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Telluride Offers a First Look

Friday, September 05, 2014
Hanover — During more than 30 years of overseeing the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and more than 25 of screening six of the festival features at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center, Bill Pence sometimes felt like The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Not so much this September , seven years after he and wife/Telluride co-founder Stella retired from running the festival, leaving the selection of movies and day-to-day organizing of the main event to their partners.

“This might be the first time I haven’t seen any of the films we’re bringing here,” Pence, director of film at the Hop, said this week. “Luckily, I know what the sensibilities of our partners are, and I’ve grown to trust their judgment. So it’ll be kind of liberating this year to discover these pictures with everyone else.

“I’m a great believer that it’s much more fun to go in and be surprised.”

The annual Telluride at Dartmouth mini-festival, which this year runs Sept. 19-25, in recent years has given Upper Valley cinephiles a sneak peak at a parade of movies that wound up winning Academy Awards, including Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The King’s Speech (2010) and 12 Years A Slave (2013). This year, the early buzz surrounds the English-language pictures that will fill the opening weekend.

In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the mathematician who led the British team that cracked Germany’s Enigma Code during World War II. His co-stars include Keira Knightley (a bit of a Telluride regular with Never Let Me Go in 2010 and A Dangerous Method in 2011) and Downton Abbey’s class lines-crossing heartthrob Allen Leech.

In Wild — the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir — Reese Witherspoon stars as the troubled narrator who exorcises a parade of demons during a backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. Nick Hornby co-wrote the screenplay with Strayed.

And in director-screenwriter Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, veteran character actor Timothy Spall channels the eccentricities of 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner.

Pence hopes that moviegoers return to Spaulding Auditorium for the trio of subtitled foreign-language offerings that line the homestretch of the festival.

“There are two things in particular that people seem to go to Telluride for,” Pence said. “On the one hand is the chance to see what the hottest things out there are, ahead of almost everyone else. But they’re also looking for what is rare and unusual — very high quality material that people might not have a chance to see in the theater near them.”

In Two Days, One Night, under the direction of Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (whose The Kid With a Bike ran at Dartmouth to acclaim in 2011), Marion Cotillard transcends her glamorous image with her portrayal of a factory foreman trying to convince her co-workers to forego raises in the name of keeping their jobs. (Maybe this time Academy Award voters will recognize her facility with more gritty roles, after omitting from the Best Actress ballot her performance in Rust and Bone, a Telluride surprise in 2012).

In Diplomacy, Andre Dussollier plays a Swedish emissary appealing to the German general (Niels Arestrup) in charge of Paris to disobey Adolf Hitler’s order to destroy the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and other landmarks ahead of the arrival of Allied troops near the end of World War II.

And in the festival-closing Wild Tales, writer-director Damian Szifron satirizes Argentinian society by following six sets of middle-class characters who are settling scores for transgressions big and small. The fact that legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar produced this picture makes it, in Pence’s eyes, “the dark horse” in the field that Wild and The Imitation Game are leading.

“From everything I’ve heard, it’s going to have a peculiar bent to it,” Pence said. “I’m very anxious to see it.”

Pence added that he also would have liked to bring Rosewater, for which Jon Stewart took leave from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show to direct, to Dartmouth.

“Apparently, Jon Stewart was treated like a rock star on the streets of Telluride,” Pence said. “It was one of those pictures where it would have been great to get for Telluride at Dartmouth, but is already committed to other festivals or has other contractual commitments.”

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

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