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Dispatches From the Inaugural Sun Valley Film Festival

Heather Rae wins Vision Award

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For a town so steeped in old-school Hollywood glamour, it's a surprise that Sun Valley has never had a legitimate independent film festival until this year. And as one would expect from an inaugural effort, the Sun Valley Film Festival had a heavily regional focus.

An afternoon screening of DeSiree' Fawn's The Phantom Wolves of Sun Valley at the Magic Lantern on March 16, for example, drew such a large crowd that organizers cobbled together another showing in an adjacent theater. And the festival's prize pony, Magic Valley--which was produced by native daughter Heather Rae and directed by Jaffe Zinn--sold out the much larger Sun Valley Opera House well in advance of its hyped premiere on March 17.

But it was a couple of last-minute additions from The Weinstein Company that gave the festival a higher-profile edge: The Intouchables and Bully. A French film with beautiful cinematography, The Intouchables focuses on the true story of a quadriplegic white aristocrat and his caretaker, an unmotivated inner-city black kid. Thankfully, despite a potentially hokey plot, the film didn't rehash the tired Blindside trope. Instead, it documented a hilarious and unlikely friendship that was refreshingly free from moralizing or pity.

Bully, on the other hand, was full of pity. The documentary follows a handful of bullying victims and their families: a small town lesbian, an awkward kid with no friends, a girl who pulled a gun on her harassers, and the family of a teen who committed suicide. The film explores the contentious issue from a variety of angles--interviewing clueless parents, apathetic school administrators, exasperated victims and the bullies themselves.

Though it was both heartbreaking and enraging, Bully didn't seem to warrant the controversy that has been brewing around it. Critics have chastised the MPAA for giving the film an R rating and precluding kids younger than 17 from viewing it. But with its slow, loose narrative, the film didn't strike me as being particularly geared toward children in the first place--it felt more like a film trying to educate and provoke change among indifferent adults.

The Sun Valley Film Festival wrapped up March 18 with an awards ceremony. Rae took home the Vision Award for Magic Valley. The film also took home the Zion's Gem State Award for filmmakers living in Idaho, which carried a jury prize of $1,000, and the One in a Million Award for films with budgets less than $1 million. The One in a Million Award also went to the documentary War Elephants. And Michael Fiefer's Soda Springs snagged the The Sun Valley Film Festival Audience Award.

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