Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Flowers, They're Goldblumin' (or I Prefer My Shakes Maltin)

I have a quick confession to make. Due to the rigorous nature of the festival, I may not be able to update the blog as much as I would otherwise like to do. It's currently 1:23 A.M. in Telluride, Colorado, and I've already got to be up for breakfast and a discussion at 7:30 A.M. -- yikes. Prepare not to sleep if you ever come to Telluride. By its very nature, especially relevant to Student Symposium, you are out and about at all hours of the day and the night -- it is (blissfully) unrelenting. I have absolutely no complaints.

I have a lot that I plan to write here, personal anecdotes and may venture into the realm of using videoblogs to condense information, but since I won't have time enough to prepare oratory on the subject matters, writing things down here or in a notebook seems to be a more appropriate way to store my thoughts for the time being. I've always been a writer first and an actor/improviser second, so I'll opt to stick to my guns on this one -- the deliciously serendipitous (and not-so-serenditious) occurrences here at Telluride deserve a meticulously and thorough relation, with careful attention to details.

A story might be fun to hear in person, but my one experimental venture into videoblogging (or vlogging) resulted in a fairly circuitous, rambling and incoherent relation of several anecdotes, including but not limited to a brief and spastic tour of my condo (by means of spinning my computer around in a circle). So. Let's put that brief bit behind us, ignore it for now, and hope for the best via the textual relation of my stories to all of ya'll.

A brief note that I will expound upon after the festival's close comes from our class discussion with filmmaker Peter Sellars -- Sellars, in his forty-five minute lecture to us all, talked of the importance of praise and of understanding intentionality. His focus with these two main core subjects was on defining who you are in the truest form, and admittedly having to go through some relative hell or tumult to arrive at a sense of peace or appropriate purpose in one's life. He said something to us all that really struck a chord with me -- I may be paraphrasing a bit when I transcribe this quote from my hastily-written notes, but the sentiment that follows is a near perfect illustration that my life has taken in the past year.
"It's when you're in a miserable state in your life that you really realize what it is you want and who you really are (and who you need to become) -- also, how to come to a place that mirrors that."
-- Peter Sellars
What Sellars said to our symposium is outstandingly relevant in the sense that a less than favorable state in my life led me to realize exactly what it was I needed to be doing with my life. I was in a situation where the circumstances were unfavorable, where I was making choices based on the concerns and opinions of others instead of first consulting myself.

I am being purposefully cryptic because I intend to expound on this a bit more in a later post, but trust me when I say that in the past year (since having realized the changes that needed to be made), life has been close to ideal. A place like Telluride makes me (at least) realize that everything I have come to believe in the past year of my life and have realized as aspirations, goals and wants, is intensely valid if potentially less poetic than the linguistic stylings of Peter Sellars, filmmaker and honorary motivational speaker, in my book.

Also, I have some additional quick notes for further explication. Look forward to hearing about the following:
  • My Chance Meeting with Leonard Maltin
  • Meeting Jeff Goldblum (complete with pictures to prove it!) + Bonus Random Anecdote
  • Symposium Discussion with Ken Burns
  • Symposium Discussion with Peter Sellars (in further detail)
  • Paul Vester's short film In The Woods (and aftermath)
  • U.S. Premiere of Waltz With Bashir & Meeting with Director Ari Folman (w/ Folman's video introduction that almost got me kicked out of the Chuck Jones' Cinema -- sorry, Telluride Staff, I honestly didn't know that it was forbidden!)
  • U.S. Premiere of A Private Century by Czech Director Jan Sikl & Meeting Afterward
It's true what they say about Telluride, in that you have every opportunity to meet anyone who is in attendance. The Ari Folman story, in particular, is an excellent illustration of how making the right choice (what would normally be considered going the extra mile) allows that which is unbelievable to become a distinct reality.

Everyone here really is within an arm's reach. The opportunities can slip away as easily as they present themselves -- but, thankfully, I have rarely been one to turn down an opportunity. And, since being here in Telluride is such a special honor, I'll be damned if I am going to walk by someone I respect or who has inspired me in some way without at least introducing myself. Some are content to observe from afar and say, "Hey! It's Jeff Goldblum." But, I got to talk to the man, all because I made the effort to do so. It's not hard, per se, but it takes some courage.

For me, the fact that I am here in Telluride is courage enough. Cheers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Arrived At Last!

