Cate Blanchett will receive a tribute for her performance in “Tár.” Ten actors, including Rooney Mara and Claire Foy, will fill the stage for the premiere of Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking.” Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and Sam Mendes will salute the art of cinema with their new movies, “Bardo” and “Empire of Light,” while Robert Downey Jr. will emerge from his post-“Avengers” retreat to promote a new documentary about his late filmmaker father.
These are some of the potential highlights of the 49th Telluride Film Festival, which announced its lineup today with the usual blend of awards season hopefuls, festival favorites, and cinephile treats. The Labor Day weekend event returned to form last year after its 2020 cancellation by launching future Oscar winners “The Power of the Dog” and “Belfast,” and that success has injected renewed optimism in the festival’s impact.
“This year, there are some real ass-kicking films,” Telluride executive director Julie Huntsinger told IndieWire during a recent interview. “I feel that this is a really challenging program in a good way.”
Blanchett is one of three tribute subjects at this year’s festival. Telluride will also host celebrations of “Women Talking” director Polley and film history essayist Mark Cousins, both of whom have been regulars at the festival over the years. Blanchett, however, will make her first Telluride pilgrimage straight from the film’s premiere in Venice, and will be joined by director Todd Field, who delivers his first feature since 2006’s “Little Children” with this character study that finds Blanchett playing the fictional classic music composer Lydia Tár. “Cate goes places with this film that you thought you knew, but then she passes them by miles,” Huntsinger said. “I’m just agog at her talent. Once you see it, your jaw is on the floor.”
Another first-timer at Telluride is filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, who will also arrive at the festival from Venice with his cannibal road trip drama “Bones and All.” While the movie reteams him with “Call Me by Your Name” breakout Timothée Chalamet, Huntsinger said that co-star Taylor Russell was the real discovery (though she was last celebrated at Telluride in Trey Shults’ “Waves”). “She’s a very smart, gifted actress with a range of emotion and intellect,” Huntsinger said. “It’s absolutely her movie.” She added that squeamish audiences shouldn’t be scared off by the material. “You quickly get over the revulsion of what they have to do to survive because you understand that it’s about something more than that,” Huntsinger said.
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Meanwhile, Polley returns to Telluride as a director 10 years after her intimate documentary “Stories We Tell” was a breakout at the festival. At 43, Polley is one of the younger filmmakers to receive the Telluride tribute, but worked for decades as an actress prior to her directing career, and her latest work has early buzz for its ensemble look at several Mennonite women who share their experiences of sexual assault. Brad Pitt’s Plan B produced the movie along with Frances McDormand, who has a supporting role in the cast.
“It’s a breathtaking achievement from this relatively young woman,” Huntsinger said. “While Sarah has not directed a ton, her life in cinema and how she brings it to life in this film made us feel she was deserving of a tribute.”
Both “Empire of Light” and “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” are said to be personal works from Oscar-winning directors, a motif that will continue when Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” screens later this month at TIFF. “We went through two years of this shit-filled odyssey of pain,” Huntsinger said. “You turn inwards as a result.”
With the Searchlight-produced “Empire of Light,” Mendes writes and directs the story of a romance set around an old movie theater in a small English seaside town in the 1980s. Co-stars Olivia Colman and Michael Ward (who are not expected to attend the festival) anchor an ensemble that also includes Toby Jones and Colin Firth. “He’s telling a story about humanity through the prism of cinema,” Huntsinger said, distinguishing the movie from Mendes’ most recent directing credits, “1917” and “Spectre,” due to the scale. “I would defy anybody to say it feels like a Sam Mendes film,” she said. “He’s telling a personal story through what appears to be his greatest love, the movies, and you come out of it feeling a greater appreciation for them.”
As for “Bardo,” which brings Iñarritu back to the festival following his Oscar-winning “Birdman,” the Mexican director has made his first film in his home country since 2000’s “Amores Perros,” and this time follows the experiences of a documentarian and journalist (Daniel Giménez Cacho, “Cronos”) who returns home while dealing with an existential crisis. Despite the hefty runtime, the Venice premiere has considerable Oscar buzz with the Netflix awards machine in place. “For me, the three hours flew by,” Huntsinger said. “Yes, it’s personal, but he doesn’t really dwell on just that. It’s about loss, ego, and larger tragedies — not just about him.”
Other Netflix titles angling for an awards boost at Telluride include “Mustang” director Laure de Clermont-Tennerre’s adaptation of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” which stars Jack O’Connell (“It’s the most bohemian romantic film I’ve ever seen,” Huntsinger said), and “The Wonder,” director Sebastian Lelio’s first Telluride premiere since he brought future Oscar winner “A Fantastic Woman” to the festival. Here he adapts Emma Donoghue’s 2018 novel about an English nurse, played in the movie by Florence Pugh, assigned to observe a fasting girl in the 19th century. “People won’t know what to expect from this one,” Huntsinger said, singling out Ari Wegner’s cinematography as part of the appeal.
