Arts April 23, 2009

Carnivals of Film

Movie festivals provide education and entertainment

Mary Gervase’s camper becomes a rolling movie theater each spring and summer.

That’s when she hangs a towel on the window to block out the light and watches movies on her laptop, while her husband Matt keeps his eyes on the road.

Gervase has to take every chance she gets to watch films. She will see some 350 films every summer, picking the best to show at the three-day Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival.

The event is one of several local festivals designed to shine light on an array of topics through film. They range from ways man is short-circuiting the environment to horrific issues of women around the world.

Here’s a look at the film festivals that have become part of Sun Valley’s calendar year. We start with Gervase’s.

Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival

“My favorite package was this one from India,” she says, holding up a film that came wrapped in a burlap package with wax seals.

Formerly Blaine County’s assistant school superintendent, Gervase held the first festival in conjunction with the Dalai Lama’s visit to the Wood River Valley in 2005.

The first year featured films exclusively on Buddhism, to educate Valley residents about the religion. Subsequent festivals have focused on a wide array of spiritual traditions from Christianity in the Inuit culture to Mongolian shamanism.

The films have explored everything from dance and trance in spiritual tradition to individual acts of empowerment celebrating the human spirit. One viewer has described the festival as a “spirituality university;” another called it “a lazy man’s guide to enlightenment.”

One children’s film, Peace Tree, told the story of a Christian girl and Muslim girl who wanted to celebrate each other’s religious holidays despite their parents’ reluctance. Another, Blindsight, followed six blind Tibetan teenagers who climbed a 23,000-foot peak on the north side of Mount Everest with the help of a blind mountain climber.

Speakers have included Steve Crisman, a documentary Emmy nominee, and Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of the best sellers, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessing.

One of the most moving presentations came from Azim Khalsa, who told how he had forgiven the 14-year-old who murdered his son. The story was depicted in the film, The Power of Forgiveness.

“Our goal is not to just have people come and sit alone and isolated in a theater. Whenever we can, we want to give our audience an opportunity to enter into a discussion about the messages behind the films and with our guest filmmakers and speakers,” says Gervase.

The festival, held each year in mid-September at the Sun Valley Opera House and The Liberty Theatre in Hailey, has attracted worldwide attention as one of the few festivals of its kind in the world. This past year the festival engaged local school children—The Community School sponsored Wardance, a movie about Ugandan refugees competing in a national dance competition, and Wood River High School’s Amnesty International conducted a question-and-answer session about the movie, Divided We Fall.

In addition, a 14-year-old filmmaker, Angad Singh, spoke to more than 400 Wood River High School students.

The festival is a gift to the community, Gervase says. “This is an opportunity to contemplate what is spiritual around us and within us. It’s a chance to enhance our appreciation of and for each other and to celebrate our humanness.” >>>


LEFT TO RIGHT: Scene from Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, photo from Eat, Drink, Man, Woman website; Pray the Devil Back to Hell, photo PeWee Flomoku; Filmmakers’ dinner with attendees of The Moveable Feast film festival, photo Peggy Goldwyn; Poster for Pray the Devil Back to Hell, courtesy Pray the Devil Back to Hell website; attendees of the Spiritual Film Festival, photo Marilyn Angel Wynn; My Home, Your War; If You’re Not Falling, courtesy My Home, Your War website;  Photo Cory Richards, courtesy of the Banff Centre.
Magic Lantern Cinema Fall & Spring Film Festivals

Twice a year, Magic Lantern Cinema gives moviegoers a break from purely Hollywood blockbusters.

The Ketchum movie theater serves up a fine collection of independent films, artistic documentaries and award-winning foreign films.

The fall festival runs for a couple of weeks in September; the spring festival, a couple of weeks in May.

“This town has a lot of movie buffs and sophisticated movie watchers,” says Steve Bynum, who manages the theater for owner Rick Kessler. We started the fall festival 21 years ago in 1987 as a way of screening some art films that people wanted to see. “We had one screen then, so we decided we’d show them during the doldrums of fall.”

The endeavor proved so successful that the Ketchum theater started the spring film festival in 1996. Like its fall cousin, it rotates nine films over two weeks.