It's official!

After approximately six hours worth of travel from Evanston to Chicago, Chicago to Denver, Denver to Montrose, one shuttle ride later I have arrived here in Telluride, Colorado. And, perhaps obviously, I couldn't be happier to be here. Honest.

After having visited Colorado once before (in Westcliffe, Colorado) only last Spring, I am pleased to return to the place that I consider the easily the most beautiful state in the United States of America. As aforementioned, I miss all the oxygen that comes along with any other location in our country, but the view is incomparable, along with the festivities that are yet to come.

I have settled into my condominium, located in the center of the small mountain village on Main St. -- luckily, I couldn't be any closer to everywhere I would want to be in this town. It's a great little two-bedroom abode, elegantly decorated in a style that reminds me of a log cabin. And, perhaps unbelievably, I am able to get wireless internet right from the condo. Having this available will make future blogging much easier. I had previously been told that cafes and the local library would be our only option for internet access. I am glad to find that this is untrue.

I don't want to spend all of my time inside, and I am eager to explore the town (and to take pictures!). But, before I come to the close of this quick update, I'll provide a little bit of an anecdote to accompany the preceding information. Here goes.

I exchanged business cards for the first time on this trip while in-transit from Denver to Montrose. As it turns out, I was seated next to a woman who is a patron of the Telluride Film Festival. Her name, Julie Friesen. Ms. Friesen is representing Anderson Friesen Film Appreciation here at Telluride, which is based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Our discussion revolved around many topics -- as it turns out, she spent most of her summers in college working in and around Chicago for the Malnati family, who own many businesses including the famous Lou Malnati's Pizzeria. Perhaps most significantly, we talked about our respective reasons for attending the festival. She was impressed to hear that I had been selected for the Student Symposium and, in contrast, everything she said to me was something I couldn't believe.

She mentioned she would be attending a private preview screening that is exclusive to patrons, supposedly happening tomorrow (Friday, August 29th). As we exchanged contact information as our 45-passenger plane touched down in Montrose, she mentioned that she would let me know what the "super secret" film is and her opinion of it, as well. If and when the information comes to me, I'll be sure to put it up here.

But, for now, I'm about to grab lunch and walk around for a bit before the Symposium festivities begin at 4:00 P.M. this evening. There are more stories to tell already, but not enough time. I'll save them for the next post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Last Minute Update (Before Sleep!)

I just found out that Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe will be at Telluride for Paul Schrader's brand spanking new film Adam Resurrected. Can you say joygasm?

It is now 11:26 P.M. in Evanston. I leave for O'Hare International Airport at 4:10 A.M., less than five hours from now. It's happening. I can't believe it's happening.

Simple Sentiments

24 hours from this very moment, I will have settled into my condo in Telluride, Colorado.

I can currently think of nothing else besides the mountains, the spectre of films to come and celebs abounding.

Even as excited as I am, I know what I will miss most while I am away. Oxygen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Caught in a Rainbow of Disbelief

There's been a change of venue.

I received an e-mail only yesterday informing me that my original lodging arrangement with Paul Gandell (see earlier post for stories/explication) had been canceled. Hearing this only two days before the festival's opening, I appropriately allowed myself a moment of panic.

Erika Gordon, Education Coordinator of the Telluride Film Festival, was the sender of the e-mail. Her details were purposefully cryptic and spare, but what I could glean from her message was that Paul apparently ran into personal reasons that has resulted in an inability to host a student for the duration of the festival. Bummer.

Talking with Paul on the phone was like talking to an old friend -- and, I looked forward to meeting both him and his family. I can only hope that all is well in his life. It worries that Erika did not offer any details of Paul's situation, but then again I assume the omission is less than an oversight, more so a nod towards privacy on his part. It's not that I particularly mind, but I cannot help but attempt to fill in the blank for myself.

All speculation aside, Erika soon afterwards informed me that alternate arrangements had been made. And, with the results, I couldn't be at all happier. Okay. Perhaps that's a bit of a stretch. I could be staying with George Clooney for the festival, but what has come about as a result of the complications on Paul's end is just as good, if not better. Don't get me wrong. This isn't schadenfreude. It's a delightfully ironic turn for the best.

