The Telluride Film Festival: Celebrating 50 Years of the Festival with ‘Moonlight’ Oscar Winner Barry Jenkins and the Journey from Telluride Dog to Acclaimed Filmmaker

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, the Telluride Film Festival takes place in the stunning alpine valley of the Rockies within an old mining town. An iconic filmmaker closely associated with the festival is Barry Jenkins, acclaimed for his work on Moonlight. Jenkins, who initially journeyed to the mountainous setting back in 2002 while still a film student at Florida State, has become a cherished figure in the event’s history.



The festival, known for its lack of grandiosity and emphasis on genuine engagement, features a student symposium that allows budding filmmakers to interact with industry professionals over the Labor Day weekend. Unlike other glamorous events, Telluride’s charm lies in its unpretentious atmosphere. Jenkins remarks, “If you see a filmmaker in line for a cup of coffee, speak to them. They actually want to be engaged. That’s why filmmakers come over and over again, year after year.”

Although Jenkins didn’t experience Telluride’s 1970s era, he recognizes the town’s transformation. He acknowledges that socioeconomically, the town was different in the past, yet it still retains its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. Despite pass costs running into the hundreds, Jenkins highlights that short films are accessible to everyone, embodying the festival’s spirit of tearing down barriers.

For a decade, Jenkins has overseen the curation of the festival’s short film section. Amidst his busy schedule, which currently involves the film “Mufasa: The Lion King,” he remains committed to attending the festival. Notably, this year’s event spans four days rather than the usual three.

Jenkins praises the festival’s openness to emerging talent and its practice of offering free access to short films. He fondly recalls his first encounter with renowned filmmakers during Q&A sessions. This inclusivity and connection with artists, irrespective of stature, set Telluride apart. Jenkins affirms, “It’s a place where you can meet them on the level of just being human beings. And then the art is secondary.”

Such authentic interactions are rare, as witnessed by Jenkins’ encounter with Brad Pitt on Colorado Avenue. In a departure from the norm, Pitt initiated a conversation about films rather than shying away behind a wall of handlers. The festival’s ambiance facilitated these unique encounters, a contrast to larger events where such moments are overshadowed by formalities.

Jenkins’ engagement with the festival started with uncertainty, but through dedication and a role as a production apprentice, he solidified his presence and grew within the event’s fabric. Over the years, Telluride became an integral part of his life, shaping his journey as a filmmaker.

The festival’s history, rooted in 1974 with screenings at the Sheridan Opera House, has seen remarkable changes and endured. Despite controversies surrounding its initial honorees, including Leni Riefenstahl, the festival’s essence has always been about showcasing meaningful films and artists, often shunning the glamour and hoopla associated with other events.

While Telluride’s influence on awards season has grown, its director, Julie Hunt singer, remains uninterested in discussing its potential Oscars impact. Studios vie for inclusion, yet not all supposed contenders make the cut. Jenkins himself introduced McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” a connection that contributed to the backing of his own work, “Moonlight.”

Jenkins concludes that Telluride is more than a festival; it’s an experience, an energy that binds people beyond the surface. He is drawn to the event’s magnetic pull, despite the demands of his film projects. When asked to rank festivals, Jenkins dismisses the notion, highlighting the special place both Toronto and Telluride hold in his heart. His love for film festivals is evident, but it’s Telluride that has truly captured his heart.

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  1. […] the ever-evolving landscape of cinema, few names shine as brightly as Barry Jenkins. From his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise in the industry, Jenkins has left an indelible mark […]

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