The festival will also premiere a number of timely documentaries at the festival that deal with governmental corruption and wartime conflicts. These include “Icarus: The Aftermath,” Bryan Fogel’s sequel to his Oscar-winning documentary about Russian scientist and whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov; Matthew Heineman’s “Retrograde,” which provides a closeup look at the impact of the U.S. withdrawal of Afghanistan from the perspective of an Afghan general; “The Gatekeepers” director Dror Moreh’s “The Corridors of Power,” an explainer on U.S. foreign policy; “Bobi Wine, Ghetto President,” which focuses on the Ugandan presidential election; and Adam Curtis’ archival-based look at the fall of the Iron Curtain, “Russia [1985 – 1999] Traumazone.” Telluride board member Ken Burns will show the first episode of his latest PBS series, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” rounding out a set of non-fiction entries sure to stir up historical debate. “So many of these docs are asking us to look from a high vantage point at how can we move forward and not annihilate ourselves,” Huntsinger said.
On a different note, Robert Downey Jr. will accompany director Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “Fyre”) to promote “Sr.,” which looks at the life and career of the movie star’s iconic underground filmmaker father, Robert Downey Sr. “Iron Man is coming to Telluride,” Huntsinger said. “It’s a very touching film.”
A number of other films in the program premiered at festivals earlier this year and will be reentering the awards season through their Telluride screenings. These include several Cannes highlights: James Gray’s Focus Features-produced period piece “Armageddon Time,” and multiple films that could wind up as their country’s international Oscar submissions: French auteur Mia Hansen-Love’s “One Fine Morning” (Sony Pictures Classics), Icelandic Cannes discovery “Godland” (distributor TBD), Swedish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider,” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Korea-set “Broker” (Neon), as well as two movies duking it out for the Belgian submission, Lukas Dhont’s “Close” (A24) and the Dardenne brothers “Tori and Lokita” (Sideshow). Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics will also reintroduce “Living,” the Bill Nighy-starring remake of “Ikiru,” after acquiring the movie out of Sundance. That festival also premiered Ondi Timoner’s emotional documentary about her father’s assisted suicide, “Last Flight Home” (MTV Documentary Films), another Telluride entry angling for awards attention.
The Academy will convene at Telluride this year with its new CEO, Bill Kramer, hosting a cocktail for members at the festival after its leadership held off on attending last year. After the previous awards season ended on a sour note with the infamous Will Smith Slap, Telluride will provide an opportunity for a new chapter. “The day after that ceremony, I thought about how it was more important then to keep our heads down and really pay attention to curation to help people embrace truly great filmmaking,” Huntsinger said. “Slow and steady wins the race, so I’m going to keep doing what we’ve always done and hope the community understands that.”
Though Telluride doesn’t designate its films based on premiere status, many of its highest-profile selections will be arriving at the festival straight from the Lido, as the two fall festivals have returned to pre-pandemic levels of intense competition. “It’s gotten less cooperative in years past because of their rules about world premieres,” Huntsinger said of Venice, though she declined to name specific films that were unavailable for Telluride due to Venice timing. “I just don’t think that’s conducive to saving an art form that’s existentially threatened,” she said. “I hope that there can come a time where filmmakers don’t have to choose between us. I really hope we can cooperate to save cinema.”
In any case, Telluride audiences less invested in new films have plenty of options among this year’s restorations, which include Luis Buñuel’s “El,” the silent film discovery “The Robber Symphony,” John Ford’s “Kentucky Pride,” and the world premiere 3-D screening of several films by movie magic pioneer Georges Melies. Guest directors and filmmaking couple Kantemir Balagov and Kira Kovalenko, who recently fled their native Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine, will screen a wide array of films that inspired them, including “Where is the Friend’s Home” and “L’Atalante.” And Telluride regulars will be pleased to see that former festival volunteer Barry Jenkins will take a break from pre-production on his untitled “Lion King” prequel to introduce the short film showcase he programs each year.
Finally, the festival has a few surprises planned with its TBA slots on the schedule. These are rumored to include another Cannes breakout, a buzzy documentary fresh from Venice, and an outdoor screening on Saturday night alleged to feature another major actress currently on the awards trail. Stay tuned for more coverage in the days ahead.
The full lineup of the 49th Telluride Film Festival is below.
“Armageddon Time” (James Gray)
“BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu)
“Bobi Wine, Ghetto President” (Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp)
“Bones and All (Luca Guadagnino)
“Broker” (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
“A Compassionate Spy” (Steve James)
“The Corridors of Power” (Dror Moreh)
“Close” (Lukas Dhont)
“Last Flight Home” (Ondi Timoner)
“The End of the World” (Matt Tyranauer)
“Empire of Light” (Sam Mendes)
“The Future Tense” (Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor)
“Good Night Oppy” (Ryan White)
“Godland” (Hlynur Pálmason)
“Holy Spider” (Ali Abbasi)
“Icarus: The Aftermath” (Bryan Fogel”)
“If These Walls Could Sing” (Mary McCartney)
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Laure de Clermont-Tennerre)
“Merkel” (Eva Weber)
“One Fine Morning” (Mia Hansen-Love)
“The March on Rome” (Mark Cousins)
“My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock” (Mark Cousins)
“The U.S. and the Holocaust” (Ken Burns)
“Eight Deadly Shots” (Mikko Niskanen)
“Retrograde” (Matthew Heineman)
“Russia [1985 – 1999] Traumazone” (Adam Curtis)
“Squaring the Circle” (Anton Corbijn)
“Sr.” (Chris Smith)
“Tár” (Todd Field)
“Tori and Lokita” (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
“Women Talking” (Sarah Polley)
“Wildcat” (Trevor Beck Frost and Melissa Lesh)
“The Wonder” (Sebastian Lelio)
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