“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
~ Soren Kierkegaard
These were the words from one of the many quotes that were both spoken and written in Laurie Anderson’s beautiful, mesmerizing, at times funny and always poignant and heartbreaking visual essay about loss, in HEART OF A DOG. And so true they are. Hindsight is always 20/20 and indeed it is only by looking back and putting into perspective all that we have done and said, that we can move forward into the future. But what the annual Labor Day gathering of filmmakers and film lovers in the mountains of Telluride does every year is bring us together in what seems an eternal present. Whether we call it Telluride Magic or the ritualistic repertoire of experiences that become like Riley’s core memories encapsulated in glowing orbs in Pixar’s Inside Out, for me, reflecting on these images seen, words spoken, texts read ~ from the past through the present, not only represent how we have changed through the years, but also illuminates the thread that holds that very reality together and helps us make sense of what is yet to be.
Above, a couple of my core memories ~ 25th anniversary of Telluride in 1998, with other Student Symposium friends Sarah Sibley, Bryant York and film-maker John Krokidas (Kill Your Darlings, 2013). My husband Lloyd and I, 2000. With Berlin film director Dieter Kosslick and one of my favorite film-makers Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, 1987; Notebook on Cities and Clothes, on designer Yohji Yamamoto, 1989; Buena Vista Social Club, 1996; The Salt of the Earth, 2014.) His 3-D screening of Pina in Telluride in 2011 was one of the most remarkable screenings I’ve been to. For other past Telluride memories, go HERE and HERE.
“My obsession has been — and is still — the feeling of being there. Not of finding out this and analyzing this or performing some virtuous social act or something. Just what’s it like to be there.” ~ Richard Leacock
“There were years when I went to the movies almost every day, sometimes even twice a day, and they were the years between 1936 and the war…Those were years in which cinema was my world. It’s been said many times before that cinema is a form of escape… It satisfied a need for disorientation, for shifting my attention to another place, and I believe it’s a need that corresponds to a primary function of integration in the world… Of course there are other more substantial and personal ways of creating a different space for yourself: cinema was the easiest method and it was within reach, but it was also the one that instantly carried me farthest away.”
~ Italo Calvino, The Movies of My Youth, New York Review of Books, August 2015
Above, the young Salvatore di Vita in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, 1990.
I too spend much time in the cinema, screening films alone, usually late morning, during the year. It calms me, takes me away, and yes, is very much an escape; but it’s also a window into others’ realities and a mirror of our own. We are privileged travelers into the film-makers worlds they create for us, seeing through others’ eyes, making us sympathize with experiences we could never have, empathize in situations that are so far from our daily lives. As a threshold into another place and another time, entering into the cinema is like time travel ~ where we get to re-live memories of places we’ve been, identities and other selves we’ve inhabited before (or would like to), provoking and inspiring new ways of seeing. This is its beauty, and its power.
With films that ranged from documentaries like Charles Ferguson’s TIME TO CHOOSE and Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman’s SEMBENE about the father of African cinema Ousmene Sembene, who has done such radical and memorable films such as Black Girl (1969) and Moolade (2005), to a couple of my other favorite films this weekend like Thomas McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT and David Guggenheim’s HE CALLED ME MALALA ~ this year’s selection of films at Telluride Film Festival had a common thread of film-maker, protagonist and even audience being put in the position of making a choice to stay silent or to speak up. Of course it is that balance of knowing when the timing is right, but to focus in on what it means to actively participate in the making of our world, is indeed not only important but necessary. Malala’s words that still ring in my ears a week later, her voice sharp and distinct, is one of many of the running themes that hold together the amazingly diverse selection of films in this year’s festival. It also brings me right back to how I actually made my way to Telluride back in 1998, as a grad student in the Student Symposium that film critic B. Ruby Rich had told me about. 17 years ago I was a TA in Ruby’s class “Truth Stranger than Fiction ~ Documentary film from 1960 to the present” which completely transformed my way of thinking about storytelling through images and voice ~ a history of films that were so inspirational not just in and of themselves but how Ruby presented them to her class, how she inspired a generation of film-makers to find their own voices, tell their own stories. Looking back 17 years, Malala’s words below ring through the syllabus with such force in the films I saw for the first time in her class ~ by Isaac Julien, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Jean Rouch, Fred Wiseman, Rob Epstein, beginning with Edward Murrow’s Harvest of Shame (1960).
