Each Labor Day weekend, this film festival draws film buffs from all over the country. They watch four or five films per day, and grow punchy from being exposed to so many flicks in such a short period. And then they rush back home.
Over and over, they keep asking themselves the same questions: What did I see here that was really worthwhile? Which director stood out? Was there an actor or actress who delivered an unforgettable performance? What will I remember a month from now?
It's a tough weekend, but everyone thrives on it.
When they are not sitting in ancient, cramped seats that Dan Harkins would never allow on his premises, they are standing on long lines at the moviehouses or waiting to gain entrance to overcrowded restaurants.
The price of a festival pass is $325 per person. I have never heard anyone complain it was too expensive.
Many forgo the restaurants. They settle for sandwiches or chocolate bars hastily downed while waiting on line for the next film. A cup of hot coffee--if you can find one--is like a gift from heaven.
Nobody dresses up. The predominant uniform of the festival seems to be blue work shirts and Levis with sandals or jogging shoes. Sweaters or light jackets are donned for early morning and evening.
This is the town in which Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank. William Jennings Bryan (remember Fredric March?) made his "Cross of Gold" speech at the Sheridan hotel, in the center of town.
The town provides an awesome setting, surrounded by mountains more than 12,000 feet high. Just walking up the hills to the theatres makes you gasp for air until you become acclimated.
There are late-afternoon showers and spectacular sunsets. In the morning, the air is crisp. The rising sun creates deep shadows on the mountain walls that rise above you on all sides.
The permanent population of approximately 1,200 seems to consist largely of dropouts from the Sixties and Seventies, supplemented by several hundred trust funders.
Celebrities like Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey, Daryl Hannah and Keith Carradine maintain homes outside of town. Generally, you can spot the stars of the films all around town.
Lauren, the clothing designer who buys those perfumed ads in Vanity Fair magazine, has a bottomless wallet. He reportedly paid more than $100,000 just for the buck-rail fence that surrounds his vast property.
The town bulges with visitors during the ski season and its many festivals. But if you remain a day past the festival, you will see it turn into a deserted hamlet.
Dozens of unleashed dogs roam the streets. Seemingly, the only way to make a living here is to own your own business or wait on tables in one of the many bars or restaurants.
There was a total of 25 films and special events on this year's program, not including the seminars. Film showings began at 9 each morning in five different theatres. That doesn't count the Abel Gance outdoor theatre, which shows films free of charge after dark.
Each day's schedule ran past midnight. And still, it was logistically impossible to see everything. You must always make a decision to miss something worthwhile. Generally, I would pass on a film like this year's The Joy Luck Club, which I know will play in the Valley within the month.
@body:The events I enjoy most are the ones in which directors talk about how they create their films.
A director with a new film is like a writer who has just finished a novel. He is anxious to explain how he has overcome great obstacles in putting his film together.
And despite the seeming arrogance of many, directors are all obviously needy of your approval.
John Ford once said that the best things happen in pictures by accident. Orson Welles agreed with him. Welles described a director as a man who presided over accidents.
This year, there were five directors on hand to present and discuss their work.
John Boorman from England, who was honored as the guest director, is a big man with a ruddy face and rumpled, gray hair.
Boorman spoke confidently and with self-deprecating humor. He has the look of a man used to command.
Boorman has known great success in the film business. After years of making documentaries for the BBC, he hit it big directing Lee Marvin in Point Blank back in 1967.
Subsequently, Boorman provided a boost to Burt Reynolds' career by picking Reynolds for one of the leads in Deliverance, the memorable film based on James Dickey's novel.