The Symposium is more rigorous than what's required of typical festival attendance. Sure, no matter who you are--press, the public, or students--you can't really count on more than 5 hours of sleep during the thick of festival season. But for students the day starts at 7:15a.m., where we meet for a breakfast discussion before we're off to queue up for the first flick at 9:00a.m. On average we see up to four or five movies per day, a day that is broken up with quick trips to the staff commissary for lunch, and special one-on-one talks with filmmakers, and that ends somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:00a.m. On my best night I got 5 hours of sleep. On the worst, two-and-a-half. And you know, for all the anxiety those numbers are wont to induce, there's such a grand energy among the students that you mysteriously whisk through your day with incredible adrenaline.
Could be the coffee. But, for me, it's the people. When I attended the Student Symposium 11 years ago I met some of my best friends. We miraculously stayed in touch just days after the five day fest ended. It was dumb luck that this year, on the 25th anniversary of the Symposium's institution that Education Dean, Kate Sibley, and the rest of the Symposium staff accepted 25 alumni to attend again. I was lucky and honored to be invited back. I reunited with my past--my friends, my teachers, that sublime mountain space--and met people who will define my future, new friends and filmmakers.
Published in the TFF program is a short essay I wrote about the friends I made in Telluride in 2002. And posted below is the article in its entirety.
Do you ever read significance into things like the number tacked to a door? 6g was our condo number in 2002, and that’s what we call ourselves now—6g—a name that stuck from the first time we crossed the threshold of that door.It began a few months before that, when our “den mom,” aka the Education Programs Dean at the Telluride Film Festival, Kate Sibley, sent an email to 50 of us saying we were accepted to the student symposium. Secure housing quick, she urged, because accommodations are as scarce as they are expensive. The rush of introductory emails from fellow students trying to figure out housing was so fierce that responding to everyone became the structuring device of my day, a lively lifeline at a pre-career desk job. We made jokes and gushed in anticipation of what was going to be an awesome festival.A few days later, Jeff from Missouri put out a call for roommates. He found a condo at the Lulu City lodging complex on the west end of town and we jumped on the offer. The summer skipped forward with sporadic logistical notes about travel and anecdotes about the terrific symposium teachers, Linda Williams and Howie Movshovitz, which some of us knew from respective film classes at Berkeley and the University of Colorado. There was a loose force acting around me, as I remember it—I don’t even know these people—and as it always happens in that mysterious, imperceptible way, strangers become familiar.Floridian Barry Jenkins (TFF Ringmaster and Shorts Curator) and I composed long epistolary notes about movies via email for months. Weeks later, Camille from Tennessee emailed to ask if there was still space in our condo, it looked like her housing would fall through. She was welcome, becoming the tenth member of our house party, likely to bunk in a bedroll or the bathtub at this juncture, but in the meantime I had to know, What are you watching? The rising feeling of possibility and compassion in those individual exchanges brought us square into the festival.We arrived and spent swoony high-altitude days and late nights watching films and debating them until the only thing left to do was hit the bar where our merry delirium could be sated in time for two hours of sleep. Maybe the movie that defined us the most was Alexandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark, which Josh, a Denver, Colo. native, remembered blinking in and out of at 9:00a.m. after an almost sleepless night. 6g opinions are split on this flick that was shot in a single 90-minute take. Barry, Jeff and I call it sublime. Chava, from New York, and Camille call it boring. The rest of the votes are truly hanging chads. Maren, the group’s California girl, to wit, “I’m with Josh. I enjoyed what I didn’t sleep through.”Festival highlights trumped one after the other. We had exclusive conversations with documentary filmmakers, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Ken Burns. We sat rapt as Howie and Linda introduced us to director David Cronenberg. Legendary screenwriter Betty Comden regaled us with stories before the 50th anniversary screening of Singin’ In The Rain. We were ecstatic to meet stars on the street. We snagged pictures with a patient and kindly Willem Dafoe. I exchanged hellos with Paul Schrader, and we invited Michael Moore to the final night 6g condo party. He didn’t show, but we sang through the riotous night anyway, “Cheers—to Telluride! To 6g!”The rest is something of lore. An email chain started somewhere in the days following the festival, and it never ended. The group of us have had reunions and met family members. Four are married now with an average of 1.25 kids apiece and more on the way. Movie debates continue over Gmail, and we’ll never, ever agree on Russian Ark. We’ve become our own mini-symposium that’s in touch weekly, sometimes daily now for 11 years.It’s not unusual I come across an apartment number, a hotel suite, an item number on a take-out menu, “6g.” I always stand back and admire it—the cosmos knows. And then I come to and realize the coincidence as the simple reminder it is, of friends that are always there.