“The cinematic codes have structured our (women’s) absence to such an extent that the only choice allowed to us is to identify either with Marilyn Monroe or with the guy behind me hitting the back of my seat with his knees.” ~ B. Ruby Rich, New German Critique, 1978
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” ~ Malala
I first became aware of these films and their possibility to go out into the world and help create change, in Ruby’s class all those years ago, so it was such a beautiful entry into this year’s festival experience that my very first film minutes after arriving in Telluride was SEMBENE, which I had written about last fall ~ “One Story is Many” ~ without having seen the final cut. And here it was, complete. Sitting in the Nugget with documentary film-makers Charles Ferguson, who before making the call to action TIME TO CHOOSE, directed the provocative No End In Sight (2007) and Oscar-winning Inside Job (2010) and Hubert Sauper who recently finished We Come As Friends (2014) about South Sudan but also made the phenomenal Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), a film about humans and fish in Tanzania. Here in this intimate surrounding, all I could think of is the compelling role of film in documenting lives, giving voice to the voiceless, telling untold stories.
Above ~ Tom Luddy and Alice Waters reading Fanny at Chez Panisse, with Ousmene Sembene, at Chez Panisse, in the 70s; Machete Diallo (technician on Sembene’s films), Jason Silverman, Fatoumatah Coulibaly (lead actress in Moolaade), and Samba Gadjigo;an image from Ousmene Sembene’s Moolade (2004), about female genital mutilation, which I first saw clips from in Thursday’s screening of SEMBENE at the Nugget; Sauper’s Darwin’s Nightmare; and Ferguson’s call to action in his TIME TO CHOOSE ~ a provocative story that not only gives us the facts of global climate change around the world (many of which I wasn’t aware) but also motivates us to actually do something about it. Imperative viewing for both children and adults around the world, but especially in the United States.
“Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.” ~ Laurie Anderson
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” ~ Susan Sontag
“I was the girl they expected things of.’ ~ Reno, in Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers
Above ~ Novelist Rachel Kushner’s Guest Director’s Selections, which I didn’t have time to see, BUT which I am very excited to find and watch in the coming months ~ Jean Eustach’s THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE (1973), Jean Eustach’s MES PETITES AMOUREUSES (1974), Ted Kotcheff’s WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971), Robert Frank’s COCKSUCKER BLUES (1979), Jean Renoir’s A DAY IN THE COUNTRY (1936) and Agnes Varda’s UNCLE YANCO (1967), and Francesco Rosi’s THE MATTEI AFFAIR (1972). Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers was a 2013 National Book Award finalist, and is being adapted for the screen by Jane Campion in 2016.
Co-directors Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger do an impressive job at creating a beautiful balance of fiction and non-fiction, experimental and independent films side by side with this year’s Guest Director Rachel Kushner’s choices (above) and more conventional titles like BLACK MASS starring Johnny Depp, SUFFRAGETTE starring Meryl Streep, and the Danny Boyle-directed and Aaron Sorkin-written STEVE JOBS, one of the highly anticipated films of the festival. But where else do you get the sharpness of Sorkin in the same space as the beautiful eloquence of Jayro Bustamante’s debut feature IXCANUL from Guatemala. Some of the most beautifully haunting shots were seen in this film, as were the most horrifyingly shocking ones in Cary Fukunaga’s BEASTS OF NO NATION, featuring the charismatic Idris Elba alongside first time actor Abraham Attah. With costumes that screamed “be inspired by me” the storytelling through the eyes of the young Agu as he is transformed from innocent 10 year old to boy soldier, the early humor and playfulness seen in his “imagination TV” skit gives way to the experiential shock of feeling present in Agu’s terrifying reality for the duration of the film. We are taken into the psychology of the boy as he moves through his world. These are a couple of the films that are instilled in my brain a week later as I sit in a cafe at Berkeley, recollecting all of the core memories that Telluride Film festival gives to its film-goers every year. Below is a visual diary of a collection of moments and experiences from this year’s 42nd Telluride Film Festival.
