Every September, fifty lucky college and graduate students get to attend the Telluride Film Festival as part of its Student Symposium program. I was fortunate enough to attend in 2002, when in the span of five days we saw dozens of films and had intimate discussions with Ken Burns, Michael Moore, David Cronenberg, Fernando Meirelles, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall. It was a transformative experience for me, and I'm sure most of my classmates would say the same. Applications for this year's program, which runs September 1-5, are due April 18. The Student Symposium includes access to:
- A rigorous five-day program providing at least four films a day
- Festival events
- Intimate discussions with filmmakers, artists, and great thinkers like Ken Burns, Peter Sellars, Laura Linney, Bertrand Tavernier, Werner Herzog, Slavoj Žižek, and others.
- An extra day of Telluride Film Festival fun! (Official dates are September 2-5; the Student Symposium starts September 1).
- A unique opportunity that provides a valuable and exciting addition to students’ studies, regardless of major, by nurturing independent thought and leadership skills of tomorrow’s trailblazers.
- The primary deciding factor for acceptance is the applicant's passion for film.
As Student Symposium member, not only will you attend a packed schedule of films for free, but you'll also have special access to the filmmakers present that year. They also provide accepted students with a travel stipend (it's up to you to find the cheapest way to get there and the cheapest place to stay). You'll be watching films (or in meetings) day and night, so you'll do little other than sleep -- and you won't do much of that -- while you're in Telluride. And while flying into Telluride is prohibitively expensive, most people fly into a nearby airport (Durango, in my case) and take a van. An anecdote about my own ride from Durango: I ended up sitting next to soul singer Sam Moore (half of Sam & Dave, and Rock & Roll hall-of-famer), who was there as part of the Pennebaker/Hegedus doc Only the Strong Survive. He was so modest that he didn't tell me who he was, and I didn't know who I'd spent hours talking to until I saw his ten-foot-tall face on screen at the premiere. This just goes to show that, despite Telluride being a large festival -- both in terms of stature and number of films -- it's very different from most of the major festivals, in that it's much more intimate and far less commercial. There are no acquisitions made at the festival, and the docket is not announced in advance. To wit, here's a quote from the New York Times' A.O. Scott:
If [Telluride] seems to exist on a higher plane, this is not just a matter of altitude. Mostly it is the kind of place where, for one long weekend, all anyone wants to talk about is movies. There are no prizes, and therefore no juries; no market, no press screenings, no red carpets or paparazzi photo calls. The ethos is open and egalitarian.
If you're a student -- undergrad or grad, film major or not -- apply. ((Also, if you're a student or teacher at a "underserved and/or at-risk" high school, you can apply for your school to participate in the City Lights program, which is similar to the Student Symposium (it's for highs schoolers instead of college/grad students, and it's based on schools instead of individuals).)) As part of the application, you'll be asked to choose one film to take into the future, and explain why (the film I chose was, fittingly enough, Startup.com). All in all, I have nothing but fond memories of the experience (other than the fact that my arm was in a sling at the time), and I can't recommend it highly enough.