My lodging will be provided by Elaine and Tom Schroedl, in a condominium located in the exact center of town (on, wouldn't you know it, Main Street). Elaine and Tom are what Telluride locals might call the talk of the town -- for a small mountain town like Telluride (with a population of barely over 2,000 residents), these are the individuals that paint its high altitude palette with sky blue brilliance. The Schroedls have a son, age seventeen, who is about to embark off to college at the close of the festival. He's into basketball, soccer, athletics in general. The Schroedls describe their home as a bit of a circus, people coming and going willy-nilly.

But, rightly so. I spoke with both Elaine and Tom today on the phone during my lunch break at work and hearing them talk about what could be expected out of the festival sent my level of excitement to a brand new high. Allow me to explain.

Every year, on the Thursday before the show, Elaine and Tom host an immense shindig for all the festival guests, meaning the filmmakers, actors and honorees in attendance. It's a social soiree of an epic sort. It's the kind of thing you read about in books or see in the movies. Before, the thought of even ambling through the streets and bumping into a celebrity by serendipity seemed like an opportunity with limitless results, but here will be practically everyone, all in the same Telluride home for several hours.

I, too, have been invited to the party. Utterly unbelievable.

I am sure that there are many moments to come that will make me feel as if I'm caught in a beautiful rainbow of disbelief, but this is the first to strike me so. I have no way to predict exactly what will occur in the coming days, but I have a pretty good feeling that it could change my life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Unsubstantiated Rumours From Unknown Sources

Albeit that I cannot attest to the legitimacy of what follows after the jump, please do read behind the link and ponder the possibility of who the "major director" mentioned in the article could be in reference to.

I've got a couple of guesses of my own, but of course any shot in the dark cannot avoid coming up with blind results.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Who's With Me?

No, seriously. I'm asking the question and hoping for answers. Who visits this website? Who are all of ya'll? I cannot help but reach out to satisfy my insatiable curiosity -- it may have killed the cat, but hopefully this human will survive. So, do me a favor and post a comment saying your name, where you're from and how you found out about this blog. Alternatively, if you're someone who I have personally made aware of this blog, why not post a little hello if you feel up to it.


For readers of 24 Frames, I sincerely hope that this weblog serves as a way and means for you to experience the 35th Telluride Film Festival as if firsthand. This blog post inaugurates a feeling of unity that I hope will continue to remain prevalent on this blog henceforth -- thereby, the use of the enclosed fist raised into the air. We stand together. Myself and you, the internet. As they say in what I imagine to be the only Spanish I'll ever need to know, "Mi Telluride Film Festival es su Telluride Film Festival."

I will not solely be writing for myself in keeping this blog updated throughout the course of the festival, but equally for family, friends and those who stumble upon this page and find that they're intrigued with its contents. The locus of my writing efforts will be to recreate the festival experience -- I want the reader, more than anything, to feel like they are proverbially 'along for the (Tellu)ride.' Excuse the pun. I could not resist.

Neglecting to share this experience in any fashion would be a tragedy. In fact, in being given such a rare gift as to attend the 35th Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium, it is my opinion that making all of the information accessible globally is a necessity. All of the facts, the critiques, opinions and, above all, the mind-bending stories that will come from this experience, as I see it, will be too precious to keep to one's self.

In recording the six days I am in Telluride, Colorado, I am making a commitment to hopefully inspire others in ways that I have been inspired. I am of the opinion that nothing affects the mind to greater effect than the relation of personal storytelling. For me, this is most certainly true. I have been impressed, inspired, challenged and frightened all through examples from the lives of others -- never have I been more moved as when someone told me something that has happened to them. In this way, the story is personal, real and tangible.

Such stories beg the asking of a particular question. It is, so it goes, "if it can happen to them, why can't it happen to me?" Or, if painful, the opposite is true. "I hope nothing like that ever happens to me," one could be heard to say.

Personal stories of all kinds have led me to where I am today. In six days, I start to tell my own. The rest is yet to be told.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm Counting Down... Telluride. Duh. What else?

As evidenced by my mildly obsessive visits to the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium website, counting down to the day of the festival is just about the only thing I can think about. It is not as if by scouring the internet I will uncover newly revealed or leaked information on the festival's schedule, so even as I continue to do it, a voice in the back of mind keeps asking, "Why? Why are you doing this? This is pointless." In fact, the voice sounds a lot like someone I know, a peer of mine who might have the initials of GG. Here's to you, good sir.

