Mountain-Sized Dreams: A Brief History of Telluride


As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a film critic.

That, with apologies to Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese, is the absolute truth. I’ve been a lover of film since the moment I watched Kane’s Son emerge, a wide-eyed 10-year old instantly falling in love with the magic of cinema thanks to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Alien. As a child, I would write short stories for the kids on my block – ideas stolen straight from the R-Rated movies I would sneak off my parent’s shelves and slip into the old VCR when convenient – implementing those neighborhood children into my stories as rip-off versions of Ellen Ripley or Kyle Reese for their pleasure. My hope was to one day be a writer, whether creating films or critiquing them. But as it goes for most childhood fantasies, life had other plans for me. Being invited to write for this site has given me the ability to live out some of those adolescent dreams, and while I have never in any way considered myself a critic, in a few short days I’ll have the opportunity to live as one.telluride poster

This year I have the extreme pleasure of covering the 42nd Telluride Film Festival for The Awards Circuit. It is my first experience with a major film festival, and our site’s first engagement with this prestigious gala. For those a little unfamiliar with Telluride, I wanted to provide a brief history of the festival prior to the event.

Telluride is a tiny mountain village situated in a box canyon in Colorado, and is positioned approximately 330 miles southwest of Denver. The town, which rests at 8,750 feet above sea level, started as a silver mining camp, and was founded in 1878 shortly after gold had been discovered in its lush, forested mountains. It is a hamlet steeped in Old West history – Butch Cassidy made his first recorded bank robbery here. Today, the isolated town is best known for its ski resorts and, of course, the film festival that has made it a beacon to movie lovers across the world.

The Telluride Film Festival occurs every Labor Day weekend, turning the modest mining town into the mecca of the film world for four days. Unlike most film festivals, Telluride keeps its slate unpublished until opening day. The high level of anticipation for a festival with an unannounced agenda proves how consistent Telluride has been at landing outstanding attractions. Along with screening over 100 movies, the festival pays tribute to three dignitaries of film, both on and off-screen legends (usually one contemporary, one historic, and one little-known). Past tributes have been bestowed upon Francis Ford Coppola, Penélope Cruz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster, Jack Nicholson, and Meryl Streep. Since there are no awards handed out at Telluride, the festival prides itself on being a celebration rather than a competition. However, the Oscars – the most distinguished of all awards ceremonies – do take notice. The last seven Best Picture winners have all played at Telluride (Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The King’s Speech, The Artist, The Hurt Locker, and Slumdog Millionaire.) Not since 2007’s No Country for Old Men has an eventual Best Picture winner skipped this esteemed event.

So make of that what you will. We’ll find out in a few months whether or not that streak continues, but you have to like that morsel of information if you are going to be in attendance.

On Thursday afternoon I will board a plane headed to Denver International Airport, make a connecting flight to Montrose Regional Airport, and then hop aboard a shuttle that will transport me 68 miles away, until, at last, we arrive in the soaring and rugged San Juan mountains of Telluride.

The following day, I’ll get to live out a child’s dream.

What do you think?

AC Fan

Written by Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Game of Thrones, Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.

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