Majestic vistas, burbling brooks and sanguine festival goers are the hallmarks of the Telluride Film Festival, a showcase for the year’s most prestigious films. But no amount of natural beauty can overcome the low-level anxiety that swept through this mountain town over Labor Day weekend. With the dual strike raging in Hollywood — the writers’ strike is only four months old — no one wants to appear out of step with these unprecedented times.
“It’s been hell going here,” Julie Huntsinger, the executive director of the Telluride Film Festival, said in an interview. “There was so much anxiety and nervousness. Once the actors went on strike, all bets were off. I had to call every company and say, ‘Please, please, please, don’t leave.'”
But according to Ms. Huntsinger, it went off without a hitch. The festival, long considered one of the preferred stops for films vying for Oscar consideration, both for studio-backed projects and independent films, received every film it requested, including several world premieres.
Unlike most film festivals, Telluride is more of a viewing than a sales opportunity — though some filmmakers attend in search of distribution partners. This year’s program was packed, a day longer than usual to honor its 50th anniversary, and only two directors were no-shows. The stars, on the other hand, face a more complicated situation because of the strikes.
Scheduled tributes for Annette Bening and Gael García Bernal have been canceled. Famous actors such as Austin Butler, Paul Mescal, Jodie Foster and Colman Domingo are not here even though their films are premiering. And those who came were concerned about how their appearance would play out in public.
The SAG-AFTRA union, which has been on strike against the major studios since July 14, has banned its membership from promoting any project they finance. Independent films, however, can receive a special dispensation from the union, called a “temporary agreement,” which allows its members to show and publicize their projects as long as independent producers agree. -according to the latest SAG requirements.
Eleven of the 26 narrative films presented were backed by divisions of major studios, whose actors were unable to attend the festival due to union rules.
However, SAG’s clarity on that guidance came less than a week before the event began in Colorado, causing a lot of stress for actors eager to promote their films but worried about their fallout. union.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ film “Tuesday,” from indie studio A24, received a tentative deal on Monday, for the film’s premiere on Thursday. “I’m glad I got it. Obviously, I won’t come if not,” she said. “But it was a real mad scramble to get here.”
Ms. set Louis-Dreyfus of the path of how his fellow union members could act in this period of labor unrest. The actress made an impassioned speech on behalf of her union’s fight at the premiere of her film and followed it up with interviews highlighting her work in the film and her stance on strikes.
Studio executives would not speak on the record for this article because of sensitivities surrounding the strike, but said the screening experience was bittersweet because the actors did not share in the success of their films.
Emma Stone, the star of “Poor Things,” a film from Disney’s Searchlight Pictures that premiered in Telluride on Saturday, came to the festival as a spectator and was not promoting her film, per guidelines from SAG. Dakota Johnson, who has a tentative deal, was also in attendance to promote and seek distribution for her film “Daddio,” which she produced.
And Ethan Hawke treks to the mountain town with “Wildcat,” the independent film he directed about the novelist Flannery O’Connor, with Laura Linney and her daughter Maya Hawke, two of the actors of movie. The three are also covered by an interim agreement.
Ms. Linney, who owns a home in Telluride and has been a longtime festival attendee, admits she was wary of attending early on. “I was very nervous before the interim agreement was made clear to us and why it exists and what it really means,” he said.
Emerald Fennell, the writer-director behind Amazon’s “Saltburn,” who is also a member of SAG and the Writers Guild of America (she played Midge in “Barbie”), introduced her film Thursday night as wearing a WGA pin. He was allowed to go there because he was studying as a member of the Directors Guild of America, which recently negotiated a new contract with the major studios, but his role was complicated by the fact that his film was financed by Amazon, part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group representing major studios and streamers.
And on Friday afternoon, Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, a member of the studio alliance, and her husband, veteran producer Frank Marshall, held their annual Telluride event at their home in town.
A handmade sign saying “Switzerland” decorated the entrance, and visitors seemed to welcome the sentiment to executives from Amazon; National Geographic, a Disney company; and Higher Ground, former President Barack Obama’s production company, which has a distribution deal with Netflix, has been mingling with filmmakers and actors. The vibe is convivial and more centered around the movies than the controversial rhetoric heard on the picket lines.
On Friday night, filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, who are married, debuted their first narrative feature, the Netflix film “Nyad.” The film, about Diana Nyad’s 35-year adventure to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys, stars Ms. Bening as a swimmer and Ms. Foster as his best friend and coach.
No actress can attend the festival because Netflix is represented by the studio alliance and their appearances are like crossing a picket line. Ms. Nyad, who as a sports broadcaster is also a member of SAG, also chose not to attend.
Instead, it’s up to Mr. Chin and Ms. Vasarhelyi to carry the promotional load for the film, praising the acting skills of Ms. Bening and Ms. Foster while also extolling the virtues of their studio for taking a flier on a subject that doesn’t get much attention in Hollywood, a film Mr. Chin’s “female, gay buddy comedy.”
But it wasn’t easy to express their gratitude for Netflix’s support for the writers and actors who went on strike.
“We’re just trying to be good citizens,” said Ms. Vasarhelyi, who in one breath expressed his utmost “respect for the writers and actors” and then praised the “great executives” at Netflix who protected his film.
“There’s a lot to balance.”