Telluride Film Festival Journal
The power of thought has been so influential in my life that there are no doubts in my mind that is what lead me to that transcendental film festival. The moment I submitted my essay and application, I sent myself an email with the subject “Congrats You’re Going to Telluride.” I starred the email and from time to time I would look at it, close my eyes and envision myself getting that acceptance email from the symposium. It took about six months to finally get a reply; however the first one we received was an apology letter for the process taking so long. In the apology email it told us to be expecting an email within the next couple of weeks. I looked at my phone every morning in anticipation of receiving that email. I mean come on, it was all I thought about after, can’t do that to someone who is already drowned in anxiety! But then, that morning came, when I woke and saw that email from Austin. Subject line wasn’t quite the same as the one I wrote myself but it was fairly close. I jumped up from bed, waking up my girl friend, which after seeing my excitement knew instantly what it was about.
Having never been farther west than Houston, Texas I was very excited to get to experience Colorado. Austin had suggested we make a Facebook page and get to know the other 50 students who also got accepted. I met 5 wonderful people through the page and we decided to rent a car and drive it six hours from Denver to Telluride. Tyler from UC Berkley, Devika and Teodora from the University of Brown, Ciara from Wellesley College, and Mio from Chapman University. Five complete strangers from all over the globe who all brought our own unique perspective towards film as a medium. The six hour drive couldn’t have felt shorter with all of the film talk that took place. I return again to the power of thought, how alike we all were and the strong positive thoughts that brought us out of all of the 50, the 50 out of the thousands of film students who would have loved to go to this film festival. Was truly a remarkable experience actually meeting people at an air port for the first time, getting in a car with them, and just venturing new horizons together.
None of us knowing that Telluride was going to raise our perspectives to a level that, even though we may go back to the sea level swamp of Florida, we would never be taken from what we were about to experience. On the first day we all gathered together and everyone went around the room introducing themselves and we were introduced to all of the volunteers. Leading us was the great professor and author Linda Williams and author Howie Movshovitz. They told us it was going to be a long four days, being that we were going to have early meetings and be up late watching and discussing films. In my head I am thinking one of my favorite sayings, “I can sleep when I’m dead!” Which is what kept me going until 3am every day and what allowed me to wake up before my alarm clock each and every morning at 5:30am. I wouldn’t have slept a wink if it weren’t for complete and utter exhaustion, but I definitely tried. The stars at night in Telluride are some of the best I have ever seen.
During the Question and Answer we had an array of highly intelligent filmmakers and actors that packed such an intensely dense message it isn’t possible to process it in the hour you have with them or even the week after the interview and re-read all of the notes you were able to get down.
To go along with my theme of the power of thought I will concentrate on those interviews, which have exponentially expanded my mind at a rate, I am to this day still processing. Each of these interviews I was privileged enough to get to look them in the eye, share just a moment with them, where no one else in the room was acknowledged but the person asking and the person receiving the question. The first of which was Peter Sellers. Now I didn’t get to ask him a question, it was more along the lines of “Now where was I?” and he looked at me and I responded “Your on the fifth eye.” As he was talking about the philosophy of Buddha and the insight of the five different eyes that every human being consists of. Including the Divine eye which can see through darkness and obstacles, the eye of insight which realizes that nothing is fixed. Then there fifth eye, the one he asked about, called the Buddha eye, which can see the past present and future simultaneously, which Peter says is most closely linked to cinema. What was special about his question is the power Peter puts into the person he is looking at. He has this amiable ability to look at you in a way that gives the person of feeling that they are the only ones that matter to him in that moment, that they are the only person in the world that matter to him in that moment. He has a genuine passion for life and it gets felt with everyone he encounters. Again that power of thought, that everyone in that room in that moment had thought this into existence.
The second most powerful interview I experienced was with Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner. Now after the first day, when we received our Schedules and realized that this interview was going to occur I made it a special effort to get there early so that I could sit in the front and literally be three feet away from Bryan Cranston! Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle, are you kidding me? I was ecstatic. During the interview everyone in the room of course wanted to ask a question, so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to get the opportunity to ask the question I had thought that past three days about. But, to my surprise looked right at me and said “yes?” I was taken aback at first and had to gather my thoughts. I didn’t want to stutter in front of someone I regard so highly, I didn’t but it took me a second to find the words to speak, then I had to order them. Fairly difficult when an seemingly unconscious event becomes all too conscious when someone so elevated in life is staring at you. Like he came from a different planet and was there telling us what its like, and Jennifer was there like “yea it’s a pretty sweet planet, we hope you all get to experience it someday.” When I looked directly in his eyes as I asked the question, I caught a glimpse of what their reality feels like, I was floating above the chair as the highly formulated words miraculously found their way out of my lungs, over my tongue and into the room.
