Exarchopoulos & Jeremie Laheurte, stars of Blue is the Warmest Color, today. Photo: Eugene Hernandez

Satyajit Ray vs. Alfonso Cuarón. Chris Marker vs. Errol Morris. Alan Clarke vs. the Coen Brothers.

At most festivals, top contemporary filmmakers compete with each other for the attention of audiences. At the annual Telluride Film Festival, this year celebrating its 40th Anniversary, today's auteurs are up against the history of cinema.

At a fest brunch this morning, on a grassy hill nestled amidst the stunning San Juan mountains, festival-goers pondered the recently announced lineup and the perpetual tough choices ahead of them this weekend. Screenings begin later this afternoon and insiders were already buzzing about the expected addition of Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners and Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave as sneak previews this weekend. In the same breath, though, badge holders here were determined to catch the rarely seen Alan Clarke film Elephant, playing tonight on the big screen with Chris Marker's La Jetee. Watching that pairing tonight at the only fest screenings of both films will mean missing the first showings of Errol Morris' The Unknown Known, the Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (NYFF51), Alexander Payne's Nebraska (NYFF51), and Cannes Palme d'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color (NYFF51).

One of the joys of attending the Telluride Film Festival—this is my 10th year in a row making the trip—is the easy immersion in a mix of both new and classic cinema. I've had the fun of discovering lost favorites at this fest, while in the same day watching a future Oscar contender.

Oscar Isaac, pictured above on stage last night singing a track from the soundtrack to the new Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (photo by Richard Parkin), falls in the latter category. He plays the title character and we sat down for a conversation back in Cannes and then reconnected this morning here in Telluride. Isaac's career is on the rise in the wake of positive notices for his role as an aspiring performer in the Coens' film. During last night's free outdoor concert, the singer, who graduated from Lincoln Center's Juilliard School, said he felt at ease being at the mic again.

Another major Cannes discovery, Adèle Exarchopoulos, a star of Blue Is The Warmest Color, was positively beaming at brunch this morning. She smiled broadly when I asked her about the chance to be here, the mountainous American landscape being a new experience for her. Standing alongside boyfriend Jeremie Laheurte, who also appears in Blue, she said she was excited to introduce the film to its first American audience tonight. She added that she's also quite amped to bring the film to NYC for the New York Film Festival in a few weeks. After chatting a bit, she and Laheurte made their way over to an empty field and sat on a rock, arm in arm, admiring the vast, dramatic landscape in front of them.

Todd McCarthy & Pierre Rissient at the Telluride Film Festival brunch this morning. Photo: Eugene Hernandez

Nearby, Pierre Rissient, leaning against good friend Todd McCarthy (the Hollywood Reporter film critic and former member of the NYFF selection committee), touted a rep program he's presenting tomorrow. He'll show A Piece of the Action, a 1962 episode from the Alfred Hitchcock TV show, that stars Telluride honoree Robert Redford and was produced by Norman Lloyd. The 98 year old actor, who famously still plays tennis daily in Los Angeles, won't be back at the fest this year after all. His doctors worried that the 8,750-foot altitude of this town wouldn't suit him.

Perched within a Colorado mountain canyon, Telluride is hardly the obvious spot for a film festival and, when it was formed 40 years ago, weekend destination fests weren't commonplace in this country. Even so, founders Tom Luddy (then from the Pacific Film Archive), James Card of George Eastman House and Bill Pence, a theater owner from Janus Films, envisioned the event as a getaway for film fans that would equally favor new and old cinema alike.

Today it attracts top notch film critics—A.O. Scott, Joe Morgenstern, Todd McCarthy, David Thomson, and many others are here—as well as filmmakers who don't even have films in the festival. Alexander Payne has become a regular attendee even without a new film to screen. This end of the season summer camp for cinephiles draws about 2,000 badge holders to this small Colorado mountain town that swells to a population of about 6,000 people during the film fest.

Alexander Payne, Asghar Farhadi, Film Society's Rose Kuo, and film critic Joe Morgenstern. Photo: Eugene Hernandez

At brunch this morning, Tom Luddy cornered me for a moment and, as he does every year, made me promise to embrace the rep programming here this weekend. He plugged Alan Clarke's Elephant and reminded me that Clarke was a popular honoree here in Telluride many years back. I gave him my word that I'd be there to see the 1989 film tonight rather than focusing on one of the new movies.

“We want to celebrate the art of film from the beginning of cinema, and make the Telluride experience a little bit of a film school too,” Tom Luddy told the local Daily Planet newspaper this week here in Telluride. “We never want to forget that and lose that.”

Eugene Hernandez is filing daily dispatches from the Telluride Film Festival for FilmLinc Daily. Follow him on Twitter for updates: @eug