But, in this case, the congenial and playful nagging is out of place. Despite the odds, searching throughout the internet has turned up a couple of intriguing nuggets, both from past festivals and about the upcoming 35th.

First, coming from a Telluride Film Festival Flickr pool, a collection of photos from a number of past TFFs. It turns out to be quite a treasure trove, as the saying goes, depicting both the natural beauty of the secluded mountainside and the joyous pandemonium that is the festival proper. I'll post here a couple of the photos that I find the most enjoyable, but feel free to peruse the collection for yourself -- it is not to be missed. (Images are, of course, copyright of their original owners.)

Festival guests with Werner Herzog!

Hey! Look! It's an attendee with Michel Gondry!

And, then, slightly more exciting than the images is a little jewel of information that I found earlier today while perusing various weblogs and news websites. It's an article based on source material taken from Variety and posted on The article is almost wholly regarding the Toronto International Film Festival. But, right at the end (in the third to last paragraph) the author mentions what seems to be a potential spoiler for this year's Telluride Film Festival, though I have no way to officially confirm whether it is true.

"While Toronto has announced Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” for the fest, the recently shuttered Warner Independent Pictures is shopping the film to other distribs. The Telluride Film Festival has also invited the film."
Readers will likely remember Boyle as the director of Trainspotting, Boyle's 1996 hipster drug-culture movie starring Ewan McGregor and a host of other actors who lend towards an unforgettable ensemble cast.

But, the question is will Danny Boyle's picture premiere at Telluride instead of at Toronto? There's no way to know for certain, but I would certainly welcome this as somewhat of a distinct possibility. And, even if not, will the surprises that Telluride holds overwhelm its attendees regardless? Unquestionably. But, speculation on the festival's line-up is just one of many pre-festival activities to enjoy, as much a part of the experience as being there in person.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Quick Sidenote

Readers of 24 Frames may have noticed the Google Ads tab in the sidebar (to your immediate right if you scroll down) that popped up earlier today. It is part of Google's AdSense utility that generates revenue for me, the publisher of the blog, every time a visitor clicks and spends time on the resulting webpage.

No pressure here, but if you decide to give it a click (or two, three or four), you have my sincere thanks. Please remember to click conservatively -- only click if something displayed is interesting to you. Don't be fools about it.

A Dream Postponed

Look at those puppy dog eyes. It can't be denied that those eyes are issuing a fierce apology to this blogger -- or, at least, that is exactly what I would like to think. I say this on account of a bit of news that came to me early this morning. With the aforementioned news came what in my opinion is an equal dose of good and bad news. Spike Lee's eyes, in the above picture, might say it all.

An anonymous reader of 24 Frames wrote a comment on my last post about Brandon Colvin's dream regarding myself, Spike Lee and the Telluride Film Festival. The anonymous reader wrote first that he is a fan of the blog and second that Spike Lee's film Miracle at St. Anna is set to premiere at this year's 33rd Annual Toronto International Film Festival, which happens only two days after the 35th Telluride Film Festival. Read about it here.

Apparently, it was announced in early July, which just goes to show how much news one can miss out on while abroad -- for those not in the know, I spent the last seven weeks or so abroad in the Czech Republic, where national cinema is on the rise, but where Hollywood blockbusters are the only things you'll find at the cinema otherwise. And, the arrival of these films is almost always unimaginably delayed -- for example, by the time I was about to leave Prague, The Hulk and Made of Honor were just being released. Pretty sad, though I did get to see a fabulous Czech film (with Eng. subs) by director Petr Zelenka, entitled Karamazovi based on Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Highly, highly recommended.

Now, I mentioned earlier that hearing this news was something of a blessing and a curse. While I am understandably somewhat despondent to hear that Lee won't make it to Colorado to premiere his film, an important set of realizations come along with this sad news. First, I realize that this is by no means the end of a dream -- as the title of the post suggests, the dream is not over but only postponed. In fact, it hits me clearly now more than ever before that sitting idly by wishing that something were to happen is likely to be the least productive method of making these dreams come true.

Sheer force of will alone cannot direct one's future -- herein lies the difference between thought and action. Also notable is the fact that each individual is in complete control as the primary agent in his or her life -- in short, you are responsible for what happens. I can will towards coincidence as long as I want, but that won't change the fact that Lee's film is debuting at Toronto. By contrast, if I am to meet Spike Lee, another route must be taken.

