September 17, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Four David Lynch projects have premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, beginning with 1986’s Blue Velvet, but Labor Day weekend was the first time the filmmaker himself made it to the gorgeous but oxygen-deprived Colorado mountain town. In addition to bringing The Straight Story for its U.S. debut, Lynch was honored, alongside Catherine Deneuve and composer Philip Glass, with a career tribute. ”I didn’t realize how hard it was,” said Lynch, waiting to be feted at the Sheridan Opera House, ”not only to get here, but to stay alive once you’re here.”

That wasn’t entirely hyperbole. For the 26th annual fest, organizers added a new venue, Chuck Jones’s Cinema, accessible from town primarily via gondola. At an elevation of 9,500 feet, the theater is so up there, doc, that the Looney Tunes animator for whom it’s named was forbidden by his physicians to attend.

Telluride’s lineup was pretty light-headed too, emphasizing comedies and other feel-good fare. Here, as at Cannes, it was a Straight-up love-fest for Richard Farnsworth, who stars as a WWII vet riding a lawn mower across the Midwest to visit his estranged brother. Two other movies receiving near-universal acclaim were outright rib ticklers that also touch on familial reconciliation: East Is East, about a London Muslim family torn asunder by secularization, and the Aussie Me Myself I, in which unhappily single Rachel Griffiths stumbles into an alternate reality where she’s unhappily married to her teen sweetheart.

Also earning plaudits on the lighter side were Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, a diverting faux biopic starring Sean Penn as a womanizing ’30s jazzbo, and Mifune, a Danish production from the no-frills-filmmaking Dogma 95 camp that turns out to be a raucous romantic comedy. Tracking Billy Crudup’s violent misadventures as a smack-addicted slacker, Alison Maclean’s Jesus’ Son veered closer to characteristic film-fest grotesqueries, but it too finally gets high on laughs and redemption.

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