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Telluride opens with a surprise appearance by Julia Louis-Dreyfus


TELLURIDE, Colo. — A shock wave went through the crowd at the annual Patron’s Brunch, in a gorgeous field high in the San Juan Mountains, overlooking the verdant valley below.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was at the picnic.

Normally, the presence of a famous person, dressed down in her outdoorsy best at the Telluride Film Festival, wouldn’t be unusual, particularly when the festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary. But in this strange year, during the historic dual strikes by Hollywood actors and entertainment writers, Louis-Dreyfus felt like a unicorn. She was the only actor present who’d specifically flown to the festival to be on the ground, hobnobbing with the festival’s most generous (um, richest) supporters and representing her movie, “Tuesday,” which is being distributed by A24, an independent film company that has reached one of those controversial interim agreements with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) to keep promoting their fare. One of the only other famous faces at the brunch was Laura Linney, who’s starring in Ethan Hawke’s “Wildcat,” which also has an interim agreement. But Linney lives in Telluride and is a festival regular. This is her “Cheers.”

And there Louis-Dreyfus was again later that afternoon, inside a theater in the Telluride ski village that you have to take a gondola to reach. Actually speaking to the audience.

“As a proud member of the Screen Actors Guild for the last 41 years, I stand here in solidarity with my union and the WGA,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “I want to thank my union for the battle they are fighting for actors all across the nation, and for granting our film, this film, ‘Tuesday,’ an interim agreement, so that I could be here.” As SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explained to The Post earlier this year, an interim agreement is binding arbitration. It means that the company has agreed to abide by SAG’s terms, the ones that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is refusing to sign. Once the agreement is reached, the film’s talent are free to promote it. “If smaller studios like A24 can agree to what my fellow brothers and sisters deserve,” Louis-Dreyfus went on, “why can’t the AMPTP?”

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Can film festivals survive without movie stars? That was the overriding worry going into September, as Telluride and the Venice Film Festival were set to debut on overlapping dates, followed by the Toronto International Film Festival mid-month and the New York Film Festival at the start of October. A torrential rain poured down on Venice on its opening night, flooding Piazza San Marco, in an appropriately cinematic representation of the dampened mood, but it was just as quickly followed by a rapturous response to the premiere of Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” with Adam Driver teary-eyed during a standing ovation. And from the packed houses I’ve seen at Telluride, filled with cinephiles trading recommendations with one another, we don’t need to drag out the life support just yet.

The stars are still here in Colorado, especially iconic directors; on Thursday night, Werner Herzog handed Wim Wenders the Silver Medallion, or the fest’s highest honor, pulling it from his pocket and presenting it like a piece of fruit, according to a friend who was there. They’re also on-screen. Austin Butler sexily taking a drag of a cigarette as a member of a Midwestern motorcycle club in Jeff Nichols’s “The Bikeriders,” Paul Giamatti delighting as a grumpy teacher at a boarding school in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” and Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’s version of Frankenstein, “Poor Things,” which premieres Saturday after its spectacular debut in Venice.

Stone is actually at Telluride, too. She bought a pass and is going to screenings, and won’t participate in the “Poor Things” Q&A, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It’s a lot easier to lay low in a spread-out mountain town than it is in Venice, where it would be weird for anyone famous to skip a red carpet. Just ask Hawke, who was spotted on a hiking trail Thursday.

During her annual conversation with the press, Telluride’s Executive Director Julie Huntsinger divulged that this year had been more competitive than usual because of the strikes. Each programming team spent hours on the phone with studios and filmmakers, begging them not to pull out due to their actors’ inability to attend or do press. “We all sent each other congratulatory emails yesterday,” she said, referring to the heads of the four major fall festivals. “Because it was very, very rough this year.”

For its 50th, Telluride has added an extra day, giving its audience a little more time to see the same number of films it always shows. A giant cutout of the late, legendary documentarian Agnès Varda, created by her dear friend, the artist JR, peers over the top of a building on Telluride’s main thoroughfare. The festival’s opening street party included a confetti cannon. Jon Batiste, here with his wife Suleika Jaouad, to promote the documentary “American Symphony,” about his music and her battle with cancer, ended his premiere screening with a performance of a melody he wrote for Jaouad while she was in the hospital. “It was a waterfall,” said a woman who had been there. He’s expected to do pop-up performances all weekend.

Louis-Dreyfus explained that she’d stepped up and come to the festival because her director, Daina O. Pusic, who’s making her feature directorial debut, just gave birth. “I’m up here on my lonesome because Daina gave birth to her very first baby girl just a couple of days ago and is therefore not able to attend, which, frankly, strikes me as a very typical bulls— Hollywood excuse,” said the actress. “I don’t know who this baby thinks she is, coming early and screwing up the premiere of this film.” The movie, it turned out, got plenty of attention on its own. It’s the story of a mother with an ailing daughter who is visited by what one audience member called “a terrifying ‘Jurassic Park’ parrot” who can shrink or become giant at will and brings death to those in pain. “That was so weird,” said another viewer. It’s rewarding if you stick it out, but had the most walkouts of anything I’ve seen so far.

The lack of other stars means that Sandra Hüller, the phenomenal German actress who stars in both “Anatomy of a Fall,” which won Cannes, and “The Zone of Interest,” which many people thought should have won instead, has a wide-open lane to campaign for awards season.

It also means that the talk on the ground is not about who spotted whom grabbing coffee, but the movies themselves. Friday morning, Emerald Fennell debuted “Saltburn,” her follow-up to “Promising Young Woman” — a delicious, twisted critique of the British rich that features Barry Keoghan dancing in his birthday suit and might make a movie star of Jacob Elordi, the heartthrob best known for starring in Netflix’s rom-com series “The Kissing Booth.”

But the big talk of the festival was Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers,” a sexy, heartbreaking gay love story that pairs Paul Mescal with Andrew Scott (a.k.a. the hot priest from “Fleabag”) for a lyrical ghost story and rumination on loss and loneliness that seemed to leave the entire audience glued to their seats when it ended, and then in a kind of silent stupor as we filed into the lobby — but only after it got two rounds of applause.

This is par for the course for Haigh, a British filmmaker whose other movies, “45 Years” and “Weekend,” have had a similar effect. Multiple people started crying again as we started discussing what we had seen. Chloé Zhao (Oscar winning director of “Nomadland”) said she’d seen it twice in a week, and openly wept both times.

And, in that moment of people who love films finding community, it seemed clear that film festivals will be all right.


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