Thankfully, this alternative route does not involve the act of stalking. That would be far too creepy and disrespectful. Instead, I am lucky to have as a friend a fellow by the name of Dan Sandford, Director of Graduate Admissions at New York University, where Spike Lee is Artistic Director of the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television and teaches the 3rd-Year MFA Film Production Program. Sandford is a great friend with an incomparable taste in contemporary and classic jazz music. He also represents a direct connection to New York University and Spike Lee.

I visited Dan in New York for the first time last December, both to reunite with him and explore the university, as I intend to apply to New York University for graduate studies. Herein lies the opportunity to not only meet Lee, but to have him as an instructor and close mentor. I still am not certain whether I will attend graduate studies for film production or analytic cinema studies. If I am accepted and attend for production, I will be taught by Lee. If I attend for cinema studies, I won't be instructed by him, but I will still have the opportunity for him to read the analysis of A Huey P. Newton Story that I presented at the University of Notre Dame in April. That's the dream that needs completion.

In looking forward, I see that Spike Lee's absence at the festival is not a major loss. The mystery of Telluride is still, and truthfully has always been, the draw of the festival. Any way you spin it, Telluride is going to be life-changing. You can't spoil a thing so great at this.

And, the other exceedingly positive thing that I learned from this news? I learned that people outside of my friends and family are frequenting this blog. Knowing that makes me beyond ecstatic. I hope that what I write from now until the festival's close brings you as much joy as it will me to be able to write it. Here's to you, anonymous reader(s). Cheers!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Can Dreams Become Reality?

Fellow film scholar Brandon Colvin, whom I met at the 2nd Annual Midwest Undergraduate Film Conference at the University of Notre Dame, sent me an e-mail (much, much) earlier today, saying that he had a dream the night before involving me and a particular filmmaker. Dreams, it should be noted, have often been a sign of things to come in my life. I imagine that this is true for others besides myself, also. As you will see in Brandon's relation of the dream, to an extent he feels the same way. If dreams can become reality, then who is to say where one world ends and the other begins? If your dreams become reality, there is no longer any distinction.

The dream begins now.

From Brandon Colvin , 12:04 A.M. on August 15th, 2008:

"I had a dream last night and it involved you and Spike Lee.

I walked into a movie theater to watch something (I think it was THE
DARK KNIGHT) and as I scooted down the row of seats, I looked back and saw that Spike Lee was seated just behind me. Needless to say, I was stunned, especially when he smiled at me and said, 'My man, Brandon Colvin! How you doing?'

'Pretty good." I replied. "Can I ask you something?'


'Is your new movie going to be at Telluride? I only ask because one of
my friends is going to be there and he really wants to meet you. We were
at a conference together. Are you going to be one of the directors in

'Actually, yes. It's going to be me and one other director, but I can't
tell you who that is.'

'That's awesome! He'll be so excited! By the way, I thought the trailer
looked great.'

'Really? I had some problems with it . . . '

And then I woke up. It might be a sign of things to come. It felt sort
of like a premonition. I thought I should let you know, but don't get
your hopes up too high! I don't want this to set you up for being
crushed if he isn't there. Haha.

Anyway, have a great day and have fun at the festival."

Hope is one thing, for certain, but success at the festival is not dependent on Spike Lee's presence.

As I look onward towards this possible prospect and the coming excitement of Telluride, I have to remember that even if Spike doesn't make an appearance, the dream has not yet ended.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Another Step Forward

I just finished speaking on the telephone for the first time with Paul Gandell, with whom I will be staying during my time in Telluride. One perk of the Student Symposium is that the cost of lodging is waived for students with financial restrictions -- in lieu of renting a condominium or hotel for several days, qualifying students are personally arranged by the festival organizers to reside with citizens of the mountain town.

Paul lives in what he describes as a "noticeably green" two-story house with a white picket fence arranged along its perimeter, the dividing line between the Gandell residence and the town which for six days at the end of August and the beginning of September becomes a film lover's heaven. He has a young boy, his only child, who as of recently turned four years of age. I imagine that he could be a handful, but I have always taken well to children and so look forward to meeting a boy so fortunate as to grow up in a town where magic happens just beyond his property line.

