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Telluride Screens Slumdog Millionaire on Day Four

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This is the fifth in a series of stories from the 2008 Telluride Film Festival, which was held over the Labor Day weekend. Offerings have included "Sneak Reviews," a quick look at a film screened the previous night; "High on Telluride," highlights of some of the group discussions and celebrity appearances; and "Festival Buzzwords," focusing on what received the most attention — good or bad — throughout the weekend.

Film: Slumdog Millionaire, set in contemporary India, made its world premiere August 30, 2008 at a sneak preview in Telluride, much to the dismay of the Toronto International Film Festival. Toronto has been trumpeting Slumdog’s international debut on September 7, eight days after its initial showing in Telluride.

Slumdog Millionaire director Danny BoyleDirector: Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave), who told the Telluride crowd he would be heading back to London to make some last-minute adjustments on the unfinished product before “taking it to its ‘supposed’ world premiere.”

Running time: 121 minutes.

Scheduled limited release date: November 28, 2008.

Genre: Drama, with comic and romantic elements.

Leading roles: Dev Patal (18-year-old Jamal Malik); Freida Pinto (Latika).

Also appearing: Madhur Mittal (Jamal’s brother Salim); Anil Kapoor (TV host); Irrfan Khan (police inspector).
Slumdog Millionaire's game show
What’s it all about? The Three Musketeers, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the Taj Mahal, and torture are all woven into a tale about an impoverished boy (Jamal) and his dreams and passions, focusing on the lovely Latika, while growing up in the slums of Mumbai. How can he survive in the streets after seeing his mother murdered, his brother Salim become a gangster and his best girl headed for a life of forced prostitution? By landing a spot on India’s version of the popular quiz show. Through his life experiences (told in flashbacks), Jamal is able to string together a number of correct answers (sample question: “Who invented the revolver?”) during the competition. That gets him arrested on suspicion of cheating. Will he handle the police's extreme interrogation tactics and be able to advance far enough to answer the final question worth 20 million rupees? And, more important, will he be reunited with the love of his life?

Get a lifeline: “It’s just to escape, isn’t it? Walk into another way of life.” — Latika, when Jamal  wonders why Millionaire is so popular in his country.

What you might not know: The script was written by Simon Beaufoy, who earned an Oscar nomination for The Full Monty. Nods to Bollywood are made throughout. One of India’s most popular singers and actors, Amitabh Bachchan, is the central figure in a comical flashback scene in which a young Jamal goes to great lengths (and lands in deep bleep, so to speak) to get the star’s autograph. Kapoor, another famous Bollywood actor, plays the smarmy, slimy Millionaire host to the hilt, trying his best to set up Jamal to fail.  Make sure to stay for the entertaining closing credits.

Telluride take: Boyle has been seen everywhere in town over the weekend. The British director presented at least three showings of the movie, following one with a Q&A with the audience, participated in a one-on-one conversation with acclaimed Indian actress and director Nandita Das (Firaaq), and joined a group discussion (Dream Makers: How Does The Story Dictate a Film’s Style?) following the Labor Day picnic. He said he’s had “an amazing time,” and professed his love for Telluride, adding, “Once in a while, someone has to pick (a project) up off the floor and give it a ride. In this case, it’s been Telluride.” The nearly full house on Monday morning at the 650-seat Palm was cheering, laughing in the right places, and roaring with approval at the climax.

Slumdog's Freida PintoSumming it up: Beautifully shot, wonderfully performed (including the luminous Pinto, left, and the actors portraying the younger versions of the principal characters) and brilliantly laid out, this late entry to the 2008 Telluride program seemed to capture the attention — and hearts — of the audiences much the same way Juno did in 2007. It’s certainly not as light-hearted as the Ellen Page comedy and lacks box office firepower (at least in this country), but is much more ambitious and creative.

Question: What are the odds Boyle won't win over mainstream audiences?

Final answer: It’s a Millionaire-to-one shot.

High on Telluride

Long after members of the American Violet cast and director Tim Disney were gone, writer-producer Bill Haney, wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, presented the film’s final screening here, a culmination of six years of work. The story about a black single mom with four young daughters who has to fight racism and a wrongful arrest in Melody, Texas, was inspired by true events. Haney first heard about it while driving and listening to National Public Radio. He was moved so deeply, Haney said he had to pull off the road. Now he says he’s amazed at “the level of interest” people in Telluride have had about the movie.

Festival Buzzwords 

Representatives of the Boulder International Film Festival said their favorite movie of the weekend was Kisses, a coming-of-age story set in Dublin.

Terry Tice, the “ringmaster” of the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema who has attended all 35 festivals here, called Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky the “feel-good favorite” of Telluride this year.

African actress Felicite Wouassi was seen enjoying the beef jerky at the final screening of her film With A Little Help From Myself.

Go here to see more photos from the Telluride Film Festival by Matt Bialas.

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