Culture / Travel

Exploring Telluride Through the Town’s Famous Film Festival

Colorado's Prettiest Mountain Town Matched the Movie Magic

BY // 09.10.21

Like so many Texans looking to escape the heat, I was craving a trip to Colorado all summer. At the season’s tail end, my sister and I linked up in Denver to make the quick flight to Montrose and the winding drive to the Telluride Film Festival. It was my first time at the notable event, as well as my introduction to the Colorado town I had only heard described as “magical.”

As much as I wanted to see buzzy films like Spencer and The Lost Daughter before their theater debuts, I also wanted to understand the allure of Telluride — practically an obsession for Dallasites.

(via iStock)

The Telluride Obsession

We stayed at the Peaks Resort & Spa (just seconds from The Madeline) so we had to take a quick gondola ride to get to Mountain Village. On our way up, my sister and I were grouped with a sweet family from Dallas (one of many we met) who recently purchased a getaway home in the town. When I asked them how they landed on Telluride, the father quickly chimed in. “My son met a college friend who lived in Telluride and kept raving about it,” he recalled. “I kept thinking, I know Aspen, and Vail… who cares about Telluride? But then we came, fell in love, and bought a house.”

Once we landed in the quaint little village, surrounded by sunny, 70-degree summer skies, historic buildings, and sweeping mountain views, I understood. Telluride is small and intimate. It’s the kind of town that doesn’t feel overwhelming to navigate, but is dense with charming restaurants, galleries, and magical green space. It’s a perfect retreat.

 

Frankfront-door
Historic Victorians have been thoughtfully reinvented in Telluride. (photography by David Patterson)

The Architecture

Wherever I go, so follows my Zillow obsession. I wanted to knock on the door of every fairytale Victorian, Dutch Revival charmer, or even the occasional Gold Rush-style cabin to see inside. Telluride is a beautiful blend of modern and perfectly preserved (thanks in large part to the town’s Historic and Architectural Review Commission), resulting in a dreamy village that feels almost separated from time. Telluride Art and Architecture Weekend was canceled this summer, but I’m hopeful for a 2022 return.

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  • Post Oak Hotel - 29 Degrees North
  • Post Oak Hotel - 29 Degrees North
  • Post Oak Hotel - 29 Degrees North
  • Post Oak Hotel - 29 Degrees North
  • Post Oak Hotel - 29 Degrees North
  • Post Oak Hotel - 29 Degrees North

 

cornerhouse grill

Telluride Dining

The popcorn at the concessions stand couldn’t sustain us forever, so we set out to visit as many mountain town restaurants as possible. Beer and tots at Cornerhouse Grille, set in a historic Victorian house, hit the spot when we were particularly hungry. As did Alpinist and the Goat, a charming spot with an edited menu of internationally-inspired fondues. (In true Telluride Film Festival fashion, I watched Mary-Louise Parker talk with friends on Colorado Avenue while I ate cheese and bread.)

Our view from the 221 South Oak patio.

We popped in for burrata, orange wine, and other appetizers in another historic-home-turned restaurant, 221 South Oak. We had to leave to catch a movie, but the entire menu looked divine, a descriptor I don’t use lightly. Cap things off with a drink at The Madeline’s Timber Bar if you’re looking to extend the evening.

A couple of spots we missed that came highly recommended were Brown Dog Pizza and Allred’s, whose mountain-top views would surely have been unmatched. Next time.   

 

TFF43-VB-LDP_Seminar_Atmosphere
An outdoor viewing at the Telluride FiIm Festival.

The Films of Telluride

I typically turn to film critic Richard Lawson at Vanity Fair for my cues on what to see (he was in Telluride as well — I tried to find him but to no avail). However, I’ve always loved the movies, and this is a major film festival after all, so I’ll touch on the highlights. One note: the festival required vaccination proof as well as a negative Covid test and masks to enter any theater. Everyone complied beautifully, and it really did feel like a triumph.

We caught the North American premiere of Spencer, a slice-of-life piece centering on three pivotal days during Christmas for Princess Diana. Kristen Stewart and her accent were phenomenal, as were the clothes. The action occasionally cuts to the kitchen, where glorious dishes are prepared with military-like precision. Spencer is a Pablo Larraín joint, so aesthetic and music loomed large.

Marcel-The-Shell-With-Shoes-Movie-Telluride-First
“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” was a witty, touching winner at Telluride.

While we loved it, we were a little emotionally worn out after Spencer, so we followed our viewing with the surprise showing of Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. The 2010 internet sensation, voiced by Jenny Slate, received the full-feature treatment complete with the addition of Isabella Rossellini (she voices another gentle mollusk). It’s a surprisingly poignant film about dealing with loss and loneliness (really!), and I hope Marcel makes his way to theaters — or a streaming site — soon.

The Power of the Dog, which marked the return of notable director Jane Campion (The Piano), was stunning. The modern western stars Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Benedict Cumberbatch (who will certainly be an Oscar contender). Honestly, I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it’s the movie that has stayed with me most in the days post-festival.

On our final night, we saw The Lost Daughter, an adaption of Elena Ferante’s 2008 novel and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Its star, Olivia Colman, was magnetic and the coastal setting in Greece was a character in its own right. For those who haven’t read the novel, be prepared to discuss this one after with a friend.

We couldn’t make it to everything, but we heard great things about Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast and KingRichard, the latter of which is a biopic on Serena and Venus Williams’ father. A Will Smith Oscar campaign is always welcome.

 

The Madeline Telluride (Photo by Madeline Hotel & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection)
Summer beauty in Telluride, Colorado. (Photo by Madeline Hotel & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection)

Attending the film festival was a solid introduction to Telluride, but the allure extended far beyond the movies. The architecture, the views, the food, and — perhaps best of all — the extremely kind locals (and their many dogs) were all a match for the movie magic. I supposed people also like to ski and bike there too, but I’ll leave that action to them. Regardless, I now get the obsession.

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