INSIDE THE TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN

The now canceled fall festival programmed 29 films, and tributes to Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins and Chloé Zhao, before a worsening pandemic drove executive director Julie Huntsinger to decide, "I don't want us to be part of a problem."

TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL (Photo by Paul Best/Getty Images)

The now canceled fall festival programmed 29 films, and tributes to Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins and Chloé Zhao, before a worsening pandemic drove executive director Julie Huntsinger to decide, “I don’t want us to be part of a problem.”

After Telluride Film Festival organizers had assembled a plan to go forward this year with thousands of COVID-19 tests, new HVAC systems and socially distanced screenings, a phone call on Sunday, July 12, inspired executive director Julie Huntsinger to reconsider and cancel the annual Labor Day event.

Coronavirus numbers were spiking in several states including California, Arizona and Texas and a local festival board member, Joseph Steinberg, called Huntsinger to warn her that the politicized debate over mask wearing was playing out in the Rocky Mountain tourist town amid a contentious election in Colorado’s third congressional district.

“It just felt like, ‘I hear you, universe,’ ” Huntsinger says. “I was anguishing a lot over, ‘Will I make the right decision?’ One day, it felt, even if we’re only 200 people watching movies outside for four days, that’s enough. Then that weekend, it was so clear and so clean, that I will not jeopardize anyone, and I don’t want us to be part of a problem.”

Telluride announced it was canceling two days later, even as its fellow fall festivals — Venice, Toronto and New York — all plan to go forward in some fashion. Instead, Telluride will host a drive-in screening in Los Angeles on Sept. 11 for the Chloé Zhao Searchlight movie Nomadland, which was to have shown at the festival as part of a tribute to the filmmaker. Zhao and Nomadland star Frances McDormand will both attend the drive-in, and at least one additional potential event for another film that would have premiered in the lineup is also in the works.

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