THURSDAY, September 3rd ~ after the SEMBENE screening, a reunion with Pamela Esterson and Alex Black, dinner at Siam ~
Above, left ~ Pam and I in NYC 14 years ago, post-9/11 in front of Julian Schnabel’s studio. Right, Arena’s NIGHT AND DAY, directed by Anthony Wall that Pam brought to Telluride this year. A 24 hour opus featuring excerpts from Arena’s 600+ films, I didn’t get a chance to see it during the festival but hope it will be in the Bay Area in the coming months, and screened much like Christian Marclay’s brilliant THE CLOCK, which I first at SFMOMA a couple years ago. The film is the perfect complement to the tribute to Adam Curtis, who was at the festival with BITTER LAKE, and whose THE CENTURY OF THE SELF (first recommended by Frances McDormand, on stage at City Arts&Lectures in SF last year) and is compulsory viewing for understanding the psychology of consumer culture and the decisions we make. Bottom image ~ Pam with ex-CIA operative Robert Baer at the offices of Telluride TV, where Bob was broadcasting live to CNN during the festival. NIGHT AND DAY screening on the TV.
FRIDAY, September 4th ~ Brunch, Farmer’s market, HE NAMED HER MALALA, chanterelle pasta dinner, HEART OF A DOG, New Sheridan Hotel Bar, TIME TO CHANGE, Sheridan Bar.
Above ~ the Telluride farmer’s market, film-maker Hubert Sauper with Alice Waters, who received the National Humanities Medal from Obama this past week, putting food and food education into the national discourse; a shot of Malala and her father Ziauddin on set of the He Named Me Malalal; Q&A at the Chuck Jones with Ken Burns, director Davis Guggenheim, Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, with Malala in conversation by satellite; Late night with film-makers Hubert Sauper, Maria Full of Grace and The Forgiveness of Blood’s Joshua Marston, Son of Saul’s Laszlo Nemes and Pippa Bianco, whose short film SHARE was screened at the festival, and also won Cannes Cinefondation; Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, a still from her mesmerizing HEART OF A DOG, and Lou’s Turning Time Around.
SATURDAY, September 5th ~ SPOTLIGHT, ROOM, BLACK MASS ~ all at the Werner Herzog Theater.
Of course I wanted to see Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette as my first film on a Saturday morning, but so did many others, and I made it there a bit too late. Film Festivals are all about strategy, and even though I know that the bigger commercial films are sometimes the most crowded, like a magnet I go right to them ~ for those familiar faces, stories, the introductions before and Q&A’s afterwards. But I love how surprised I am when making the more non-obvious choices ~ the surprises, the waku-doki. So I ran across town to SPOTLIGHT where director Thomas McCarthy and actors Michael Keaton (whose birthday it was) and Rachel McAdams were present before the screening. I was absolutely blown away by its pace, its message, its performances, especially by Mark Ruffalo. This is what I adore about Telluride ~ when you have in mind one experience, how you can be completely exhilarated by another. This film hit home, maybe because of the Boston accents that reminded me of my closest cousins, maybe because I grew up part of the Roman Catholic Church ~ confirmed ~ and even have my communion dress (made from my mother’s wedding gown) that hung in my atelier in Berkeley over the past 7 years as a reminder of a faith that was instilled in me, transformed into something else, but still present. Maybe it was the Jesuit teachings I got at the College of the Holy Cross, but maybe it was just the overall idea of how power can be used and abused, intimacy created, secrets kept, and the courage it takes to speak up, no matter what the subject.
