eleanor Coppola's stunning 1991 making-of documentary “Hearts of Darkness” is in order (and if you've never seen that film, seek it out). So that's on the docket. And in addition, a conversation with the film's creative consultant, Dennis Jakob, and filmmakers Errol Morris and Guy Maddin will go down on Monday. I mean…just…#swoon.

It's not going out on a limb or anything to call “Apocalypse Now” one of the greatest films ever made, but nevertheless, consider all of this stuff high, high priority for me. The Oscar films, if they conflict, can wait.

That said, many will be eager for first word on things like “Wild” and “The Imitation Game,” and you can bet we'll have it for you here. I'm eager to catch up on the Cannes stuff as well as, of course, the Venice carry-overs. And I'm very, very curious to see if anything “major” will pop up as a surprise addition. There are a number of “TBAs” listed in key spots on the schedule at present, and there's certainly an opportunity if a studio wants to grab a ton of buzz. It won't be “Fury” or “Big Eyes.” It could be something left field like Julie Taymor's “Midsummer Night's Dream.” But to be perfectly honest, this program is sterling. There's more than enough here to chew on for four days and I couldn't be more pleased with the overall package. Props.

Other notes: Guest Directors Maddin and Kim Morgan have put together an enticing list of selections as well. They include Robert Altman's 1974 film “California Split,” a restoration of Fritz Lang's 1931 stand-out “M” and a special opportunity to see Howard Hawks' 1936 William Faulkner-scripted World War I effort “The Road to Glory,” which has never been available on DVD or even VHS, for that matter. A series of short films from director Carroll Ballard will be presented as well, including 1971 essay “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” which juxtaposes interviews with a dozen California centenarians against vibrant montages tracing our rapid ascent from the Old West to the Space Age. And finally, the long lost – and as of late, oft-discussed – Orson Welles film “Two Much Johnson” (1938), has been restored and will be shown as it was found: unfinished. It ought to make an interesting companion to Oscar-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman's brand new Welles documentary “Magician,” playing elsewhere in the fest.

This is very much the best combination I've ever seen of Telluride's long-established cinephile identity and its unavoidable position as a launching pad for fall prestige cinema. It makes what was frankly starting to appear like a lackluster season seem absolutely popping with variety. I can't wait to dig in.

Vote in the poll below to let us know which of these highly anticipated Telluride players will come out of the fest with the most Oscar buzz. This time last year it was “12 Years a Slave,” so it's worth paying attention, if not getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Check out the full line-up of features on the next page and keep it tuned to HitFix/In Contention throughout the week for more from Telluride and Venice.

The 41st annual Telluride Film Festival runs Aug. 29 – Sept. 1.

“Birdman” (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
“The Decent One” (Vanessa Lapa)
“Dancing Arabs” (Eran Riklis)
“Diplomacy” (Volker Schlöndorff)
“The 50 Year Argument” (Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi)
“Foxcatcher” (Bennett Miller)
“The Gate” (Régis Wargnier)
“The Homesman” (Tommy Lee Jones)
“The Imitation Game” (Morten Tyldum)
“Leviathan” (Andrey Zvyaginstev)
“The Look of Silence” (Joshua Oppenheimer)
“Mr. Turner” (Mike Leigh)
“Madame Bovary” (Sophie Barthes)
“Merchants of Doubt” (Patrick Osborne)
“Mommy” (Xavier Dolan)
“99 Homes” (Ramin Bahrani)
“The Price of Fame” (Xavier Beauvois)
“Red Army” (Gabe Polsky)
“Rosewater” (Jon Stewart)
“The Salt of the Earth” (Wim Wenders)
“'71” (Yann Demange)
“Tales of the Grim Sleeper” (Nick Broomfield)
“Two Days, One Night” (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
“Wild” (Jean-Marc Valleé)
“Wild Tales” (Damián Szifrón)

“Bertolucci on Bertolucci” (Walter Fasano and Luca Guadagnino)
“Forbidden Films” (Felix Moeller)
“How to Smell a Rose” (Les Blank, Gina Leibrecht)
“I Stop Time” (Gunilla Bresky)
“Keep On Keepin' On” (Alan Hicks)
“Magician” (Chuck Workman)
“Night Will Fall” (André Singer)
“Seymour” (Ethan Hawke)
“Socialism” (Peter von Bagh)

“Baal” (Volker Schlöndorff, 1970)
“Billy, How Did You Do It?” (Volker Schlöndorff, 1992)
“Carroll Ballard: Seems Like Only Yesterday” (series of shorts, 1969-1975)
“Children of No Importance” (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1926)
“Hearts of Darkness” (Eleanor Coppola, 1991)
“Joyful Laughter” (Marion Monicelli, 1960)
“Two Much Johnson” (Orson Welles, 1938)

“California Split” (Robert Altman, 1974)
“Il Grido” (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1957)
“M” (Fritz Lang, 1951) – restoration
“A Man's Castle” (Frank Borzage, 1933)
“The Road to Glory” (Howard Hawks, 1936)
“Wicked Woman” (Russell Rouse, 1953)

Hilary Swank
Volker Schlöndorff
Cineteca di Bologna and Gian Luca Farinelli (Special Medallion)