By A.J. Newberry and Hailey Hirata

Close your eyes.

Think of the joy of completely immersing yourself in a great film. Now imagine an experience of total cinematic immersion for four days straight, surrounded by people who are equally as passionate about cinema as you are- directors, actors, critics and students alike.

Now add mountains that are so picturesque they look like they were created by the best production designer or computer graphics artist in Hollywood. It’s the picture of an idyllic utopia, and if you’re like five very fortunate Miami film studies majors, it’s also a reality.

Three hours from the nearest airport in a valley just outside Ralph Lauren’s 17,000 acre ranch is the picturesque town of Telluride, Colorado- home of the prestigious Telluride Film Festival. In its 43rd year, the Colorado event spans four days over Labor Day weekend and prides itself on being a “celebration of the best in film- past, present and future- from all around the world,” where festival-goers can immerse themselves in an “unabashed carnival of film: viewing, breathing, eating and talking cinema.”

In addition to its postcard-perfect setting, the major appeal of Telluride is that is goes to great pains to remain a non-competitive festival. There are no awards, no industry wheelers and dealers, and the lineup is kept secret until patrons arrive to avoid an onslaught of paparazzi. Nonetheless, it does have its fair share of big Hollywood names, which this year included Tom Hanks, Emma Stone, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Garner.

What is unique about the festival is that it screens restored prints of film classics, such as the 3-hour long silent film Spies (1927) directed by German director Fritz Lang, alongside world premieres of big studio releases, like Clint Eastwood’s Sully, which stars Tom Hanks as the heroic Captain “Sully” Sullenberger on the Hudson River. The festival also benefits from its long-standing relationship with filmmaker Werner Herzog, who, since he was slated as a guest of honor in 1975, has been a continual presence at the festival, on hand to give formal talks as well as casual advice about filmmaking, and who even has a theatre dedicated to him permanently at the festival.

This year Herzog screened his documentary Into the Inferno, which explores the relationship of different cultures around the world to the volcanoes they live in the shadows of. This year’s festival sold out in less than seven weeks, due in part to Best Actress Brie Larson’s Oscar stage endorsement, as well as its growing renown for premiering Oscar winning films such as 12 Years A Slave, The King’s Speech and Birdman.

This fall, the Film Studies Program in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film, headed by Dr. Kerry Hegarty, took five film studies students to Telluride as part of a pilot program, with the goal of setting up an official program at the festival starting next year.

Seeing an average of four films a day, the students became adept at viewing, talking and writing about pre-release films at a rapid pace. They took advantage of the setting- where brushes with celebrities and industry people were casual but frequent- to make connections with filmmakers and fellow film students. The festival also offers a wealth of free opportunities for the community, from daily talks with actors and filmmakers in the park to nighttime open-air screenings of big releases under the stars.

The four days of high-energy film activity- running from screening to screening, standing in line with fellow cinephiles sharing opinions about the films, jotting down thoughts and ideas quickly between screenings- gave the students renewed physical, intellectual and creative energy to start the semester.

As they drove three hours through the Colorado landscape back to the airport in the darkness of early morning last Tuesday, conversation was rapturous over the films they had discovered, the friends they had met, and the memories they had made. Finally closing their eyes on the plane, they once more savored the reminder of the cinematic utopia they had just experienced. And started counting down the days until they can return to Telluride.

Looks for their reviews of Telluride premiere films Arrival, Moonlight, La La Land and Neruda in upcoming editions of the Miami Student.

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