The annual Telluride Film Festival is unlike most film festivals in that there is no contest for the best films. It's a place where people who love to see movies do just that.
The festival was started 21 years ago by Bill and Stella Pence and Tom Luddy. Under their tutelage, it continues to grow and improve while retaining the sensibility that made it great in the first place. I encountered Bill Pence for the first time as he introduced several of the movies. I learned that he is an educator as well as head of the National Film Preserve, an organization dedicated to the preservation and public showing of motion pictures. But the credentials that really caught my attention he earned in the late Sixties, as a principal at Janus Films, the distributor responsible for bringing to America many of the foreign films that influenced my film aesthetic. Upon this discovery I realized I was in for an exciting weekend.
Seventeen movies and ten shorts were squeezed into my schedule from Friday night to Monday afternoon. Standouts included the new Woody Alien film, Bullets Over Broadway, a lovely comedy about the heyday of theater and gangsters in the late 192Os, and Lonesome, a wonderful silent film recently restored by the George Eastman House. Lonesome featured a scored music track written and performed by a group called the Alloy Orchestra, three talented musicians who have performed at a number of the past festivals.
During this year's festival, I took notice of two important points, the first having to do with film preservation. Every year, the festival makes a point of showcasing many older movies and a certain number of film artists. This year several retrospectives were introduced by film critic John Simon. One resurrected movie, according to Mr. Simon, is one of the most important American motion pictures ever made: Sidney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. The film is just as great as I remembered it from 30 years ago. The cinematography of Philip Lathrop, ASC was magnificent, and Mr. Pollack's staging and direction of the great cast was masterful.
The print we viewed had been newly struck from the negative, but I couldn't help being distracted by fading and age flaws. Before the screening, Sydney Pollack had told us that until this particular print was struck, no prints of They Shoot Horses, an important American work of art, existed. Indeed, the print we saw was the result of a long struggle by Mr. Pollack to get permission to have a print made - a print of his own movie, to be made at his own expense.
This is not an unusual incident, but there is one unusual aspect - that Sidney Pollack was actually able to get the print made. This incident served to reinforce my belief that we are making a terrible mistake by not putting great efforts into saving our cultural heritage. We have all heard about the great problem of the impermanence of motion pictures and magnetic media. We have been told what a terrible tragedy this is. We even are aware that a significant amount of important material has already been lost forever. …