TELLURIDE - One of the Telluride Film Festival's most appealing traits is the general lack of pretentiousness among the stars, directors and attendees. Whether you are regular such as Laura Linney (couldn't make it this year), Alejandro Inarritu, Alexander Payne or Werner Herzog, there is little drama about waiting in line with all the other attendees to see a film, chatting with anyone about their opinions or walking the streets by themselves from screening to screening.  Sure, this can randomly occur at Sundance, but Telluride puts almost everyone on equal and accessible footing (gasp, celebrities are real people too!).  There are however, a few notable exceptions.  Enter George Clooney.

One of the reasons Clooney transitioned from television star to global superstar is because of his charming accessibility.  The Oscar winner is one of the few media icons whose personality invites conversation with anyone he meets.  Yes, there's the self deprecating sense of humor, the perfectly timed wit, the complete lack of pretentiousness over his success and those dashing movie star looks, but it's his grounded demeanor which continues to fuel his popularity.  And yet, when Clooney walks into an event, like his buddies Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, the entire room is transfixed on him.  He becomes the center of the party with many people afraid to approach the friendliest celebrity within 150 miles. I've seen it happen numerous times from Hollywood to Toronto.  And so, even when Clooney arrives at Telluride, it's hard for the attendees (some of whom have fortunes above and beyond Clooney's) and townspeople not to gawk. 

Clooney is at the festival to receive a tribute for his increasingly notable life's work and to attend the premiere of Alexander Payne's exceptional "The Descendants."  On Saturday evening, Fox Searchlight held a very small dinner with the "Descendants" team before Clooney was feted with the first of two "tributes."  Sometimes you have to wonder if Clooney needs to be reminded who he is.  Showing up on time? Before other late arriving dinner guests?  Clearly, his diva credentials need work.  Happily though, this allowed some time to chat.

It's been awhile since I'd seen Clooney in person, but I was first struck by how skinny he was and how youthful he looks for a man on the verge of turning 50 (that Italian villa must be doing wonders).  Clooney admitted, however, that like many visiting the Colorado Mountain town he'd been suffering from altitude sickness.  In town for a little over 24 hours, he also hadn't been able to catch any other films at the festival (meanwhile, Payne seemed as though he'd prefer to be catching as much as he could other than discussing his own impressive work).  He was very curious what I thought of the Russian Sci-Fi drama "Target" (probably not right for this audience, they were itching to jet at the end of the screening I attended) and wanted to catch Agnieszka Holland's potential foreign film contender "In Darkness."*

*Note to those few "Killing" fans left out there.  Probably a missed opportunity on my part not trying to run into Holland to get her to discuss the premiere of season two which she's helming.

One of the reasons Clooney hasn't had a chance to catch any other flicks is because he's much busier than you'd think as a producer on Ben Affleck's new dramatic thriller "Argo."  Currently filming, "Argo" is one of the few pictures Clooney won't appear in or direct that he's been an active producer (as opposed to executive producer) on and that means spending hours on the phone using his previously mentioned charm to snag needed locations from Los Angeles to Turkey.  Clooney is visibly enthusiastic about "Argo" which tells the true story of how the CIA concocted a plan to rescue six Americans held up in Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  The group actually pretended to film a movie, "Jason and the Argonauts," in Tehran to get them out (Clooney, "They even put out a full page ad in Variety" for the cover.)  

The picture is also the first time Warner Bros. has come on board to finance one of Clooney's films in eons.  "Michael Clayton," "Syrianna" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" were all pickups.  There was a little bit of a "finally" in Clooney's voice when revealing that news. Clooney then quickly transitioned into a story about how he and former production partner Steven Soderbergh were doing everything they could to convince former studio head Alan Horn to create an independent division to compete with Miramax (Clooney, "Don't you want to put on a tux [and go to some film festivals]?").  When Horn relented, Clooney recommended Mark Gil (at Miramax at the time) to run the now defunct Warner Independent.  Gil got the job, but Clooney delivers a big smile when supplying the punchline: he wouldn't greenlight "Good Night, and Good Luck" (a film that went on to land six Academy Award nominations).  

With that, however, it was time to sit down to eat and grab a quick meal as everyone in the room was going to be late for something.  Of course, Clooney has his own impressive feature, "The Ides of March," screening at Toronto next week. Finding this sort of conversation at that red carpet schmoozefest? 

Thank you Telluride.

To check out my review of "The Descenants," click here.

Look for complete coverage from the 2011 Telluride Film Festival on HitFix and Awards Campaign all weekend. 

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