Telluride Film Festival 2021 – Successful But The Risks Are Real

Scott Menzel recaps his experience of his wife testing positive for COVID-19 on the last day of the 2021 Telluride Film Festival.

I want to begin by stating I love the Telluride Film Festival, and I had a blast at this year’s event. I loved being back, and as of right now, I would do it all over again, even given the current circumstances. But I want to share my wife’s story so people know the risks are still there even though the festival was fun.

The Diagnosis

At 1:20pm, on Monday, September 6, 2021, my wife Ashley and I were ready to embark from the Telluride Film Festival to the Denver airport. As we were about to drive away, my wife got her results from the rapid covid test she took 45 minutes prior. The first email she received said negative. However, 30 seconds later, a second email came in and said, we apologize for the first email; your test returned as POSITIVE for Covid-19. After reading that email, my wife immediately burst into tears. Through her tears, she kept saying, “I want to go home.” Trying not to panic, I attempted to calm her down by suggesting the results may not be right and we should get tested again on the way to the airport.  

We drove for two hours from Telluride to Grand Junction, where we found an urgent care location that could do rapid PCR testing. While we waited to see the doctor, I sat there thinking about what I should do if she tests positive. This led to me thinking, what the hell am I going to do if I test positive? I have been to many screenings and two parties, so how do I approach this if I come back positive? Then I started thinking about whether or not I should say anything because who wants to be fearful that they might have covid after 5 incredible days of celebrating film? I kept thinking and thinking about all the scenarios…and I honestly didn’t know what to do.

After an hour of waiting, Ashley and I got called in to take our test. The doctor examined Ashley because she told him that she tested positive about 3 hours ago. The doctor didn’t really notice anything out of the ordinary and, like Ashley, thought her breathing issues were due to the altitude and her asthma. We both took the test, and as we waited, I started to get a pit in my stomach. It was almost like I knew the first test was right. Sure enough, about 25 minutes later, the doctor confirmed she had COVID. 

A True Success?

As soon as that occurred, I picked up the phone to text two friends I saw in Telluride to tell them that Ashley had Covid. As I was texting them, another friend from LA, who had no idea that my wife tested positive, sent me an article from Deadline with the headline that read, “A Vaxxed and Tested Telluride Film Festival is A Triumph in the Age of Covid.” After seeing my wife cry earlier and seeing that headline, I had a knee-jerk reaction and thought, “What the fuck, how irresponsible!” The festival just ended, and no one could know for sure if it was a success or not. And clearly, it wasn’t because here I am sitting in Urgent care with a doctor who just told my wife she tested positive.

So I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to share the deadline article, along with what just happened. When it comes to Covid, transparency is key with situations like this. After posting what happened on Twitter, many people private messaged to say I was brave for doing what I did. I honestly didn’t see it that way; this was doing the right thing and letting people know I went to this event, and sadly this happened because of it. 

I want to be completely open and honest with everyone. I love going to film festivals, and the Telluride Film Festival is always a great experience. Ashley and I paid to go, and we were incredibly excited about being back. The Telluride team did a pretty incredible job making everyone feel safe. Everyone was required to be fully vaccinated and covid tested before arriving and getting their badge. During all of the screenings, everyone had to wear a mask. The festival even went the extra mile to have testing available on-site. If I have a minor critique, it’s that they didn’t have enough tests available, but it is a small town and a small festival, so I can’t complain too much. Honestly, the festival was as safe as it could be, and I don’t want anyone to think that I am blaming the good people at Telluride in any way for what happened. 

Safety Beyond The Bubble

The problem is that you are always at risk unless you can create a bubble where everyone is 100% vaccinated and tested, and no one goes outside of that bubble. The Telluride Film Festival organizers did everything to make this safe besides shutting down the entire town for the festival. And let’s be real, that isn’t an option. They couldn’t kick out the residents who live in Telluride. They don’t and couldn’t know if everyone employed at all the shops and restaurants is vaccinated and covid-free. And they certainly couldn’t control anyone else who was in town for leisure. So there was a risk involved, and Ashley and I took that risk. 

Last night, I posted about my experience because I felt the Deadline article wasn’t based on fact but rather wishful thinking. We all loved being back at Telluride. Walking those beautiful streets and being surrounded by nature is a good feeling. Seeing great films and talking with friends and colleagues again for the first time in about 17 months is plenty rewarding as well. It was a surreal experience, and I would do it all over again, but to try and act like there isn’t any risk and nothing will happen well, that is not the reality of the current situation.

My wife is not the only person who tested positive or will test positive for COVID after being in Telluride. There had to be others, and she had to get it from someone. That part is unknown because we don’t know where she got it from. She could have gotten it from the airport, airplane, someone at the hotel, or someone in town. No one knows, and we will never know, but I want everyone to realize that Ashley won’t be the only one who will get covid from this. There will be others.

Caution Is Still Key

What is important to note about this situation is that Ashley is probably one of the most overprotective people I have ever known, and she is the one who got COVID. She has been so cautious with everything COVID-related and has followed every instruction as closely as possible. Ashley barely interacted with anyone at the festival and didn’t attend a single party. She was more cautious than the majority of people who attended. I am pointing this out because she did everything right and still got COVID. That being said, almost everything that we do in life involves taking a risk.

Again, and to be completely clear, this is not an article bashing Telluride or recommending that people stop doing things. All I am hoping to do is share my wife’s story and remind everyone that COVID is still alive and well. And lastly, when you decide to do something, you should fully examine all of the risks involved and be aware of the consequences. For us, the consequences were getting COVID, not going to TIFF, and unexpectedly having to drive 14 hours to get home. It happened.

So, if you are going to TIFF in person like we were originally planning to do (or any other in-person film festival), think about the risks and consequences before you go. Toronto, for example, is a bigger city with more people. It is an international film festival. And most importantly, if you end up being unlucky like Ashley and me, and you get COVID, you can’t come home for 14 days. So, no, I am not trying to scare you or tell you not to go, but you should think about those things before going. Stay safe, everyone.

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott D. Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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