Sex, Lies and Videotape was a smash hit the first year. Since, audiences have seen Born into Brothels, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! My Life As a Dog, Slacker, Enchanted April and Gunner Palace, which offered a look inside the ruins of an Iraq palace.

Bynum typically picks films for the festivals on the advice of local film fans who tell him about a great film they saw in New York or San Francisco or a great review they read.

“A lot of the films we show are films with limited release that you’d normally only see in a big city,” he says.

Family of Women Film Festival

“I think I could offer lectures alone that would be very informative. But films are exciting—they bring distant places to your doorstep and make the universal plight of women more real and compelling,” says Peggy Goldwyn, who started the Family of Women Film Festival in March 2008.

One film portrayed the struggle of a young Pakistani woman who fought to better conditions for women in her country after she was gang-raped by 14 men as punishment for something her brother had done.

Another presented the story of an Afghan woman who ignited outrage when she spoke out against corrupt warlords. One offered an extraordinary look at the effects of the Iraq War through the eyes of an ordinary Iraq woman. Another told of an African mother’s attempts to put an end to genital cutting.

And still another told of five women’s journey to reclaim their dignity following devastating childbirth injuries.

Goldwyn came up with the idea for the film festival after seeing how the town mobilized around a series of presentations exposing ongoing genocide in Darfur.

“The festival is to help people look at women’s rights and human rights. There are atrocities being committed against women in the Congo that are worse than the genocide in Rwanda,” says Goldwyn, a former screenwriter for That Girl and other sitcoms.

“I decided that presenting a handful of films—all thoughtfully picked—attracts more attention than showing a single film here and there,” she said. >>>



Left to Right: Danzak, courtesy Banff Centre;  Lumo, photo from Lumo website; Journey to the Center, photo Liro Seppanen; A Walk  to Beautiful, courtesy Banff Centre; Pray the Devil Back to Hell, courtesy Engel Entertainment, Inc. Charles Taylor photo APTN; Big Night, photo from Big Night website; Attendees of The Spiritual Film Festival, photo Marilyn Angel Wynn

Goldwyn and her co-hosts organize a cocktail party fundraiser as part of the festival. And she brings in filmmakers and other speakers, when possible. This past festival, for instance, featured a woman who heads the UNFPA Humanitarian Relief Unit, which offers assistance in war-torn areas and areas ravaged by natural disasters.

“There is a real interest in international women’s issues in this town and a feeling of connectedness that you don’t find in a lot of other places,” she says. “I find that in our town, people ‘get it.’ And that goes for men, as well as women.”

Goldwyn, former chair of the library’s “Our Moveable Feast,” started a new film festival this past winter called “Four Food Flicks for February.”

The films were held each Tuesday during the month leading up to “Our Moveable Feast,” where the library is turned into a strolling feast with each room offering gourmet delights tied to popular literature.

The first four food flicks featured Mostly Martha, about a German woman chef in a major restaurant; Babette’s Feast, about a French chef working for Scandinavian sisters; Big Night, about two Italian-American brothers, one of whom is a chef; and Eat, Drink, Man ,Woman, about a Chinese chef who loses his sense of taste.

Silver Creek Outfitters Fly-Fishing Film Festival

Silver Creek Outfitters uses film reels, rather than fishing reels, to rev up the enthusiasm for the summer fishing season each year, says organizer Dave James.

Its annual “Fly Fishing Film Festival,” held each year for the past four years in June, features the best fly-fishing films and environmental films related to fishing from around the world.

Believe it or not, even fly-fishing films can get kind of wild, as the extreme fly-fishing film Running Down the Man illustrated. Just picture anglers chasing roosterfish by sprinting along beaches all day.

Other films have included the acclaimed Red Gold from Alaska and Poppy’s Red Shed, about a Northern Idaho truck driver who opened a fly shop in his garage after falling in love with steelhead trout.

Proceeds from the films, which are shown at the nexStage Theatre, have gone to a variety of causes including The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve and the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited, which used the money to work on the upper Big Lost River project.

Karen Bossick is happy to say she’s had the opportunity to eyeball films at all of these film festivals. And most of them are well worth putting down that TV remote for.



This article appears in the Summer 2009 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.