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All About the Telluride Film Festival

As in other Colorado ski towns, Telluride offers numerous attractions even in the summer. But what sets Telluride apart is the slew of acclaimed festivals and events that people from around the world attend and put in high regard.

One of these events is the Telluride Film Festival (TFF). Held every Labor Day weekend of the year, the TFF is considered on the same footing as the Cannes and Sundance film festivals. Many of the participating movies are seen for the first time here and are touted as strong contenders for the Oscars.

Every year, the TFF brings thousands of people to the mountain town, including film luminaries, industry professionals, and movie fans, increasing the town’s population to about three times its normal.

A brief history

The Telluride Film Festival was founded in 1974 by the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities. In 2010, it partnered with UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television to create FilmLab, a program on filmmaking participated in by 10 selected filmmaking graduates of the university.

In 2013, on the festival’s 40th anniversary, the Werner Herzog Theater was added as venue for the event, and the duration of the festival was extended by one day.

Each year, the festival names a Guest Director – either a filmmaker or film lover who supports the industry – who is given the opportunity to select the films they want to include in the program. Previous Guest Directors include award winning author Salman Rushdie, composer Stephen Sondheim, and American theater director and UCLA professor Peter Sellars.

The program

More than 50 films are screened at the TFF in ten venues. One of the most fascinating things about the festival is that its program is kept secret until the start of the event. Nobody really knows what films will be included in the line-up, yet film enthusiasts flock to the festival because they know they’re in for something truly special.

Unlike Cannes or Sundance, TFF is not a juried festival and does not hand out awards. However, many films that were part of TFF’s program went on to become critical and box office successes, and are almost always guaranteed to be Academy Award winners. These include Brokeback Mountain, Slumdog Millionaire, The Crying Game, Juno, Blue Velvet, and more.

Other festival events

In addition to new films, the festival also screens classics and older productions with special significance, such as unreleased Walt Disney movies, 3-D classics, silent movies, and the lesser-known works of acclaimed artists like the Lumiere Brothers.

Another festival highlight is the awarding of silver medals to three “Tributes”, who are chosen for their contributions and achievements in the film industry. Previous Tributes include famous names like Francis Ford Coppola, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, and Jack Nicholson.

In 1995, the festival started giving out a silver medallion to non-filmmakers who have made a significant contribution to the film industry nationally or internationally. Past awardees have included HBO, CNN founder Ted Turner, and French film magazine, Postif.

Discussions and symposia with featured guest speakers are also staged, as well as meets and greets with celebrities and filmmakers.

In addition to all these, the TFF hosts a noontime Labor Day picnic, where film aficionados and industry professionals get together in an outdoor venue to watch live music performances, eat, and talk about movies.

Pass options

In attending the festival, you can choose from several passes that come at different prices. Each pass gives you the chance to watch a number of films and participate in other activities and events, including the Labor Day picnic.

Pass options include:

  • Cinephile Pass – This gives you admission to rare and unique films, including restored classics, selected new films, Guest Director selections, and the Labor Day picnic.
  • Acme Pass – This provides admission to select films shown at Mountain Village’s Chuck Jones Cinema, as well as two shows at the Town Park venue, and the Labor Day picnic.
  • Festival Pass – This pass allows you to see and attend as many films and events as you can, including the Opening Night Feed and the Labor Day picnic. Seating to the films is on a first come first serve basis.
  • Patron Pass – The somewhat hefty price for this pass includes a tax-deductible donation, and gives you admission to all films and events in the festival with priority seating. Patron Pass holders are also invited to a Guest/Patron brunch, and get to watch the first screening of a significant new film at the Patron’s Preview event.
  • Sponsor Pass – This is given to the event’s sponsors. In addition to Patron Pass privileges, sponsors also receive additional benefits.

Learn more about the lifestyle and attractions in Telluride

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