Arts & Culture, Spring, Winter

Film, Parties, Food, and Fun – Taking in The Sun Valley Film Festival

It’s the budding of spring and you can feel Sun Valley kickstarting back to life, switching gears, and you can almost hear the creative juices flowing.  It’s not just the longer days and warmer temps, though. Within the heart of the valley a new bud is sprouting–the Sun Valley Film Festival: an extra long weekend of film, live music, seminars, and workshops which welcomes attendees in our customary fashion.

Local cover crashers El Stache tossed gas on a fire at the opening party which was likened to a hybridized bengal tiger- tyrannosaurus rex-Neil Diamond creature.


Since its earliest days, Sun Valley has always attracted the Hollywood elite–from directors to movie stars, the giants of film industry have found in Idaho a place where they can relax and blend in with the majestic scenery. Following this tradition, for the past two years the Sun Valley Film Festival has given us an opportunity to celebrate the craft of film in its various forms. Screenwriters, directors, producers, and several of the actors themselves joined in this year, giving festival goers a unique look at the film industry (whether Hollywood or independent).

A crowd gathers outside the Opera House in Sun Valley. At times the line stretched around the corner toward Bald Mountain Pizza.


The weekend began with the first annual Sun Valley Screenwriter’s Lab featuring Will McCormack, co-writer of Celeste & Jesse Forever. Sadly I wasn’t able to attend, but want to mention the workshop in hopes that they will bring it back next year (please!).

Actors read a script by Will McCormack at the NexStage Theatre during the Screenwriter’s Lab.


Actor Josh Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, Humpday) during Will McCormack’s reading. Note the great Idaho tattoo.


I began my festival weekend with The Sapphires—a dramatic feature about a group of singing Australian aborigine girls who enlist to tour Vietnam and entertain American troops. It was hilarious and heartbreaking, and wonderfully co-written by the son of one of the true-life Sapphires. On Friday morning I attended a “Coffee Talk” with Academy-Award winning writer Stephen Gaghan. He spoke about his lucky breaks, the condescension suffered in Hollywood, and the dangerous research he’s undertaken for films such as Traffic. His advice to writers and those who want to create: go engage with the world, and then figure out how to dramatize it.

Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan talks about preparing scripts for Traffic and Syriana. At one point he shared a story about being driven through Beirut (bag over his head) to meet with Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. When the bag was removed, the leader wanted to tell him that he was a big fan of Traffic.


Local families wait to see the Nat Geo WILD film Kingdom of the Oceans at The Liberty Theatre in Hailey.


Throughout the rest of the day I watched films about the deadly risks of K2 adventurers (The Summit), local stream restoration projects (Heart Rock Ranch), and strange couples who lose their way on backcountry Idaho roads and surrender their lives to the wolves (Craters of the Moon).

The crew of Craters of the Moon accepts the Gem State Award presented by Zions Bank. Photo by Ben Figueiredo.


Jeff Daniels, the head of Nat Geo Wild, talks about his film The Wild West. Earlier in the day he announced Nat Geo’s partnership with the Sun Valley Film Festival and the “Wild To Inspire Short Film Competition”,whose winner will shadow a Nat Geo filmmaker in Africa for three months. For more info visit the African Wildlife Foundation website.


The producers of An Unkindness of Ravens talk to the crowd at a post-screening Q&A.


Themes found in films and talks throughout the weekend ranged from conservation to survival and legacy, and seemingly there were a lot of films with connections to Idaho and Sun Valley. Among them were Running From Crazy, a documentary about Mariel Hemingway and the legacy of her famously troubled family; Starring Adam West, about another Hollywood survivor and Sun Valley local; An Unkindness of Ravens, a sneak peek work-in-progress filmed in McCall, Idaho; and Starlet, starring Sun Valley native Dree Hemingway. But perhaps one of my favorite features was the short documentary film Exit Wound, which follows an injured war veteran through his time returning home and taking part in Higher Ground—a Sun Valley nonprofit that offers therapeutic recreation to wounded veterans and persons with disabilities. Jumping back to the rich and famous, though, Sunday morning’s Coffee Talk featured Sun Valley favorite Jodie Foster, who spoke about her acting career and visionary passion for directing.

Jodie Foster speaks to a sold-out crowd at the nexStage Theatre.


Not that we are biased, but this is a pretty interesting place. The stars never stopped coming to Sun Valley, and their legacies have lived on to inspire a festival that promises to grow into one of the country’s greatest young weekends dedicated to film. ~Martha   *To send you off, here are a few of Mark’s party pics from the week:

What is this man thinking? Chopper sandwiched between a couple of beauties… festival director Candice Pate on the right.


Doug Martsch and the Boise band Built to Spill play to a sold-out crowd at Whiskey Jacques on Saturday.


Actor Calum Grant (An Unkindness of Ravens) eats a burger at Grumpy’s during a post-SVFF party.


Meg and Erik Vorm welcome the film festival for a night at their restaurant, the Cornerstone Bar & Grill.


 Photos: Mark Oliver & Ben Figueiredo  


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