“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time…I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well…I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.” ~ Emma Donoghue
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” ~ Emma Donoghue
“Stories are a different kind of true.” ~ Emma Donoghue
I can’t remember why I read Emma Donoghue’s ROOM when it came out. It’s not like I have a habit of reading novels ~ that’s saved for film watching ~ but I did; and it captivated me, it scarred me. I’m not sure if it was the little truths in the language, the world she created in Room, or just the idea as a parent, being stuck in a room with your child. Luckily enough time had passed and I wanted to see it both for how the novel was translated into a screenplay which became a film, and for how they saw the room from the boys point of view. I was entranced by the physicality of the room itself, and the mother’s choices about how she explained the room and its world to the boy.
We ended Saturday evening in a highly anticipated screening of BLACK MASS, the trailer of which blew my mind. Another film based in Boston, with a stunning performance by Johnny Depp playing James “Whitey” Bulger, and one of the most horrifying scenes between a man and woman, was a different way of translating a true story into a film ~ and with a new appreciation of the local Oakland-based restaurant “SOUTHIE,” which i had heard recently was named after that part of Boston.
Above ~ The cast of the enthralling SPOTLIGHT (image from Variety.com; c. Entertainment One); First communion in Leominster, MA with my grammy Gladys and papa Michael Iannacone, wearing my dress that was made by my grammy out of my mother’s wedding gown; Post-screening Q&A in the Herzog ~ with director Lenny Abrahamson and actors Brie Larson, Joan Allen and the captivating Jacob Tremblay. Pam and I outside the Herzog, where I spent the whole day. It also happened to be Werner’s birthday, so there was a fabulous collage of images from his films which span the 1960s through the present.
Above ~ a still of Werner in Les Blank’s WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE (1980) with Tom Luddy and Alice Waters. An instagram shot of Werner and Errol Morris in Telluride, 2013. A few favorite recent moments are Werner’s voice in Go the Fuck to Sleep and in Angelo Garro’s Omnivore Salt Kickstarter, and the quote by the prison guard in his INTO THE ABYSS (2011) ~ “How are you going to live your dash… on your tombstone ~ you’ve got your birthdate and you got the day you are deceased and you got that little dash in the middle ~ that’s your life right there… from the time you’re born to the time you die, how you gonna live your dash?”
SUNDAY, September 6th ~ Elk’s Park, IXCANUL, L’INHUMAINE, STEVE JOBS, a little gathering in 3 parts.
Above ~ Todd McCarthy moderating the STEVE JOBS panel. From left, Aaron Sorkin, Danny Boyle, Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet.
“The film was the sound of his mind.” ~ Aaron Sorkin
Above ~ Jayro Bustamante’s stunning debut feature IXCANUL from Guatemala.
Above ~ Marielle Heller’s wonderful coming of age film THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (adapted from the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner) which Lloyd and I saw a couple nights ago. reminded me of Bustamante’s IXCANUL above ~ and the teenage girl’s experience. We loved the juxtaposition with Pixar’s INSIDE OUT, which Lloyd worked on over the past couple years, as a technical director).
Above ~ Marcel L’Herbier’s L’INHUMAINE (1924)… Part of my dear friend Meredith Brody’s “The Inadvertent Telluride Silent Film Festival.” Screened with the Alloy Orchestra, and with sets and designs by Fernand Leger, costumes by Paul Poiret, objets by Rene Lalique. Monique Montgomery presenting LA POISON (d. Sacha Guitry, France, 1951) at The Pierre Theater during the 40th Anniversary, with Pierre Rissient in the foreground.
MONDAY, September 7th ~ BEASTS OF NO NATION, CAROL, VIVA, dinner at There, Oaks, Sheridan Bar with documentary film-makers Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, who came with their Galapagos Affair a couple years ago (I also loved their Something Ventured, Ballet Russes, and Kids of Survival.
