The Telluride Film Festival, which marks the unofficial start of Oscar season, doesn't get underway until the end of August, but its organizers want members of the film community to keep it on their radar throughout the summer, and therefore gathered many of them for a cocktail party in its honor Tuesday evening at the London West Hollywood hotel.
The festival's 40th edition will take place in the remote Colorado skiing community from which it derives its name from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2. In commemoration of its milestone anniversary, a fifth day has been added to what has historically been a four-day affair (and always falls over the Labor Day weekend), and a new 650-seat venue, the Werner Herzog Theatre has been built in the Town Park Pavilion to provide festival-goers with additional screenings of the 30 or so features that screen at the fest each year.
Festival directors Julie Huntsinger and Gary Meyer flew into town for the soiree, and were joined by a number of festival regulars -- among them writer/director Alexander Payne, writer/director James Gray and producer/former Academy president Sid Ganis -- as well as Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner, The King's Speech screenwriter David Seidler and 98-year-old veteran actor Norman Lloyd.
One festival rep suggested that much of the lineup of films and special guests has already been determined, but, as is Telluride custom, will not be officially revealed until the fest's first day. Still, speculation has already begun about which 2013 Oscar hopefuls will show up this year, hoping to follow in the footsteps of four of the last five best picture Oscar winners -- Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The King's Speech (2010), The Artist (2011) and Argo (2012).
A strong contingent of Academy officials were in attendance on Tuesday evening. The Academy is one of Telluride's biggest financial supporters -- it has underwritten the fest's guest director program each of the last five years -- and held an exclusive party at last year's fest, since a considerable number of its members always attend the fest to showcase their films or attend those of others.
The popularity of Telluride is primarily attributable to its remote, idyllic setting -- it is all centered around a single main street that looks like something out of an old Western, and it's so out of the way that autograph hounds and paparazzi usually don't make the trip -- as well as its programmers' famously discerning tastes.
Indeed, no less a star than George Clooney -- who attended the 2011 fest as the star of Payne's The Descendants, and then encouraged Ben Affleck to attend the 2012 edition with Argo, which Clooney produced -- told me that he was largely unbothered during his visit and hopes to return in the future, when he doesn't have a film to promote, just to watch movies.