EXCLUSIVE: Although he is not here in Telluride, Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro’s presence will be felt as the official start of the film festival gets under way in the early evening hours  in the Rockies. Del Toro has come aboard as Executive Producer of Vivadirector Paddy Breathnach’s new film having its World Premiere here at 5 PM (MT). An Irish production shot in Cuba in the Spanish language, the movie is about Jesus, a young man  growing up in Havana who works as a hair and make up artist for drag acts. What he REALLY wants to do is perform on stage himself, a development that leads to major conflicts with his father who has just been released from prison.

Pete Hammond badgeHector Medina stars as Jesus with a supporting cast including Jorge Perugorria and Luis Alberto Garcia. Screenwriter Mark O’ Halloran also is featured in the film.  Rebecca O’Flanagan and Robert Walpole of Treasure Entertainmentviva_f produced and the Irish Film Board co-financed with Windmill Lane Pictures and Treasure Entertainment. Certainly the participation of Del Toro is hoped to be a boost in sales for the acquisition title. XYZ Films and Submarine are handling U.S. and Canadian sales out of Telluride, while Mongrel Media will handle international.

Del Toro was an Executive Producer of Escobar: Paradise Lost, a film in which he also starred that had its World Premiere at last year’s Telluride. He has produced other films in which he had roles including Che and The Wolfman, but his participation in a behind-the-scenes role on Viva appears to be his first in a film he does not appear since Lovesickness in 2007. Del Toro next appears in Lionsgate’s Sicario, which debuted in Cannes and will have its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival later this month in advance of its September 18 release.  He’s getting Oscar buzz for his intensely searing role in that one.

Although the Festival officially gets underway with Cannes titles Carol (featuring a Rooney Mara tribute) and Son Of Saul, along with the World Premiere of A24’s Room starring Brie Larson, around the same time as Viva’s debut (there are usually about nine films competing for attention at any given time here), Fox Searchlight will get the jump on everyone else with a “Patron’s Screening” of their documentary, He Named Me Malala. The special preview title will screen at 2:30 PM (MT) for those Telluride high rollers holding Sponsor and expensive Platinum or Patron’s 40-telluride-film-festival-e1377798053203passes, in addition to press gathered here. Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim as well as Nobel Laureate Malala’s father are expected to appear live at the screening, with (as I indicated yesterday) a plan to bring Malala herself to the proceedings (via Skype ) if all goes well. She is back in London in school and can’t attend Telluride or the upcoming Toronto film fest. Malala will have its first screening for the majority of pass and ticket holders tonight at 9:30 PM.

In other Telluride news, I have learned that Johnny Depp, earning raves out of Venice where his Whitey Bulger gangster film Black Mass  is World Premiering today, will not be making the trek to Colorado with co-star Joel Edgerton and director Scott Cooper when the film makes its North American debut here late Saturday night. There was some discussion among Warner Bros studio execs about trying to get him here, but I hear that’s not in the cards now. He will make the trek to Toronto though when it screens there. Based on the early reaction Depp, a past three time Best Actor nominee ( Pirates Of The Carribean: Curse Of The Black Pearl, Finding Neverland, Sweeney Todd)  looks to be firmly in the hunt for  a fourth Oscar nomination that would make his first in 8 years. And the race is on.