Our little gathering of friends on Sunday evening ended around 4:30am Monday morning, where several new faces showed up in our living room. From VIVA’s two actors Hector Medina and Luis Alberto Garcia, and BEAST OF NO NATION’S Idris Elba to Elizabeth Shue, one of my all-time favorite teen actors (think Adventures in Babysitting, Karate Kid and Cocktail), the party blurred into an 8:30am screening of Cary Fukunaga’s captivating and daring BEASTS OF NO NATION. For me, the actual experience of watching the film was similar to what I remember when we screened Gaspar Noe’s SEUL CONTRE TOUS 17 years before. It kind of rocked my world. There was something physically altering seeing the transformation of an innocent boy who was hosting his idea of an imagination TV to try to sell the shell of his brother’s TV, into a boy soldier whose first killing starts off with a machete blow to the head that spirals into a chopping frenzy. It’s a lot to take in before noon, but wow, was all I could say. From the dueling performances of Idris and Abraham, to Cary’s careful visual articulation of the jungle, the boys, the drugs and the intertwining of them through both his directing and cinematography, it was one of the most gripping visual tales of the festival for me.
Above ~ Todd McCarthy, in conversation with Idris Elba, Abraham Attah and Cary Fukunaga.
Our last two films of the festival were Todd Haynes CAROL and Paddy Breathnach’s heart-warming VIVA… I had met Todd Haynes in Havana at the Hotel Nacional back in 1999 (I was doing fieldwork in Jamaica and decided to take a two week break to Havana to see it for the first time). Todd was there with Velvet Goldmine; and was accompanied by a bunch of other American directors, including Todd Solondz with HAPPINESS, Rory Kennedy with AMERICAN HOLLOW, and Darren Aronofsky with PI. They represented the vanguard of American independent cinema and were sponsored by the Sundance Institute. It was wild to think back to then, and all that has happened since. CAROL, for some reason, didn’t take me in as I thought it would, and believe me, I thought it would. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara both inhabit these very distinctive and seductive female personas in the film-goers imaginary, but I didn’t feel as much as I had hoped, but then again, it was my 12th film that weekend, and I had just sat through the harrowing BEASTS. Every shot of Ed Lachman’s gorgeous cinematography gave it the perfect match to what I think Todd was trying to do, but for my last film, I wanted emotion and drama; and we got it in VIVA. The screening at the tiny Pierre on the other end of town, was exactly what was needed and happened to be the perfect way to end the festival. It was sensational ~ sensational in that wonderful breath of fresh air that brings you into a space, creates character with a story that is powerful, emotional and poignant. It was exciting to see the two main actors come to life on screen as they blurred the line between their real life and their performance life. And it all happened in Havana, which somehow seemed to inhabit that same place in my imaginary from 16 years ago, when I was at the festival, and from a decade ago, when I was there again, on location for one of my fashion shoots.
Above ~ Todd Haynes on set with Cate Blanchett, in one of the gorgeous dresses by costume designer Sandy Powell; and I couldn’t resist the images of Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in their gowns at Cannes. Cate wear British designer Giles Deacon’s “galaxy” dress. Rooney wears an ethereal Olivier Theyskens for Rochas gown.
Above ~ Actor Hector Medina as Jesus, in Paddy Breathnach’s VIVA. Below, on location in Havana in 2005 with photographer Jock McDonald, model Ania Alit, stylist Christi Mider and hair/make-up David Michaud, shooting my cari borja summer 2005 collection. A great companion piece for the images and film above, is guest director Rachel Kushner’s first book Telex From Cuba (2009) set in the American ex-pat community in Cuba in the 1950s.
After the screening, as we walked to dinner…. there was a beauty and a sadness, that I think Peter Sellars succinctly hits upon in his introduction to SEMBENE earlier that weekend in the Backlot, about how change happens ~ on Ousmene he speaks of his vision ~ “as somebody who is looking to see change and create change ~ somebody who is not looking at things how they are, but how they need to be ~ that vision that is agitating for the future… and that change had to come from scratch, from nothing, and with the sheer work of their hands… these films testify to that” and on the film SEMBENE itself ~ “the film has this low-key strangely relaxed flow to it, like the river in africa. It’s not in a hurry to get where it’s going, because most of the things the film wanted to say cannot be spoken so there has to be room for all the things that didn’t get said, to be felt. The tenderness of this little tribute to Sembene is beautiful, you’ll visit some of the great moments.. and In between the great moments, is just this sadness… that you know if you have spent a lot of time in Africa… or in a situation where the change that is needed is so huge, in the sense of how will it ever happen, is even larger….”
