High in the Rocky Mountains, you'll find a movie lovers Shangri-La.
It was the second night of the Telluride Film Festival and some 250 people squeezed into grassy Elks Park for a free screening beneath the stars. Though it was August, the air in this lofty ski village had dropped to a chilly 57 degrees, requiring me to wear every stitch of clothing I'd packed. I shivered with cold and anticipation as the film began. I'm Not Scared, an Italian childhood tale, played out in achingly beautiful scenes that mesmerized the crowd. And then, as happens in the Colorado Rockies, it began to pour. Rain slashed down through the beam of the projector, blankets were soaked, puddles formed. Yet not a soul got up to leave. Parkas were zipped tighter and tarps repositioned, but the audience remained until the final frame. They were here to watch a film and it would take a lot more than hypothermia to stop them.
Ever since Telluride's Sheridan Opera House hosted the festival's first feature 30 years ago, it has been this attitude, this unshakable, unpretentious appreciation for cinema, that sets Telluride apart from other big film fetes. The festival may have grown to occupy eight theaters (most of them cozily indoors), but it still attracts those who love moviemaking above moneymaking, remaining delightfully devoid of photo-snapping paparazzi and snobby industry soirees. Not that the four-day lineup isn't consistently impressive: Sling Blade, Bowling for Columbine, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were all unveiled here, and Peter O'Toole, Clint Eastwood, and Meryl Streep are among the past honorees. But at the lung-humbling altitude of 8,750 feet, even celebrities dress in denim and wait in line, sparking conversations with that friendly Telluride greeting: "What good films have you seen?"
Thanks to this low-key atmosphere, cash-strapped cineasts can partake, too. Those who choose not to spring for the $325 or $650 passes can supplement free outdoor screenings and seminars with $20 individual tickets or a $25 Late Show Ticket that buys access to the last movie four nights running at The Max theater. And, of course, Telluride's greatest show doesn't cost a penny: a montage of sky-shattering sunsets, thundering waterfalls, and mountains so monumental they look like a Cecil B. DeMille set. Entranced by the beauty, you may just zip up your parka and refuse to leave.
During the festival, affordable rooms in Telluride are as scarce as August snowflakes. Book as far in advance as possible and consider staying in Mountain Village, a 13-minute gondola ride from town proper. If you bring a sleeping bag, the hands-down cheapest spot to sleep is the Telluride Campground Town Park: (970) 728-2173.
Photography by Ingrid Lundahl
This article was first published in May 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
For tickets, call (603) 433-9202 or visit www.telluridefilmfestival.org . For tips on lodging, restaurants, and events, call the Telluride Reservations Center at (888) 376-9770 or visit www.telluride.com .
La Cocina de Luz The patio is the perfect spot for soaking up the Colorado sunshine while digging into healthy regional Mexican fare. Handmade tortillas stuffed to bursting with garlic-roasted veggies or free-range chicken have earned this tiny taqueria the local vote for best burrito. 123 East Colorado Ave., (970) 728-9355.
Fat Alley BBQ The Carolina pork shoulder sandwich, piled with creamy coleslaw and drenched in a tangy-sweet sauce, is as messy and delicious as Southern food comes. Choose from down-home side dishes like fried okra, sweet potato fries, or red beans and rice, and wash it down with a sweet iced tea or a shot of bourbon. 122 S. Oak St., (970) 728-3985.
New Sheridan Hotel $100-$225. Guests enjoy well-appointed rooms and a complimentary breakfast. 231 W. Colorado Ave., (800) 200-1891.
The Victorian Inn $79-$219. Slightly more modest accommodations, which feature modern rooms with Victorian flourishes and an outdoor hot tub for postpicture unwinding. 401 W. Pacific Ave., (800) 611-9893.