“It seems that your character in Wakefield has a particular fetish for voyeurism, in that he becomes obsessive compulsive with the act of looking at his family. (Going through such lengths and pilfering for melted ice cream and clothes in neighbor’s garbage cans.) On a psychological level, what if any books on mental disorders did you research?”
Cranston who held eye contact with me the whole time and genuinely listened to every word I spoke nodded afterward, “Well I just spent a lot of time with Jennifer’s family and that was all I needed.” The entire room laughed, as did he. His improvisational skills were at work from the time he walked into the room. Jennifer noticed a bug on his collar and smacked it off. “You have a bug on your shirt.” She said as she knocked it to the floor. “I know. I named him Wakefield!” he quipped, seeing the bug for the first time.
He later went back to the question and said he hadn’t researched any disorders and just took from normal life, what it would be like for a middle-aged man to just want to escape from not only his family but really his own self, which ultimately the story addresses. Out of the three that held an impression on me, this last interviewee had the greatest impact on me on multiple levels. Now I have to honestly admit I had never heard of him before the festival, but after meeting him and talking to him he is a person I will never forget as long as I live, Barry Jenkins. In order to explain the impact his interview had on me, I must first talk about the film he wrote and directed called Moonlight.
While waiting in line to see Moonlight at its debut at the Galaxy theater I receive a call from my grandmother. I thought it was very strange for her to call me as she hadn’t called me in over four years, at least that is as far as I can remember, its probably longer than that. At first I thought that she might have heard of my going to Colorado, but that was just me being hopeful. I let the call go to voicemail at first as I didn’t want to answer with so many people around, but then I thought of why else she might be calling, something might be wrong with my grandfather. Unfortunately when I called her back, while still standing in line mind you, it was the latter that brought her to call me. “He doesn’t have much time to live and I thought you might want to say last few words.” She said stricken with a sadness that passed through the phone. I told her I had to call her back when I could find better signal. Really I just couldn’t speak. Even if I had, I would have started to bust out crying. It wasn’t just my grandfather passing; it was more like my father passing. Without having an actual father in my life he became one of the most predominant father figures at a very young age. Thoughts were spinning in my head as to what to do. I couldn’t talk to anyone around me, I had just met everyone a few days prior. How could I possibly convey what I was feeling at that moment when it hadn’t even began to process yet. But I had to talk as the tears came streaming down my face. I decided not to leave the line, and decided to stay to watch the movie. Which is a decision that I would never forget, as I have never shared a cinematic experience more filled with emotion.
Before the movie began, Peter Sellers who had done his Q+A with us earlier that day introduced the movie. His powerful words and the energy he carried with each sentence struck me to the core. He spoke so passionately about this movie, after the moments we shared during his speech earlier that day I knew where he was coming from. “Barry Jenkins shows us where film is going.” Peter said, and he couldn’t have been more right. Now that I was hidden in the cinema I let the tears just stream from my face. Unbeknownst to me, the entire theater was going to have each and every emotion jolted and torn from their body in what would be the most emotional filmic experience of my life. I literally cried from the moment that film started until it ended and would have done so whether I had just found out my grandfather was going to die or not. The writing and passion I knew that Jenkins put into that film, received two standing ovations on two separate nights. It speaks to all humanity that really cannot be explained only experienced on a spiritual level.
Two days later when Barry came to speak to us, it was revealed to me for the first time that Barry was from Miami. He also went to Florida State University and went through the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium just as we all were doing and was a continuous volunteer at the festival for years afterward. It was this that made him the only person during the Q+A to want to know our names and where we were from.
“Hey I am Ryan from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”
“Fort Lauderdale, that’s what’ up.”
“Yea, I go to Florida Atlantic University. As a writer myself, I am dying to read the script you wrote for this film. But in terms of looks, I noticed the actors in each act whoa re playing the same role do not look the same but they all shared a similar glare that carried through in each act. I am just wondering if that was something written in the script or if that was something you told them each individually, in either instance what was the word you used to get them all to convey that?”
He went from looking at the floor thinking about what I was saying to looking me in the eye to assure me he was listening. As he answered to looked and gestured directly towards me.
“You see you and I are sharing this moment,” he said as he positioned his entire body so that he was facing me. He held his arms out and gestured towards me as he continued “and as soon as I cut. That moment is gone.” He said as he waved his hand in front of his face breaking the shared look. “So what I try to do is get that actor to look directly at the camera and get them to share that moment with the audience. It’s just like chopping wood, that’s what I tell my actors whenever we are doing something. Just chopping wood.”
I didn’t get the exact word; guess I will have to read the script for that one, but still a very intriguing answer. Again, looking in his eyes I was sharing in his thoughts, elevating me to a different plane or planet if you will, just as Cranston had done. In the end, Barry revealed the essence of what the entire festival was about. Barry was at the heart of what the student symposium aims for, and as much as it inspired me I hope that my sharing of this story will inspire someone else into thinking about going to Telluride Film Festival.