Above ~ our “last supper” at THERE… talking VIVA, food and education, and the power of storytelling through film…with Alice Waters, filmmaker Hubert Sauper and novelist Michael Ondaatje.
Above ~ a still from one of the Backlot films I missed ~ Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s PEGGY GUGGENHEIM ~ ART ADDICT. Below, left ~ on the same roof where Peggy stood, as an intern at the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim in 1994, with Siobhan Conaty, and in the background Chiara Barbieri and Jonathan Hoyt. Below, right, 15 years ago today ~ September 14th 2000 sunrise wedding, Punta della Dogana, Venezia.
“You have to imagine a world, create it, and then live in it.” ~ Peter Sellars.
(this was something that Peter said to me back in 2011 when he was in Berkeley directing Desdemona, written by Toni Morrison. He encouraged me to do this, which resulted in my 77 salon dinners that I hosted at my design studio.)
Film has always been a way of being there ~ a space that we as the audience get to inhabit for the time being, transported into another reality. This year I traveled from Senegal, Silicon Valley and Indonesia, on to Guatemala, Pakistan and Boston, to Paris in the 20s ending my Labor Day in present day Cuba. Film festivals are the same. We fully become part of a shared experience for 5 full days. Each year Telluride not only gives pass-holders amazing film-makers and storytellers who imagine and make worlds that we as viewers can become part of, but it gives everyone an encapsulated moment in time that is a carefully created and brilliantly balanced selection of shorts and features, old and new, commercial and independent, year after year. These experiences become part of the repertoire of core memories and transformative encounters that launch many of the films and filmmakers, into the future. And we as viewers and participants are left altered in our own way ~ perceiving the world from a different point of view, and motivated to possibly go out and articulate stories of our own, and help spread the magical moments that moved us, inspired us, and ultimately transformed us.
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry
Above ~ Maine Street with Tom Luddy, Alice Waters, Dieter Kosslick and Tom Luddy, 2012.
With B. Ruby Rich, at the 40th Anniversary of the festival, 2013.
* To donate to “Students Stand with Malala” for Bay Area youth, go HERE. Also, my friend Charity Tooze will be implementing a youth ticketing program to see HE CALLED ME MALALA in Germany, India, Canada, Nigeria and Kenya… Please email me for more information ~ email@example.com
* To donate to The Edible Schoolyard (one of Alice Waters’ projects being honored by the National Humanities Medal that she received by Obama last week) which brings food education to school curriculums around the country, please go HERE.
* For two other perspectives on Telluride and in-depth reviews of many of the films at the festival I did not see,
go HERE to read Risa Nye’s Full Frontal Festival, and HERE to read Meredith Brody’s The Inadvertent Telluride Silent Film Festival.
A few other festival films I’m looking forward to seeing, soon, somehow ~ Ted Kotcheff’s WAKE IN FRIGHT, Xavier Giannoli’s MARGUERITE, Lazlo Nemes’ SON OF SAUL, Andrew Haigh’s 45 YEARS, Grimur Hakonarson’s RAMS and I’ll be taking Royal and August to see Sarah Gavin’s SUFFRAGETTE.
Above ~ Royal Borja Bernberg, in Telluride for the festival in 2003.
“Entertainment today constantly emphasizes the message that things are wonderful the way the are. But there is another kind of cinema, which says that change is possible and necessary and it’s up to you.” ~ Wim Wenders
‘Let us pick up our books and our pens,’ I said. ‘They are our most powerful weapons.
One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.’” ~ Malala