Yesterday was Friday, September 1st, the beginning of a new month and the start of the 2017 Telluride Film Festival. Having begun our day with a five hour screening of director Errol Morris' made-for-Netflix genre-bending documentary mini-series called Wormwood, we totaled 585 minutes of film yesterday spending 13 hours in and sprinting between theaters. Wormwood, while unclear how it will translate to the "home theater" of Netflix binge watching, was one of the most captivating and powerful displays of filmmaking I've ever seen. Combing collage, compelling cinematography, documentary interviews, and fictional narrative scenes to expand the story, Wormwood is not for the faint of heart. Morris tells the story of a former Army scientist, Frank Olsen, who fell from the 13th floor of a New York hotel in 1953. Twenty-two years later, a journalist uncovered a story linking Olsen's death to an unlawful CIA experiment with LSD suggesting that Olsen may have been killed and that the CIA was probably involved. Olsen's son, Eric, finds himself embroiled in pursuit of the truth of his father's death. For over forty years now, Eric has chased that truth and in the process has uncovered secrets that he never could have imagined. LSD, germ warfare, CIA scandals, Hamlet, murder, and exhumations, oh my!
After a wearying five hours at Wormwood, my mom and I queued up to see Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club Encore, a director's cut remake of Coppola's 1984 hit. Having cut down the original film given the complicated circumstances surrounding the film's production in 1984, Coppola painstakingly tracked down lost footage and recut the film to better reflect what he had originally intended. The Encore included the moving Stormy Weather scene, a more robust representation of the lives of the black Cotton Club performers, and even more tap dancing. The Encore is a joyful and at times gory portrayal of 1920s Harlem culture, the Cotton Club, and Harlem mob society. It's a technical miracle and true treasure to see this film restored and recut in such a meaningful way. The highlight? The Q&A afterwards with Coppola and Maurice Hines and Gregory Hines's son. It was a historical moment seeing the impact that The Encore had on its surviving cast members, Coppola himself, and the audience.
After seeing Coppola's film, we sprinted to the gondola and rode up the mountain side to reach the Chuck Jones Theater to see Lady Bird. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (better known as an actress, perhaps), Lady Bird is a witty, delightful, and relatable film about a Sacramento high school girl (Saoirse Ronan) and her overworked, under appreciated mother. Addressing the topics of identity, ambition, mother-daughter relationships, growing up, parental sacrifice, and belonging, Lady Bird had me laughing out loud at times, crying at others, and almost always nodding in recognition of those quintessential coming-of-age moments we know all too well. This film is a must-see for any mother with a daughter and any daughter with a mother, and it's even better if you can see it with your mother/daughter. Gerwig's film is candid and nostalgic, filled with friendship and angst and more than a few perfectly hilarious moments of high school musicals, Catholic school shenanigans, and the imperfect definition of home.
Lastly, we rode the gondola back down to town in the dark at 10pm with six film-loving strangers. The gondola got stuck and for about five minutes we sat in total darkness suspended above the side of the mountains with six people we didn't know and couldn't even see. We chatted about schools and films and places and eventually the gondola started back up. Half of our gonodola car ran with us to make the 10:15pm showing of Loving Vincent, a film entirely hand painted with oil on canvas about Vincent Van Gogh's legacy and death. Written and directed by a husband-wife team from Poland, Loving Vincent is an artistic masterpiece that not only illuminated and honored the revered Van Gogh, but is in its own right an ambitious artistic success. A team of over 125 artists over the course of nine years painted this film, a labor of love that perhaps best reveals the impact that Van Gogh has had on the world. It's a cheery and honest film that probes the mystery surrounding Van Gogh's death and helps to paint a picture of the artistic genius that leaves you moved and appreciative of the challenges artists often face in order to pursue their work.
* I apologize for typos. I am writing from a coffee shop and typing on my iPhone.