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Telluride Film Festival: The Kids Are (Mostly) All Right

An image of a banner that says "Telluride Film Festival" hangs above a street in the town that hosts the event. A mountain range looms in the background.
Children and young adults were featured prominently in an array of movies premiering at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival
(Pamela Gentile
Courtesy Telluride Film Fesrtival)
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Maybe it’s because filmmakers — like every other parent — have been cooped up with their kids for nearly two years.

Perhaps, in a time of polarization and crisis, the youngest amongst us are the most hopeful and resilient.

But whatever the motivation, a startling number of directors at the just-concluded Telluride Film Festival are obsessed with storylines of children — and, on several occasions, those in peril.

From Jane Campion’s adaptation of the Thomas Savage novel, “The Power of the Dog,” to “The Rescue,” a new documentary from “Free Solo” directors Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin about the Thailand youth soccer team trapped in a flooded cave, Telluride’s filmmakers couldn’t get away from childhood.

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Parenting stretches you. And it brings you to your knees.
— Maggie Gyllenhaal, the director of "The Lost Daughter"

Older teens and younger kids are the driving forces in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter,” Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon,” Michael Pearce’s “Encounter,” Céline Sciamma’s “Petite Maman,” Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” and Ashgar Farhadi’s “A Hero.”

After a few such movies, it’s understandable why a parent might enter a Telluride theater on tiptoes, yet many of the films — even those with troublesome themes — either end well, or well enough.

“King Richard,” a feature film about Richard Williams (Will Smith), the father of Serena and Venus Williams, focuses on how his unorthodox coaching and passion brought us two of the greatest tennis players of all time. Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical drama, “Belfast,” tells the story of a young boy dodging violence during Ireland’s Troubles who grows up to be ... Kenneth Branagh.

A young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) relentlessly bullied by a cowboy (Benedict Cumberbatch) in “The Power of the Dog” has a chance to turn the tables on his tormentor. And, as you may recall from the actual event, the trapped soccer kids all survive — after all, the movie is called “The Rescue.”

Reinaldo Marcus Green, the director of the Telluride Film Festival premiere "King Richard"
(Keith Ladzinski)

“I think the love we felt for this story was something so personal for us, as parents,” said Vasarhelyi about her documentary. “And it’s also something that connects us when everyone is so disconnected right now.”

Reinaldo Marcus Green, the director of "King Richard," said that while some may believe Richard Williams pushed his kids too far, it's not because he didn't care about them.

"Everything that I heard from [the Williams family] and their own personal testimony is how much they love that man, how much they worship him as a father and his teachings and how much love he really gave them," Green said. "And so I never once tried to say what he was doing was too much. That's for audiences to decide."

Mills, whose previous films, “Beginners” and “20th Century Women,” were based on adults in his life, looked to his son for inspiration for “C’mon C’mon,” a road trip starring Joaquin Phoenix as the reluctant caretaker of his high-energy nephew (Woody Norman).

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Mike Miill
Mike Mills, the director of the Telluride Film Festival premiere "C'mon C'mon."
(Keith Ladzinski)

“In the post-2016 world I felt quite lost,” Mills said of the presidential election and its aftermath. “I knew I would love to make a movie about my kid or me and my kid and those very small, intimate moments.”

"The Lost Daughter" is Gyllenhaal's directorial debut. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante and concerns a middle-aged mother (Olivia Colman) looking back on her failures as a parent.

"I think the truth about motherhood is that it must contain a massive spectrum of feelings, like everything else in the world," Gyllenhaal said. "There is ecstasy, there's massive amounts of joy. And there's also terrible terror, anxiety, pain, shame, all of it. It stretches you, And it brings you to your knees."

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?
John Horn host our weekly podcast Retake, asking: Do the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?