My first Telluride Film Festival experience was magical. We had a Cinephile pass which, while limiting the selection of films we could see, steered us clear of the blockbusters and sent us to films with extraordinary artistry and powerful storytelling. On Day 2, we saw three films and a Q&A panel with some extraordinary women. We began the day at Hostages, a Georgian film about the Georgian hostage crisis in 1983 during the demise of the Soviet Union. It was a beautiful film and we had the honor of getting to stop and talk with the director (Rezo Gigineishvili) and the lead actor (Irakli Kvirikadze) not only about the making of the film, but about the power and importance of the story. We talked to them about what freedom means and about the parallels between Soviet times and the current political climate. It was one of those moments where film was a catalyst for coming together and discussing things that matter.
Next, we headed to the outdoor theater along Telluride's Main Street. We, along with seemingly every person in Telluride, gathered to attend a Q&A with Natalie Portman, BILLIE JEAN KING (!!!), Angelina Jolie, and Alice Waters. They talked about America, sustainability, femininity, humanity, artistry, and kindness. It was an insightful and exciting hour of listening to real life Wonder Women talk about their mindsets, values, and goals. Next, we headed up the gondola to the Chuck Jones Theater to see First Reformed. Out of respect for its immensely talented writer-directer Paul Schrader and fabulous lead actors (Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried), all I can say is that the opening shot is beautiful and the rest of the movie is, well, quite confusing and disturbing. Proceed at your own risk, but First Reformed is a disorienting cross between the delirium of Birdman, the pace of Silence, and the despair of the apocalypse, perhaps.
The last film we saw on Saturday was a welcome surprise. We were planning on seeing Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, but we got impatient and spontaneously decided to see if we could get into the 10pm showing of The Rider right around the corner from where we were biding our time with coffee. It turns out that our late night impatience was divinely ordained. It has taken me three days now to even begin to put to words my take on The Rider. The opening shot alone took my breath away. It's a story of America's heartland in some ways, a story of hope, a story of loss, hardship, and passion, a story of South Dakota cowboys told by a female filmmaker from Beijing, and its a documentary-ish film in which the characters are played by non-actors. It's full of contradictions and yet, it's those contradictions that make the film so compelling. Director Chloe Zhao fell in love with these Native American cowboys, their compassion, love of horses and rodeos, their hardship, their spirituality, their raw way of life, their connection to nature. For four years, she earned the trust of this tiny South Dakotan community and ended up creating a film that not only pushes genres but challenges the audience to feel in ways they perhaps haven't before. It's moving. It's grand. It's tender. I cried. A lot. The lead character (Brady), played by a real life cowboy named Brady upon which this story is based, is a top rodeo rider who suffers a severe head injury. I had no idea what kind of film I'd sat down for, and there I was, a girl in the audience who was able to go to Telluride because of a brain injury that had ended my volleyball career and left me with a free Labor Day weekend. It was fate. Brady struggles with identity and loss, disability and family dysfunction. His disabled sister is one of the most beautiful characters I've ever seen represented on film and even as Brady fights his own battles, he makes room in his life to tend to his little sister and his best friend, Lane, who is severely disabled in body and mind from a bull-riding accident. I'm not a country girl, but I am a girl who loved to play volleyball, who loved to jump and compete, who slowly watched my dream of being the best in the game slip away and my life change forever. Brady's story resonated with me. From the story, to the story of how the film was made, to the artistry of the film itself, The Rider is a must see. Prepare to cry.