TELLURIDE: Danny Boyle says there are still a couple of things to “figure out” before a final print can be struck. But the Oscar-winning director returned today to the Galaxy Theatre at the Telluride Film Festival with the “unofficial” world premiere of 127 Hours — his first film since Slumdog Millionaire took home 8 Oscars just 1 1/2 years ago. It’s a good luck spot for Boyle as he had just finished Slumdog three days before its Telluride premiere, which became the launching pad for what would become an awards season blowout for the popular movie.
It was déjà vu this afternoon for me and others who were there that Saturday two Tellurides ago in the exact same venue. Today, the house was packed for both the 127 Hours screening and the Q&A that followed featuring Boyle, his producer Christian Colson, star James Franco, and the real life inspiration for the film, Aron Ralston, whose memoir Between A Rock And A Hard Place was the basis for Boyle’s and Simon Beaufoy’s adaptation. It’s about the harrowing true story of a young canyoneer who gets trapped in a deep narrow cave for 127 hours before extracting himself from a crushing boulder by cutting off his right arm with a small knife. And it has been expertly brought to the screen by the director who finds a way to put “urgency” in every frame despite the fact that the entire film is basically one man vs. the elements. It’s a tour-de-force for Franco, virtually never off screen in the same way Spencer Tracy triumphed in the similarly spare The Old Man And The Sea (1958). Franco’s performance could put him in contention for a best actor Oscar nod just as Tracy’s did over 50 years ago. It should be noted that Franco’s “farewell to arm” scene is graphic and not for the squeamish.
Using fast cutting, flashbacks and two cinematographers, Boyle makes this thing cook even though he ironically admitted afterwards that he’s really an “urban” filmmaker, hates the countryside, and thinks most “wilderness films are boring”. That initially made the outdoorsman Ralston wonder why Boyle wanted to film the story in the first place. Seeing it nearly finished for the first time today, Ralston says he was in tears through the second half, right from the moment the “sunlight” poked through.
For distributor Fox Searchlight, which plans a November release, 127 Hours is just one of three awards season players they have brought to Telluride. Friday night, Never Let Me Go stars Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, director Mark Romanek, screenwriter Alex Garland and the novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, all turned up to introduce the first-ever public unveiling of this highly unusual sci-fi film dealing with themes of love and death. It’s distinguished by superb work from its promising young cast, led by Mulligan and Garfield, who all drew special praise from its very pleased author Ishiguro who described the film version of his best seller as a tremendous showcase for new British acting talent who are “inventing a style all their own”. Romanek (One Hour Photo) told the nearly sold-out crowd he had two dreams: to make this book into a film, and to come to Telluride. On Sunday, Searchlight’s Black Swan (December 1) and troupe blow into town direct from their Venice triumph for the unofficial North American premiere, billed here as a “sneak preview”.
Earlier Saturday, at the Chuck Jones theatre, a packed house caught the first screening here of The Weinstein Company’s Best Picture contender and Thanksgiving release, The King’s Speech. Afterwards the crowd greeted director Tom Hooper and stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush with a standing ovation. This stylishly entertaining, brilliantly acted period piece about the stuttering problems of England’s King George VI (father of the current Queen Elizabeth) and his relationship with a speech therapist is, to put it simply, catnip for Academy voters. No doubt Harvey’s already got one of the ten Best Picture slots locked up for this. Firth will be the recipient of a special tribute to his career Sunday night.
This morning, across town, there was an emotional screening at Masons Hall for a new documentary from director Shlomi Eldar, Precious Life, the agonizing story of a young Gaza woman who goes to an Israeli hospital to save the life of her five month old son Muhammad suffering from the same genetic disease that took the lives of her other two children. Against the background of death and destruction all around them, this is a film that asks what is the value of life. Immediately following the showing, the real-life mother, her husband, and now three years old (and thriving) Muhammad were “Skyped” in from their Gaza home for a remarkable modern-age Q&A with the 150 members of the Telluride audience. Producer Ehud Bleiberg, most recently at the Festival with Adam Resurrected and The Band’s Visit, told me a deal was just closed with HBO Documentary Films. HBO plans to air it in the second quarter of 2011 — but not before qualifying it for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar next week with 7-day runs in LA (at Laemmle’s in Encino) and NY. At the pay channel’s request, the director got the HBO logo on the front of the film just moments before hitting Telluride. Due to the gut-wrenching but ultimately hopeful subject matter and execution of this effort, a strong list of Doc contenders just got stronger. Bleiberg is determined to have this film seen everywhere around the world even if it means “we have to pirate it in the Middle East”.
UPDATE: And Oscar winning documentarian Errol Morris (Fog of War) is premiering his new work, Tabloid, a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it story of a former southern beauty queen who became a tabloid sensation in England in the 1970’s and has lived to tell the tale. Morris discovered the 2006 Boston Globe story about her more recent efforts to clone her dearly departed dog, Booger. Morris shot all his interviews in just three days for this unusual and lively doc causing lots of talk on the streets here. Unless threatened legal action by the doc’s subject complicates matters, it’s sure to get a distribution deal – and fast.