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Over the years, many friends and colleagues had mentioned the cinephile haven that is Telluride, but I was either too busy or too far to make the trip to the mountain tops. Finally I caved in to the (positive) peer pressure and applied to be a volunteer for the 39th Telluride Film festival over Labor Day. The deal is simple: work 40 hours over 4 days and you will eat for free, see incredible films and probably get hooked for the rest of your life. Enticing.

Telluride is not easy to get to: you will need multiple connecting flights, an extra car ride, and everyone is scrambling to secure a roof over their heads. But putting aside the financial and time commitments, arriving in beautiful Telluride, you will soon know it was all worth it. The magical scenery is not only complimented by a great community of film devotees, the experience of the festival itself is unique. As most of you probably already know, the program is only revealed on Friday at noon to hordes of enthusiastic festival goers.

As a volunteer, the first few days up here have been magical.  You feel like the new member of a huge family, paving the way for many more trips to come. Some folks have been coming for 30 years, some help build the many venues in town, film students will likely convince more peers to enroll in the student program the following year. At the first staff meeting, we all felt at home, old and new staffers alike. The excitement is palpable and only met by the powerhouse that is Peter Sellars. The brilliant theater director is a Telluride regular and a legendary hugger. He often gives a few word of wisdom to the festival staff and his fiery energy resonated with each and everyone in the room:

“Mavens of the impossible! Welcome and thank you for coming here, again and again.”

The impossible is indeed a recurring theme of the place. Who would think the small film party held by Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy, and James Card in 1974 would become such a beloved event, pulling off miracles every year? It would sound absurd that thousands of people meet here every year without any ideas about the program, to a place where it’s hard to breathe and sporting an hungry bear population. They do. They come and bring more people each year, and I’m one of them.

The program was released Friday and miracles are aplenty. Just on the first day, people were lining up to films from 10 countries, a tribute to Roger Corman, classics shown outdoors (The Masque of the Red Death!), festival circuit favorites like Barbara or Haneke’s Amour. As a volunteer, I can access plenty of films but the opening night lines were insane so I decided to fill one of my most embarrassing cinephile blind-spots: Tarkovsky’s Stalker. This year’s guest director, British author Geoff Dyer, recently published a book analysing the film and introduced the screening, proudly mentioning the rareness and mint condition of the 35mm copy. 3 hours long, in Russian, but a phenomenal treat to kick off the festival.

Of the many venues of the festival, I am working at the Backlot, another miracle pulled by the film programmers and generous supporters. The Backlot is located in the town’s library and only shows documentaries, all day long. Some of them will probably never see a theatrical release, like Gyorgy Palfi’s Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen, an editor’s wet dream in which a love story is artfully told through bits and cuts from more than 400 films. Another personal favorite is Me and Me Dad, the intimate portrait of director John Boorman (Deliverance, Point Blank) by his daughter Katrine, four years in the making.

You can feel the love of film everywhere here, from the bucolic main street to the shuttle over the mountains to the Chuck Jones Theater where people were still lining up to see Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Loveat 11pm, in the freezing cold.

Festival favorites will likely appear day 2 and many sneak screenings and premieres will be announced. People are already betting on which film will be the big TBA of this year’s festival.

Not bad for a first day at Telluride.

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