As is my custom, I thanked Paul profusely for providing my lodging during the Telluride stay. He quickly confessed that, while he is more than happy to offer a room to me, he is being handsomely compensated with festival passes of his own. We shared a laugh at that moment. I told him that it sounded like he was getting a good deal with the arrangement. He didn't miss a beat when responding with, "Definitely a great deal." We laughed again.

A lot of our talk was introduction and formalities, but before we finished our discussion I asked Paul that always difficult and oftentimes unfair question -- I asked him to relate to me a favorite moment from a past festival. As I expected, his immediate answer was "There are so many." It took only four words to make me as giddy as when I first found out about my acceptance. Telluride's past, I realized, is filled with memories; in fact, is a source for memories. Again, he repeated his sentiment. "I have so many great memories and moments from the festivals, it's hard to pick just one."

Though, he eventually settled on a story surrounding Harvey Keitel, a couple of years back when he was being honored with one of three tributes given during the festival proper, a cinematic retrospective and ceremony of sorts. As the Telluride schedule is openly fluctuates (in terms of additions) even throughout the course of the festival proper, a screening of a unnamed movie came up at midnight. According to the program, it was a "New Harvey Keitel Movie" and listed the time. Now, nobody knew what was going on. Some people were there, but it wasn't terribly crowded as I understand, due to the mystery of the whole thing. But, Paul had just gotten out of work, so he went to see it.

As it turns out, the mystery film that Paul went to see (with Keitel in attendance) was none other than Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Paul told me that it was, by far, the most electric, outrageous, devastatingly pleasant surprise he had ever been a part of in TFF history. In his own words, "There was no better way to see it." Sounds like it, Paul. Now, I'm not sure if this screening was authorized or a big secret, but depending on what year this all went down, this could have been the first screening of the film ever. I don't know if that's true, considering Sundance claims that it debuted there. Paul didn't say this, but it was a thought I had. I am pretty sure however, that since Tarantino was a part of the Sundance Institute that the film premiered there in January of '92. Pretty sure.

In addition, Paul told me another related story about when Tim Roth (who acted in Reservoir Dogs) stopped into his sandwich shop another year -- apparently, they had a bit of a discussion, wherein Paul asked him about the title of the film. Roth wouldn't give away its secret. He said, "I don't know. It's really Quentin's thing and... I don't know." Great quote, I know, but the experience (even if unsuccessful in revealing the mystery) was a priceless one.

It was then that I realized that just like Paul was retelling his own experiences with such enthusiasm, it would not be long until I, too, would be able to the same. Telluride is actually happening -- it's no longer an opiate daydream, the whims of a cineaste from a small town. In eighteen days, as I told Paul, I will be eating lunch next to Werner Herzog and Ken Burns. I used that exact phrase as an example and, again without missing a beat, Paul responded: "Don't be too surprised if that actually happens." I about died.

I am looking forward to making my own memories at Telluride, meeting people who I have long seen from afar as inspirations towards achievement and changing my life, one step at a time.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Top Secret" / Dreams

It was only days ago, upon returning to the United States from abroad, that I received my official acceptance packet to the 35th Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium. Holding it in my hands, I sensed that it was thick with secrets of what was in store for the Symposium. It was only later, while perusing the material included, that I remembered a longtime Telluride tradition. I had forgotten that Telluride's secrets were beyond "top secret."

Ever since the 3rd Telluride Film Festival, the organizers of the festival have made the decision to keep the program line-up a closely guarded secret. Nobody is in the know (besides the festival organizers) as to who or what films will be in Telluride for the six-day experience. Even for those involved in the Student Symposium, we're left almost entirely clueless. Now, this time-honored tradition is part of what makes this particular festival experience so endearing -- not only does Telluride promise an unequivocal experience for the viewer and student, but the details are entirely a mystery.

Even with my "top secret" packet of information and travel documents, the festival's organizers continue to keep both the students and the thousands of attendees in unimaginable anticipation. In fact, the process reminds me a bit of Christmas gifts. I could ask, and I might get an answer, but do I really want to spoil the surprise? The answer is no.

It is remarkable, though, that every year the festival sells out all of its passes based purely on its reputation. Festival-goers bank on their past experience or knowledge communicated through alternative channels about how mind-blowing the festival line-up traditionally is. Attendees have not even a remote inclination about what to expect beforehand -- but, on arrival, the schedule is presented to them and the proverbial man behind the curtain revealed.

