Film festivals have been in a state of flux since March, 2020 when transmission of COVID-19 became widespread.
Some festivals have remained fully virtual or attempted a hybrid approach of in-person events and virtual screenings. But starting with this summer's Cannes Film Festival, it seemed like the major stops on the festival circuit were heading back to all in-person events.
For the Telluride Film Festival, which wrapped up last week, that meant extra preventive measures like requiring attendees to upload proof of vaccination, requiring a recent negative COVID test and asking audiences to stay masked during screenings.
Despite the pandemic era precautions, this year's Telluride Film Festival soldiered on with smaller crowds and fewer volunteers. Gala tributes with Peter Dinklage and Jane Campion in attendance still brought in sizable audiences to Telluride's biggest venue. They stuck around to see Dinklage singing and sword fighting in Joe Wright's musical adaptation, "Cyrano," and Campion's latest movie, a western thriller adaptation of "The Power of the Dog" starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons.
Although not every star originally slated to attend the festival could make it — like the event's third honoree, Riz Ahmed, who joined virtually — the event still felt star-studded, despite the stars being behind by masks.
Although the Telluride Film Festival began almost 50 years ago with a group of movie fans gathering to celebrate the art of film in a former mining town, it has since evolved into a vital awards season stop that, along with the Venice and Toronto film festivals, constitutes the unofficial kickoff to the fall awards season.
One of the Telluride Film Festival's most recognizable selling points has always been its understated attitude towards traditionally fancy premieres. When Maggie Gyllenhaal introduced her feature debut "The Lost Daughter" next to her cast — including Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris and Peter Sarsgaard — and Kenneth Branagh was up one bright crisp morning with star Jamie Dornan to introduce his new film "Belfast," it was without the usual pomp and circumstance of clamoring paparazzi or a dress code.
Telluride added an extra day of screenings this year, another pandemic-related measure intended to help socially distance audiences. That let a few more titles into the program, most notably more documentaries, like Robert Greene's genre-defying examination of nonfiction filmmaking and processing trauma, "Procession." There was also "The Rescue," a nail-biting follow-up from the "Free Solo" team, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, and Todd Haynes' artful documentary debut, "The Velvet Underground."
At Telluride, the awards season jockeying began with entries like Reinaldo Marcus Green's "King Richard," the Will Smith-starring biopic about the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams; Pablo Larraín's "Spencer," moody take on the Princess Diana story starring Kristen Stewart; and Joaquin Phoenix's post-Oscar winning turn in Mike Mills' "C'mon C'mon." Attendees also spoke about the potential of films like "The Power of The Dog," and "Belfast" to win major awards this year.
Even as the return to movie theaters have been uneven and unpredictable, inside the industry, there's hope for a future with new movies to release, audiences hungry to see them and, for a few, some awards to win.