At the opening night party of this year's Telluride Film Festival, the maverick film editor Walter Murch (one of this year's festival honorees) handed out fortune cookies containing not fortunes, but quotes from some of film history's leading figures. Mine contained the following, by the great French poet, playwright painter and filmmaker Jean Cocteau: "You must live in another world, where time and place are wholly yours: without newspapers, letters, telephone — without any contact with the outside." Cocteau wrote those words some 60 years ago, during the filming of his seminal screen version of Beauty and the Beast, but the sentiment has certainly lost none of its appeal in our media-choked times. Film festivals, of course, have a funny way of making time stand still, as the outside world falls away one day bleeds into the next, until a knock at the door reminds you that it's time to leave for the airport and begin the slow descent back into reality. That feeling is especially acute in Telluride, where, as I noted in the first of these blog posts, one consistently has the feeling of being in a place out of time. (Not for nothing is the festival's one-stop-shopping headquarters, information desk and memorabilia store located in a tent called Brigadoon.)
Even such places, alas, are not immune from the winds of change. So it was that Telluride 2006 came to close on a bittersweet note, with the announcement that Bill and Stella Pence would be retiring from their respective positions as Telluride co-director and managing director. It was in 1973 that Pence, a former Air Force man then working as a partner in the revered foreign-film distribution company Janus Films, was convinced by a fellow film enthusiast, George Eastman House head James Card, to use a property Pence owned — a renovated opera house in Telluride, Colorado — as the home for a festival focused on new and rarely-screened films. The rest, as they say, is history — 33 years of it, to be exact. Now, a new history will begin, with longtime festival programmer and board member Gary Meyer joining continuing Telluride co-founder and co-director Tom Luddy as Pence's successor.
For Telluride attendees old and new, it was hard not to agree with Monday's headline of the Telluride Daily Planet: "End of an era: Pences step down." And yet, aside from the letterhead and a few other cosmetic alterations, I doubt Telluride is in for too much of a makeover, and not just because Bill and Stella have already promised to stay on as consultants and to appear in Telluride each Labor Day weekend as the festival's resident cheerleaders. Meyer (who himself co-founded a little enterprise called Landmark Theatres once upon a time) is, to paraphrase frequent Telluride attendee Werner Herzog, one of the good soldiers of cinema, dedicated to the keeping the cinephilia flame and the seeking of new horizons on the world cinema landscape. So, as Telluride, Brigadoon and the Pences disappear into the mist, one can rest assured that they will all return 12 months from now to once again share with us their little slice of moviegoing nirvana.