As I rather literally lie in wait for the festival to begin here in my Evanston apartment bedroom, a dream enters my mind that for the festival, echoes again and again to me as a distinct possibility. It is my dream and (perhaps naive) hope that American filmmaker Spike Lee will be present at the festival. Here's another theory for you, as an explanation of why this is not exactly impossible. Spike Lee has a film set to be released in theatres as of September 26th, 2008, Miracle at St. Anna. As of yet, no information (that I am aware of) has been made public about its debut at another film festival during the summer. This, to me, signals that Telluride for Lee could actually be happening.

If Lee is at Telluride when I arrive, I will undoubtedly combust based upon the stimulus. To be safe, I plan to bring a copy of the academic paper I wrote on Lee's A Huey P. Newton Story with me to Telluride. This is the paper that I wrote for Jacqueline Stewart's class on Spike Lee and that I presented at the University of Notre Dame's 2nd Annual Midwest Undergraduate Film Conference. The paper is also currently being considered for the 2008 Frank Capra Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Film Criticism. Fingers crossed on all accounts, I'd say.

More information/exposition later, but in the meantime, please feel free to check out Chris Gore's (of Film Threat) coverage of the 33rd Telluride Film Festival here (in three parts). Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Humble Beginnings

The Telluride Film Festival was started in 1974 by Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy and Jim Card as an operation of the National Film Preserve, Ltd. Telluride's charm is its exclusivity and peculiarity of its program operation -- never in its history has the Telluride Film Festival given awards to the film's presented annually. Instead, it is considered an incomparable honor just to be included in the line-up of approximately forty films screened each year. However, Telluride does offer a special honor called the Silver Medallion which is typically given to three honorees per festival and is accompanied by a special tribute presentation to the actor or director during the festival's run.

Telluride's focus is on independent film, both foreign and domestic. In the past, many now famous and internationally-acclaimed films have made their debut at Telluride -- some examples include AmelĂ­e; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon;
City of God; Rushmore and Lost in Translation.

I first learned of the Telluride Film Festival (and, thereby, the Student Symposium) on the eve of my birthday one year ago while chatting via Apple's iChat program with a friend of mine named Alice. At that time, both she and I had made the decision to spend our summer after Freshman year at Northwestern more or less jobless at our respective homes (myself in Michigan and she in California). So, being in the same proverbial boat, we spoke frequently.

I came across the Telluride website and immediately gravitated towards the Student Symposium section -- instinctively, I yearned to know more. It was a competition. A mix of fifty undergraduate and graduate college students throughout North America were chosen every year to take part in six days worth of premiere screenings and life-changing discussions with filmmakers and actors. As I perused the section of the website, I realized that this would be "a dream come true," as the hackneyed sentiment goes.

Alice loved to talk about The Beatles. She still does. And, as I continued to peruse the Telluride website, I noticed that a restored print of Help! had only recently been screened at the 34th Telluride Film Festival, having ended only days before. This started our discussion of ludicrous, seemingly unattainable hopes and dreams. Oh, the unquenchable thirst of youth! Alice pointed out with her characteristic adeptness that Northwestern's quarter system actually made it possible for me to attend, as opposed to conflicting with a comparatively normal semester collegiate system. Things have a way of falling into place, it seems.

Though nothing about my qualifications necessarily professed that Telluride would be a perfect fit for me, I knew right away because of my passion for film that this was something I yearned to be a part of. If even at that moment my professional or academic qualifications were not an ideal match, I would work towards getting to that place for the next academic year, establishing myself in the Film department at Northwestern. I told Alice, "I think I've got a chance at being chosen for the Student Symposium, Alice." Where did this sentiment come from? Who knows? I suppose if you want something badly enough, you have to be the first to believe you can accomplish your goal.

She, too, talked of her own ambitions in her spunky way. Being a Journalism major at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Alice's aspirations were targeted at an internship with the Los Angeles Times, her perfect fit, an honor equally selective if not more so than Telluride. The Los Angeles Times accepts fifteen students annually from a pool of over five-hundred students, a startling statistic but an extreme honor if selected.

Following, Alice asked me a question that I initially feared to answer, because the truth is at times the last thing one wants to hear. Alice asked, "Do you think it's too ambitious to apply for a bunch of internships at national newspapers?"

