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Report from the Telluride Film Festival

Low-profile festival sees the premieres of ”Twelfth Night” and ”Swingers”

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Shirley MacLaine must not have been a mountain goat in any previous incarnations. ”I’ve been gasping at the artistry and the talent — and the air,” the winded star says about Colorado’s annual movies-‘n’-mountains marathon, the Telluride Film Festival (Aug. 30-Sept. 2). While Telluride lacks the trappings of higher-profile festivals — MacLaine, who received a tribute at the fest, was about the biggest name there — it boasts an impressive legacy of launching art-house successes, including The Piano and The Crying Game. ”I’ve been to Cannes once, and I found it incredibly unpleasant,” says director Trevor Nunn, whose Twelfth Night premiered at Telluride last week. ”It had entirely to do with socializing. Here it’s so relaxed and wonderfully noncompetitive. I love it.”

Nunn’s Night was about the closest thing to a commercial movie at the fest. The film has stars Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley sticking to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan text, but in turn-of-the-century garb. Also eliciting enthusiasm was the Southern-gothic tearjerker Sling Blade, a directorial bow for writer-actor Billy Bob Thornton (One False Move), who stars as a slightly retarded killer with a heart of Gump.

But perhaps the best buzz of the fest surrounded Swingers, a buddy comedy set in the East Hollywood lounge lizard/nouveau swing scene. The film’s cast and crew flew in from the Venice Film Festival and were headed to the Toronto Film Festival next. But ”Telluride was the one I was most excited about,” says writer-star Jon Favreau. ”I’d always heard of it being how Sundance used to be, the one with the film-for-film’s-sake attitude.” And, of course, the only one with Shirley MacLaine.