TELLURIDE, Colo. — At the Telluride Film Festival here, the “ringmasters” who introduce screenings in venues that include two school auditoriums, a hockey rink, an old opera house and a classic single-screen movie theater like to invoke the pure love of cinema as the sole organizing principle. The conceit of this annual Labor Day weekend event, which lures a few thousand travelers high into the Rockies to sit in dark rooms amid spectacular scenery, is that it rises above the hype and hustle that animate other major festivals.
It’s a bit of a myth. Really, there’s nothing pure about either cinema — a hybrid art form stamped from birth with the mark of commerce — or cinephilia, which combines lofty aestheticism with more visceral, less respectable forms of delight. Telluride, which in recent years has presented an impressive number of future best picture Oscar winners (including “Argo,” “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water”), aims neither too high nor too low. At its best, it shows how expansive and various, how hospitable to individual vision and artistic risk, mainstream filmmaking can be.
Every so often, Telluride’s best is as good as movies can be. I felt that way in 2016, at the first festival screening of “Moonlight.” The silence that blanketed the room after the luminous final shot is like nothing else I’ve experienced in a lifetime of moviegoing. It seemed to represent the collective discovery of a new emotion, a feeling that combines recognition and revelation.