|Location||Telluride, Colorado, U.S.|
The festival was started in 1974 by Scott Brown, the Chairman of the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities, Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy, and James Card of Eastman-Kodak Film Preserve. It is operated by the National Film Preserve.
In 2007 the Pences retired. Julie Huntsinger and Gary Meyer were hired to run the festival with Tom Luddy. Huntsinger is Executive Director.
In 2010, Telluride Film festival partnered with UCLA TFT. This partnership created FilmLab which was a program that focuses on The art and industry of filmmaking. This program is destined to ten selected filmmaker graduates from UCLA.  The partnership was further extended in 2012, the two partners created a mutually curated film program on UCLA's Westwood campus. 
In 2013 the festival celebrated its 40th Anniversary with the addition of a new venue, the Werner Herzog Theatre and an extra day of programming. 
The bulk of the program is made up of new films, and there is an informal tradition that new films must be shown for the first time in North America to be eligible for the festival. Telluride is well-situated on the international film festival calendar for this: after the Cannes Film Festival, but just before the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. This insistence on premieres has led to Telluride's being associated with the discovery of a number of important new films and filmmakers. This is especially true of Michael Moore (whose first film Roger and Me showed there for the first time in 1989) and Robert Rodriguez (whose first feature El Mariachi got its first festival screening there in 1992). The festival has also had the American premiere of films such as My Dinner With Andre ( Louis Malle, 1981), Stranger than Paradise ( Jim Jarmusch, 1984), Blue Velvet ( David Lynch, 1986), The Civil War ( Ken Burns, 1990), The Crying Game ( Neil Jordan, 1992), Mulholland Drive ( David Lynch, 2001), Brokeback Mountain ( Ang Lee, 2005), The Imitation Game ( Morten Tyldum, 2014), Sully ( Clint Eastwood, 2016), Moonlight ( Barry Jenkins, 2016), and Lady Bird ( Greta Gerwig, 2017).
Since 1995 a special medallion has also been presented annually, usually to a non-filmmaker who has had a major impact on American or international film culture. Past recipients include Milos Stehlik (founder of Facets Multi-Media), HBO, the French film magazine Positif, Ted Turner, and Janus Films.
Each festival also features three tributes. Each is awarded the Telluride Film Festival Silver Medallion.
The 1974 tributes honored Francis Ford Coppola, Gloria Swanson and Leni Riefenstahl.[ citation needed] Other tributees have included Lillian Gish, Penélope Cruz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Ang Lee, David Lynch, Jack Nicholson, Peter O'Toole, Mickey Rooney, John Schlesinger, and Meryl Streep.[ citation needed]
As of 2015 the program is created by executive director Julie Huntsinger and founder and artistic director Tom Luddy, and one of the Telluride Film Festival guest directors, who change each year. These have included Errol Morris, Peter Bogdanovich, Bertrand Tavernier, Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo, Peter Sellars, Stephen Sondheim, Buck Henry, and Michael Ondaatje.
Each year, an artist is selected to produce the poster art for the festival. Those who have accepted the commission include Chuck Jones, David Salle, Doug and Mike Starn, Dottie Attie, Jim Dine, Ed Ruscha, Francesco Clemente, Dave McKean, and Gary Larson.[ citation needed] The sole requirement for the poster is that the word SHOW be featured. This is a tribute to a large illuminated sign which says "Show" and sits outside of the Sheridan Opera House, the festival venue where the Silver Medallions are awarded.
After serving guest director in 2001, Salman Rushdie wrote that, "It is extraordinarily exciting, in this age of the triumph of capitalism, to discover an event dedicated not to commerce but to love".  Conversely, Susan Sontag, in her 1974 essay "Fascinating Fascism", lamented that, "The purification of Leni Riefenstahl's reputation of its Nazi dross has been gathering momentum for some time, but it has reached some kind of climax this year, with Riefenstahl the guest of honor at a new cinéphile-controlled film festival held in the summer in Colorado…."  Kenneth Turan, film critic of the Los Angeles Times, wrote in 2002 that "the hothouse filmocentric universe Telluride creates over a Labor Day weekend has always been more a religion than anything as ordinary as a festival, complete with messianic believers and agnostic scoffers."  Jeffrey Ruoff, a film historian at Dartmouth College, noted in 2015 that "Early buzz at Telluride opens the fall season of North American award speculation that climaxes with the Oscars." 
The Academy Film Archive houses the Telluride Film Festival Collection, which consists of conversations with iconic filmmakers, tributes, symposium and seminars dating back to 1978. 
- "Telluride Film Festival | UCLA School of TFT". www.tft.ucla.edu. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
- "Telluride, UCLA Film School Extend FilmLab Partnership". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
- Ruoff, Jeffrey (2016-01-31). Telluride in the Film Festival Galaxy. St Andrews: St Andrews Film Studies. ISBN 9781908437198.
- Rushdie, Salmon (September 8, 2001). "No prizes for the best celebration of cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
- Sontag, Susan (1974). "Fascinating Fascism". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
- Turan, Kenneth (2002). From Sundance to Sarajevo: Film, Festivals and the World They Made. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 150.
- Ruoff, Jeffrey (2015-09-08). "When Film Is a Festival". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-05-16.
- "Telluride Film Festival Collection". Academy Film Archive.