I answered, "Yes, it's too ambitious, but nothing's too ambitious." There I am, 'Didactic Sam.' Every so often, when prompted, I'll spout this philosophy that I have on life in an attempt to teach it to someone. Here it is, somewhat abridged.

Firstly, I believe that reason is a fact of life masked by the word and concept of serendipity (of living life into uncertainty). What we perceive as random occurrence or chance is much more than that. Essentially, I don't believe in coincidence -- instead, I believe in purpose. There is far too much of what would normally be called coincidence in my life for it to be merely an existential roll of the dice.

I believe that finding out about the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium was the best birthday present I could have ever received -- and, from reading film festival articles online the eve of, I gave that gift to myself.

Secondly, I believe that there are no boundaries. Titles privy to the social order (especially in the United States) glorify celebrities and "famous people" as elevated far beyond the reach of the plebs; the "stars," as they say. Especially with the advent of the internet, this is true. The internet does not favor rich over poor. The internet is still young enough for the kind of privacy that abounds in the postal service and telephone communication not to be found there.

If someone inspires you with a book they wrote, a lecture they gave or a part of the world that they changed or are changing, you do not just have to sit back and marvel at it. You, anyone, can tell these people how you feel, meet them if need be and become friends with them -- all through a quick, easy process called e-mail. The dividing line between extraordinary and ordinary does not exist and is a social fabrication -- all you need to do to transcend imaginary bounds is to be extraordinary. For me, I've retired the phrase "going the extra mile," because there is no extra mile. There is only going as far as you need to go to accomplish your goals. Get it?

The person I first learned this from was my Uncle John, but he didn't have to say anything to teach it to me. All I had to do was to visit his house. On the wall of his office, his personal study, is a framed letter from Doctor Jack Kevorkian -- my Uncle John is a Journalist, much like Alice. And, as the story goes, Kevorkian during the time of his letter was a hard man to get a hold of, for an interview, for anything. But, my Uncle wanted more than anything to talk to the man, to understand what was behind this unique and frightening take on the rights of others, the choice to live or to die. He didn't sit idly by and wonder, pose hypothetical questions like so many national and local news sources of the time did. You couldn't turn on a TV without hearing a newscaster bellow, "What kind of a man would do such a thing?" Well, my Uncle found that answer for himself. And, all he had to do was be himself and take the necessary action to break down the imaginary barrier -- and, it resulted in exactly what he wished for, a personal letter from the man himself.

So, long story short, you can do anything if you put your mind to it. But, you've got to know your limits and still think logically. If you're in a crowd of 200,000 people seeing your favorite band in concert, the likelihood of meeting the band is pretty slim. Some things won't work out, which seems contradictory to using the absolute of "anything" in the above sentence, but it's not. Anything is possible, but not everything will be possible.

From this early moment of decision, I knew I wanted to go to Telluride. I knew that going to Telluride would be an experience I would never forget in my whole life if I were chosen among how many ever thousands of students applied to the Symposium. I set a goal for myself to make it to this Symposium and to create for myself what would be the greatest summer thus far in my life. As such, I took more film courses in my Sophomore year at Northwestern than any other type of course. It happened that my advisor even became cross with me for eschewing theatre courses in favor of film courses at a point in the middle of the year. But, it was worth it.

In April, I presented a paper at my very first academic conference at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. It was on Spike Lee's A Huey P. Newton Story and I have Jacqueline Stewart to thank for her mentorship on this paper throughout her class on Spike Lee (RTVF 398) and Harvey Young for his additional insights into the principles of liveness that were later incorporated into the paper. This, along with all of my studies at Northwestern, prepared me for writing my application to the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium.

One recommendation letter later from the incomparable Margaret Sinclair, Professor of French at Northwestern and former Master of the International Studies Residential College and I was in.

I found out on June 8th that I had been accepted. I almost peed.

Now, on August 28th, 2008, I am due to attend the 35th Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium held in the secluded mountainside of Telluride, Colorado. It is both an honor and a incredible dream (come true) to be a part of what will be my first major internationally-renowned film festival (of hopefully many more to come).

Starting out with such humble beginnings, and seeing through a goal to the end, here we are. For now and throughout the festival, this weblog will serve the purpose of recording all the happenings and occurrences throughout its duration and also the many markers along the road to Telluride as the festival quickly approaches. It is my sincere hope that this will be frequented by both friends and family, so that I may actively report as my life changes before your very eyes, in the course of a single summer.

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