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.



Un-Noteable-Notes said...

you have me hooked on the journey. I'll be reading more when it appears. But where did Alice Intern ?

Kaybee said...

Sam, what an inspiration you are. I will share with you my story of similar track - in 2003 I decided I wanted to go to the Toronto International Film Festival as a journalist. Whatever made me think I could get in there??? I'd never been to a festival before, and I wasn't even really a journalist, per se. I applied, and lo and behold... they gave me credentials. There I was with all the big wigs, watching 4 films a day, eating popcorn in the theatre for dinner and strolling the glorious urbane streets of Toronto. I did it for 3 years before I let my credentials lapse. What an extraordinary experience for me... a fellow film lover.

Best to you, Sam, I'm so effing happy for you. You're the best.



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