The Telluride Film Festival was started in 1974 by Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy and Jim Card in the town of Telluride, Colorado. It is operated by the National Film Preserve, LTD.

During the 33rd Festival Bill and Stella Pence announced that they would be retiring as Director and Managing Director of the festival. Gary Meyer was announced as the new Co-Director with Tom Luddy. Julie Huntsinger was later hired to act as Managing Director. The festival is now based in Berkeley, California after years of having been based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is held annually over Labor Day weekend each year although you will not find the word “annual” on any information, posters or announcements regarding the festival.

The program is a mix of forgotten gems and films making their North American, and in some cases World, premiers. Each year, tributes are paid to directors and actors who have fundamentally changed the world of film.

Some noteworthy film premiers include: Sling Blade, Roger & Me, Gummo, The Crying Game, Amélie, El Mariachi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Swingers, Nosferatu, City of God, Bowling for Columbine,* El Norte, Rushmore, My Dinner with André, To End All Wars, Lost in Translation, The Qatsi Trilogy, Shattered Glass, Touching the Void, House of Flying Daggers,* The Fog of War,* Finding Neverland, Brokeback Mountain, Walk the Line, Capote, Conversations with Other Women, Elephant,* Gunner Palace, Kinsey, Yes, Cyrano de Bergerac and The Civil War by perennial attendee Ken Burns. (Asterisks indicate American, not worldwide, premieres.)

Tributes have been paid to artists such as Gloria Swanson, Jack Nicholson, Gérard Depardieu, Clint Eastwood, Fay Wray, Klaus Kinski, Laura Linney, Isabelle Huppert, and Jodie Foster. The list of directors who’ve accepted Telluride tributes includes: Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, Chuck Jones, Robert Altman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Pedro Almodóvar, Ken Burns and Neil Jordan.

Not to be confused with Mountainfilm in Telluride, another film festival held annually in Telluride over Memorial Day weekend.

In 2010, Telluride Film festival partnered with UCLA TFT. This partnership created FilmLab which was a program that focuses on The art and industry of filmmaking. This program is destined to ten selected filmmaker graduates from UCLA.[1] The partnership was further extended in 2012, the two partners created a mutually curated film program on UCLA’s Westwood campus.[2]

In 2013 the festival celebrated its 40th Anniversary with the addition of a new venue, the Werner Herzog Theatre and an extra day of programming.[3]

Special Honors

There are no prizes or awards given unlike other film festivals. Instead, simply being included in the program is an honor that a mere 40 or so films get to earn each year. The primary focus is on independent film. In addition to features, a number of shorts and student films are also selected from myriad submissions each year. The program is created by co-directors Gary Meyer, Tom Luddy and a third, carefully chosen “guest director” each year. Past guest directors include Errol Morris, Peter Bogdanovich, Bertrand Tavernier, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Sondheim and Buck Henry among others.

While the selection process involved in putting the program together is highly competitive, there are no juried awards given at this festival. There are, however, special honors bestowed upon a few people each year. These include:

  • The Telluride Film Festival Silver Medallion – Typically, 3 of these are given out at each festival to actors and directors. Accompanying the medallion is a special tribute program of clips and films that exhibit the honoree’s distinguished career and achievements.
  • Telluride Film Festival Guest Directors: A guest director is chosen each year and serves to bring new ideas and overlooked films to Telluride
  • The Festival is dedicated to a fallen friend of the festival, in the unfortunate event of one’s passing.

Each year, a small painting is applied to the sidewalk outside the Sheridan Hotel to commemorate the near fatality of festival director Tom Luddy.

The festival operations/production department is unofficially known as Vespucci Pictures, whose slogan is “Save a buck, make a buck”.

There is a festival super hero; bike riding Cookie Boy.

Unlike most other film festivals, the Telluride Film Festival does not announce its program line-up in advance. Filmgoers purchase festival passes on faith, and the schedule is released the day before the Festival begins.

Rated among top-10 international festivals as well as among top-5 of U.S. Festivals alongside Sundance, Austin Film Fest, AFI Fest and Tribeca.