Telluride's Diamonds in the Rough
BACK to basics. Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, the Telluride Film Festival has championed the small film, the forgotten masterpiece, the voice of the individual artist working outside the world of factory filmmaking. The international film community offered up its small cinematic jewels, and many of these went on to commercial and critical success after their American premieres here. Telluride was known for finding the unique work of film art. This year, the 19th Annual Telluride Film Festival reaffirmed those goals over Labor Day weekend in the graceful old Western mining town tucked high in the mountains of southern Colorado.Skip to next paragraph
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Perhaps last year's stars sparkled a little too brightly for the festival directors' tastes. In any case, this time they went digging for the diamonds in the rough.
Some of those diamonds are rough enough but still genuine. Telluride introduced an ingenious little film called "El Mariachi," by 23-year-old Texan director Robert Rodriguez. Made on an impossible budget of $7,500, this taut thriller about a wandering modern minstrel is part parody, part gangster film, and part hero's journey. The bullets fly freely, but there is enough self-mockery in the film to keep the viewer safely distanced from the violence. So, crude as it is, it is a textbook in film technique a nd economy.
"El Mariachi" was one of several films selected by Cuban ex- patriot film critic G. Cabrera Infante. His presence at Telluride, like that of Errol Morris, Bertrand Tavernier, and Laurie Anderson as guest directors in years past, brought a special flavor to the festival, an expertise outside the mainstream that illuminated work few North Americans know about.
The concept of light was an issue, too - literally and metaphorically. The titles of two documentaries seem to capture the spirit of Telluride this year: "Visions of Light," by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels, and Werner Herzog's "Lessons In Darkness" describe opposite attitudes toward filmmaking as well as extremes of human experience. "Visions" is a magnificent investigation of the art of the cinematographer - the kind of film that helps you see each shot as a composition in light. L ove for the art form is palpable in this piece. It leaves one feeling inspired and grateful for the form itself.
"Lessons," on the other hand, tracks the destruction of Kuwait after Saddam Hussein set the oil wells on fire. Mr. Herzog refuses to take an obvious political position - there were human-rights violations on both sides.
But he shows you rooms of instruments used in torture, interviews with women who lost husbands and sons, etc. On the sound track, you hear Wagner's music. Herzog himself reads from the Book of Revelation. Herzog is trying to teach us a lesson about man's destructiveness, but he makes that horror beautiful and powerful.