Telluride: The Show before The Show

Mycologists precede cinemaphiles

Originally published on
Ahh. Telluride. Or as we Coloradoans call it: To Hell You Ride. That little mining town situated in a box canyon surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. Aspen’s little sister, more beautiful, but less popular, and that’s just fine. In Telluride you won’t find Chanel Boutiques and people running around in Jimmy Choos. You will find Tibetan flags hanging from Victorian-style houses; a Green party- affiliated county commissioner, poets, skiers, mountain bikers and wild risk takers. Oh, yes, and Oprah and TomKat both have houses here. Telluride is home to a famous bluegrass festival and a revered yet mysterious film festival (nobody knows what films are playing until opening day). In fact, Telluride is known as a festival town. Every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day (and beyond) the town celebrates something, wildflowers, beer, blues, yoga, even a nothing festival at to celebrate one weekend every summer when there is a nonevent (T-shirts available).

But if it’s wild and quirky events you want, Telluride just happens to be located in mushroom paradise and is home to the oldest mycological conference in the country-the Telluride Mushroom Festival. bolets2August 27-30 mushroom hunters will gather in Telluride to search for golden chanterelles, western giant puffballs, hawkwings, shrimp russulas and Aspen boletes. If you’ve ever wondered whether that pretty mushroom sprouting under a tree is edible, this is the place for you. Mycological experts share their wisdom and mushroom hunters dig for delicacies. Gourmands will teach you how to cook your fungal finds. But best of all, the mushroom festival comes replete with its own parade.

Avant-garde composer John Cage was a mushroom advocate and writer Terence Kemp McKenna postulated that mushrooms had messianic qualities. I suspect Cage’s compositions and some of that conceptual art he inspired over the years, truly does make more sense when under the influence of mycological magic. Mushroom expert Gary Lincoff will present and sign his books Mushroom Magic and The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Ron Mann will screen his new documentary Know Your Mushrooms filmed partially at previous Telluride Mushroom Festivals. Where else can you learn to cook those hawkwings well to prevent indigestion, or best yet, just don’t eat a mushroom unless you’re absolutely certain it isn’t poisonous.

If forays into the forest searching for mushrooms aren’t your thing, how about forays walking down the streets of Telluride attempting to identify actors and directors? Is that Penelope Cruz in the faded red t-shirt hugging Laura Linney who is shading her eyes from the sun, her sunglasses perched atop her head? Then journey to Telluride Labor Day weekend September 4-7 for The Show, the moniker by which Telluride’s film festival is affectionately known.

There are more than 2,000 film festivals worldwide and more than 250 in the United States. The Show is sort of like Sundance before Sundance became too much like Cannes.

IFC president Jonathan Sehring has said: “Telluride is probably the most critically important festival to launch a specialized film.”

Some of those past films include Slumdog Millionnaire, Brokeback Mountain, The Last King of Scotland and Juno. All were “previewed” at Telluride and then had their world premieres at Toronto or New York.

For cinemaphiles, Telluride is nirvana. There are no jury prizes and few sales and acquisition people attend. Sundance is about sales and acquisitions. Cannes is just a huge publicity fest. But at The Show its about the films. Each year, festival directors select one A-list director to help program the festival and select films to be screened. This year, the director is Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt and the new HBO Series Hung).

“Alexander has succeeded in programming a group of films with both rarity and variety,” said co-director Gary Meyer. “We have a sophisticated audience at Telluride and he has met the challenge and exceeded our highest expectations.”

Passes often sell out early and even the press must pay for the $600+ festival level pass in order to get credentialed. The program is kept a complete secret until opening day and no one knows who will participate in panel discussions and what films will be screened but those who work for the festival. And since the town is already a vacation destination for Hollywood A-listers who want a less tabloid focused town than big sister Aspen, many come and go without TMZ ever knowing. In Telluride, actors and directors attend the festival and there are fewer publicists and press agents running around trying to convince people to see this film or that.

Two more things known in advance: to whom the festival will pay tribute to this year and which artist designed the festival poster. Film critic Manny Farber will receive the tribute and William Wegman created a poster featuring his favorite weimaraner, draped in a gray curtain. A second poster available in limited edition, will be unveiled Labor Day weekend and is from an original painting by Wegman. And, the Schilling Gallery will host an exhibition of photographs and paintings related to the Telluride posters.

Several events are free including the noon seminars in Elks Park, “Conversations” in the County Courthouse and four film premiers in the Open Air Cinema. There is also a Late Show Pass available for $40 that allows visitors to see the last film at two different theatres each day (four films total). Otherwise, festival passes are $340-$3900, lodging not included. Minimum cost for media is $680 in order to qualify for credentials. Donations gladly accepted.






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