By Leah Greenblatt
September 02, 2019 at 10:36 AM EDT
Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.

Movie stars are the stock-in-trade of the Telluride Film Festival — if you don’t see Adam Driver loping past the popcorn stand at the Palm, did you ever really exist? — but there’s a thriving space at the festival for real people, too.

Not just the ones who have the privilege of spending four days watching films here, but those featured as subjects in a thriving documentary slate that this year includes Tell Me Who I Am, a movie about traumatic memory loss, twins, and a twist that’s already earning comparisons to another recent festival breakout, last year’s Three Identical Strangers; and Werner Herzog’s Family Romance, LLC, a wild docu-fiction portrait of for-hire human surrogates in Japan.

Also getting their own treatments: Bill Gates (Inside Bill’s Brain, by An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim); famed neurologist Oliver Sacks (Oliver Sacks: His Own Life) former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos (The Kingmaker); two soccer stars (Diego Maradona and The Australian Dream’s Adam Goodes), more than a few musicians (The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice; Ken Burns’ Country Music), and even the ninth(!) installment of Michael Apted’s groundbreaking every-seven-years series63 Up.

If all that sounds too real though, there were still many chances to see beautiful famous people do fictional things onscreen, starting with Edward Norton’s passion project of nearly 20 years, an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn.

Norton writes, directs, and stars as the Tourettes-afflicted detective Lionel Essrog, alongside Alec Baldwin (as the fat-cat bad guy) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as the troubled, luminous girl). It’s all very outer-borough Chinatown; a moody, sepia-toned 1950s noir — he moved the book’s setting back about four decades — stocked with dames and trench coats and double-crosses. (One fun anachronistic cheat on the soundtrack: a new song by Thom Yorke).

The 19th-century hot-air-balloon epic The Aeronauts starts out like a sort of goofy Baz Luhrmann/Tim Burton fantasia, then quickly turns into Gravity in a wicker basket — a harrowing survival tale 30,000-something feet up in the air, with high winds and frostbite and Felicity Jones doing all of her own extremely unsafe-looking stunts. (In a Q&A after, she said it was the most action she’d done since Rogue One; this one just came a lot closer to killing her).

The movie probably won’t be a big boost for the air-balloon leisure industry; honestly, you might not even want to get near the top of a Ferris wheel for a while. But if you’re here in Telluride there are still a few more gondola rides, and one more full day of film, waiting down below. Until tomorrow!

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