Home » Telluride Film Festival continues, despite strike anxiety

Telluride Film Festival continues, despite strike anxiety

by Stewart Cole

Magnificent views, billowing cliffs and upbeat festival-goers are the hallmarks of the Telluride Film Festival, a showcase for the year’s most celebrated films. However, no amount of natural beauty can beat the low stress level spent in this mountain town over Labor Day weekend. With double strikes raging in Hollywood—the writers’ strike just hit four months—no one wants to seem out of step with these unprecedented times.

“It was hell to get here,” Julie Hutzinger, executive director of the Telluride Film Festival, said in an interview. “There was so much stress and nervousness. Once the actors went on strike, all bets were off. I had to call every company and say, ‘Please, please, please, don’t go away.'”

But according to Ms. Huntsinger, it went off without a hitch. The festival, long considered one of the preferred stops for Oscar-contending films, both studio-backed and independent films, he got every film he asked for, including a handful of world premieres.

Unlike most film festivals, Telluride is more of a promotion than a sales opportunity — although some filmmakers attend in search of distribution partners. This year’s schedule, a day longer than usual to mark its 50th anniversary, was packed, with only two directors no-shows. The Stars, on the other hand, faced a more complicated situation due to the strikes.

Planned tributes for Annette Bening and Gael García Bernal have been canceled. Prominent actors such as Austin Butler, Paul Mescal, Jodie Foster and Colman Domingo were not here even though their films premiered. And those who came were worried about how their appearance would play in public.

The SAG-AFTRA union, which has been on strike against the major studios since July 14, has banned its members from promoting any work financed by them. Independent films, however, can receive a special dispensation from the union, called an “intermediate agreement,” that allows its members to appear and promote their work as long as the independent producers have agreed to SAG’s latest demands.

Eleven of the 26 feature films screened were supported by divisions of the major studios, whose actors could not attend the festival due to union rules.

But SAG’s clarity on that guidance came less than a week before the Colorado event began, causing a lot of anxiety among actors who wanted to promote their films but worried about running afoul of their union.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “Tuesday,” from indie studio A24, received an interim deal only Monday, for a film that will open Thursday. “I’m glad I got it. Obviously, I wouldn’t have come any other way,” he said. “But it’s been a real crazy fight to get here.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the screening of the film “Tuesday”.Credit…Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for ABA

Ms Louis-Dreyfus set a path for how her member unions can behave during this period of labor unrest. The actress gave a moving speech about her union fight at the premiere of her film and followed it up with interviews highlighting both her work on the film and her stance on strikes.

Studio executives would not speak on the record for this article because of sensitivities surrounding the strike, but said the screening experience was bittersweet because the actors were unable to share in the success of their films.

Emma Stone, the star of “Poor Things,” a film from Disney’s Searchlight Pictures that premiered in Telluride on Saturday, came to the festival as a spectator and did not promote her film, per SAG guidelines. Dakota Johnson, who has an interim deal, was also in attendance to promote and pursue distribution for her film ‘Daddio’, which she produced.

And Ethan Hawke traveled to the mountain town in “Wildcat,” the indie film he directed about novelist Flannery O’Connor, along with Laura Linney and his daughter Maya Hawke, two of the film’s actors. The three were also covered by an interim agreement.

Ms. Linney, who has a home in Telluride and is a longtime festival attendee, admitted she was wary early on about taking part. “I was very nervous before we were made clear about the interim agreement and why it exists and what it really means,” she said.

Emerald Fennell, the writer-director behind Amazon’s “Saltburn,” who is also a member of both SAG and the Writers Guild of America (she played Midge on “Barbie”), introduced her film Thursday night wearing a WGA pin. She was allowed to be there because she was involved as a member of the Directors Guild of America, which recently agreed to a new contract with the major studios, but her role is complicated because her film is being financed by Amazon, part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers , the team representing major studios and streamers.

And on Friday afternoon, Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, a member of the studio alliance, and her husband, veteran producer Frank Marshall, held the annual Telluride event at their home in the city.

A handmade sign reading “Switzerland” graced the entrance, and visitors were seen embracing the sentiment with Amazon executives. National Geographic, a Disney company. and Higher Ground, former President Barack Obama’s production company, which has a distribution deal with Netflix, pairing directors and actors. The atmosphere was pleasant and focused more on the films than on the controversial rhetoric heard on the picket lines.

Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.Credit…Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for ABA

On Friday night, married filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi debuted their first narrative feature, the Netflix film Nyad. The film, about Diana Nyad’s 35-year quest to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys, stars Ms. Benning as the swimmer and Ms. Foster as her best friend and coach.

Neither actress could attend the festival because Netflix is ​​represented by the studio’s alliance, and their appearances would be seen as crossing the line. Ms. Nyad, who as a sports broadcaster is also a SAG member, also chose not to attend.

Instead, it fell to Mr. Chin and Ms. Vasarhelyi to carry the publicity load for the film, praising the acting prowess of both Ms. Bening and Ms. Foster while also extolling their studio’s virtues for the brochure on a subject matter that didn’t is getting a lot of attention in Hollywood, a sports drama that Mr. Chin called a “female, gay buddy comedy.”

But balancing their gratitude for Netflix with their support for the striking writers and actors wasn’t easy.

“We’re just trying to be good citizens,” said Ms. Vasarhelyi, who in one breath expressed her utmost “respect for the writers and actors” and then praised “the great people” at Netflix for protecting her film.

“It’s a lot to balance.”

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