Telluride Documentary Lineup Features Plenty of Award Season Contenders, Including ‘Beyond Utopia’

Films about Grammy Award winner Jon Batiste, Andy Kaufman and designer John Galliano are part of this year’s Telluride Film Festival documentary feature lineup.

In all, 22 feature and four short documentaries are heading to the 50th edition of TFF, where buzz for docs seeking Oscar consideration frequently takes hold.

The lineup, kept under wraps until the eve of the fest’s opening on Aug. 31, includes docs from novice and veteran documentarians, including Errol Morris (“The Pigeon Tunnel”), Madeleine Gavin (“Beyond Utopia”), Matthew Heineman (“American Symphony”) and Paul B. Preciado (“Orlando, My Political Biography”).

After premiering “Orlando, My Political Biography” in Berlinale last February, Preciado garnered four awards, including the Teddy award for best documentary. Sideshow and Janus Films acquired North American rights to the doc in March.

In the docu, the first-time director, who is a trans writer and activist, uses Virginia Woolf’s 1928 book “Orlando,” the first novel in which the main character changes sex in the middle of the story, as a way to look at past and present trans lives. During the film, Preciado sends a film letter to Woolf, telling her that Orlando has come out of her fiction and is living a life she could have never imagined. The director organizes a casting and gathers 26 contemporary trans and non-binary people, from 8 to 70 years old, who embody Orlando.

“The idea for the film basically came during a meeting with [production company] Arte,” says Preciado. “They came to me saying, ‘We want to make a biopic on your political achievements.’ I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. That is horrifying.’ I didn’t want something like that to be done. So suddenly in this big meeting with these producers, I said to them, ‘Well, if you really want to make my biopic, then make it an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando.’ I thought that was a way to end of the conversation and then suddenly they said, ‘That is a fantastic idea.’”

In addition to attending Telluride, Preciado will also take “Orlando, My Political Biography” to the Toronto Intl. Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.

Alex Braverman’s Andy Kaufman docu, “Thank You Very Much” will premiere at the Venice Film Festival before screening at Telluride.

“No matter how many times I watch Andy Kaufman’s work, I feel like I’m seeing a magic trick for the very first time,” Braverman told . “I’m excited for our project to honor that. This is the film I’ve wanted to make my entire life.”

Among the 22 nonfiction titles making their world premieres at TFF are: Morris’ “The Pigeon Tunnel” about the storied life and career of former British spy David Cornwell, better known as bestselling author John le Carré; Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ “‘The Mission,” about a missionary’s obsession with the remote Sentinelese people proves fatal; Robert Kenner and Melissa Robledo’s “Food, Inc. 2,” a sequel to their Academy Award-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” about America’s corporate controlled food industry; Heineman’s “American Symphony,” about Grammy Award winner Jon Batiste and his wife, journalist and author Suleika Jaouad; JR’s “Tehachapi” about the maximum security correction facility; and Kevin Macdonald’s John Galliano doc “High & Low — John Galliano.”

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s “Musica!” will also be making its world premiere at Telluride in the festival’s backlot section, which features 11 behind-the-scenes docus about artists, musicians, and filmmakers. “Musica!” is about an organization called Horns to Havana that sends artisans from the U.S. to Cuba yearly to repair instruments and teach young Cubans the skills they need to keep their instruments in good condition.”

Epstein’s brother-in-law, David Gage, who runs a string instrument shop in Manhattan and is a Horns to Havana chairperson, drew him to the project.

“I’ve followed David’s work and the world that they have built in his shop in New York City for many decades,” Epstein says. “I’ve always been intrigued about the possibility of doing something about that very rarefied world of instrument making and that is what led us to follow them to Cuba.”

Epstein and Friedman, who co-directed the 1990 Oscar winning documentary “Common Threads” and the 2019 Oscar nominated short “End Game,” made their first trip to Cuba in 2015.

“Once we had gone (to Cuba) once or twice, we realized that we were making this film,” says Friedman. “We were fundraising as we went along. It was never fully financed so we were building the bridge as we were crossing it.”

The directing duo admits to having anxiety about finding a distributor for the film in the current marketplace, but nonetheless looking forward to the fest.

“It’s a paradox and a double-edged sword,” says Epstein. “Of course, we are anxious about the realities of the marketplace at this point in time but we also want to go into Telluride and just enjoy the experience of being in Telluride and seeing the film with an audience.”

Doc Features screening in Telluride’s main program, the show:

AMERICAN SYMPHONY (d. Matthew Heineman, U.S., 2023)
ANSELM (d. Wim Wenders, Germany, 2023)
BEYOND UTOPIA (d. Madeleine Gavin, U.S., 2023)
FOOD, INC. 2 (d. Robert Kenner, Melissa Robledo, U.S., 2023)
HIGH & LOW-JOHN GALLIANO (d. Kevin Macdonald, U.K., 2023)
HOLLYWOODGATE (d. Ibrahim Nash’at, U.S.-Germany, 2023)
THE MISSION (d. Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss, U.S., 2023)
ORLANDO, MY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY (d. Paul B. Preciado, France, 2023)
THE PIGEON TUNNEL (d. Errol Morris, U.K., 2023)
TEHACHAPI (d. JR, France, 2023)
THANK YOU VERY MUCH (d. Alex Braverman, U.S., 2023)

Doc Features Screening in Telluride’s backlot section:

AKA MR. CHOW (d. Nick Hooker, U.S., 2023)
ALL THAT IS SACRED (d. Scott Ballew, U.S., 2023) with TARPON (d. Guy de la Valdene, Christian Odasso, U.S., 1973)
ANGEL APPLICANT (d. Ken Meyer, U.S., 2023)
CAROL DODA TOPLESS AT THE CONDOR (d. Marlo McKenzie, Jonathan Parker, U.S., 2023)
KIM’S VIDEO (d. David Redmon, Ashley Sabin, U.S.-U.K.-Italy, 2023)
LITTLE GIRL BLUE (d. Mona Achache, France, 2023)
MUSICA! (d. Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, U.S., 2023)
NOTES FROM SHEEPLAND (d. Cara Holmes, Ireland, 2023)
ROOM 999 (d. Lubna Playoust, France, 2023)
ZINZINDURRUNKARRATZ (d. Oskar Alegría, Spain, 2023)

Four Documentary shorts screening in Telluride’s main program:

IF DREAMS WERE LIGHTNING (d. Ramin Bahrani, U.S., 2023)
INCIDENT (d. Bill Morrison, U.S., 2023)
THE LAST REPAIR SHOP (d. Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers, U.S., 2023)
THE LAST SONG FROM KABUL (d. Kevin Macdonald, Afghanistan-Qatar-Portugal-Germany, 2023)

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