Within the next few years, Jackson, Wyoming may become famous for more than its top of-the-line skiing and richest-county-in-the-nation tagline. The Jackson Hole Film Festival (JHFF), held last Wednesday through Sunday, proved to be a noteworthy series of screenings, events and panel discussions. For an industry that practically holds a film festival every other weekend throughout the nation, as JHFF executive directors Lorne Maltenfort and Eben Dorros reminded attendees at the closing ceremony, this festival is positioned to make a distinct impression on the future of film. And for Boiseans, the six-hour picturesque drive to Jackson typically reserved for winter escapades can easily be substituted for summer adventures, as the festival is held every June.
JHFF was launched last September as an unofficial test-run to gauge the success of the venture. Due to overwhelming support and ticket sales, festival producers got the green light they were searching for and admirably created the second event within nine months. After wooing Liz O'Connell, the VP of public relations for the Australian winery, Rosemount Estate, with "their intensity," Maltenfort and Dorros partnered with Rosemount to establish the festival's Rosemount Diamond Awards. The awards are in conjunction with JHFF's World Program in which films from different countries are featured each year, this year spotlighting the land down under. Five finalists from Australia within the independent short film genre were pre-selected to attend the festival with one filmmaker to receive the Rosemount award and $10,000 cash prize. Beth Armstrong beat out over 150 other submissions for her film, Danya, a poignant exploration of how three generations deal with death as a result of an eight-year-old girl's curiosity.
Selecting Armstrong was a difficult decision for Rosemount judges Sarah Wynter, Phillip Noyce, John Polson and Radha Mitchell. Amorality Tale, a finalist short by Mike Bullen, described by Bullen with a laugh as, "Very good. Two businessmen go to a conference, they have the opportunity for no-strings-attached guilt-free sex, and not what you expect to happen, happens. It's an exploration of sexual fidelity and whether faith and fidelity is a clear-cut, black-and-white issue." Garnering inspiration from witnessing how others "could sort of put their marriages on hold" while at a conference, Bullen adds how he writes life to the fullest, not necessarily lives it.
Regarding the films in competition for the general awards, "Let's say I loved Somersault, let's just say that," hinted one of the judges, Darin Friedman. "It's gonna do well," he added laughing. So it was of little surprise when Somersault, an Aussie feature film screened in the World Program, won the 2005 Cowboy Awards best feature, best editing, best director and best film score. Out of the 12 awards handed out, including the Rosemount Diamond and Nellie Taylor Ross award, it's fair to say Somersault swept the JHFF awards this year as the darling of the festival.
Another of the best of the fest won best documentary as well as best sports/action. Murderball, perhaps one of the last on my priority list thanks to its hardly sexy description, ended up being a personal favorite for the raw, powerful impact it maintained throughout the film. Detailing the lives of paraplegic men participating in a form of rugby known as murderball for the Para-Olympics, film producers knew to involve the audience immediately, continually layering each plot and character into a funny and moving story.
In partnership with Refugees International and Amnesty International Film Festival among others, JHFF debuted their Global Insight program of films and advocacy panels, specifically focusing on refugee issues this year. In a political climate riveted by the conflict in Iraq, one of the Global Insight films, Seoul Train, brought attention to an equally important global crisis. As long as China continues to return North Korean refugees back across the border to face severe punishment for defecting, China and the international community at large, including the UN for their inaction, are contributors to the travesty.
"We discuss how we can use film and the forum of a film festival to address humanitarian issues that aren't discussed in the media," said Todd Rankin, JHFF managing director. "So we're marrying film and panel discussions to really kind of reach out to our audience and say 'this is what's going on.'" The purpose of Global Insight to use "the power of film to affect change and broaden awareness" is in line with another festival partner, Peter Gabriel's company WITNESS, which teaches children to capture human rights violations through hand-held video recorders.
The Nellie Taylor Ross Award annually recognizes a woman in the biz of similarly high caliber and character as Ross, the nation's first female governor. The prestigious award was reserved this year for actress Joan Allen, for her illustrious career in feature films, including three Academy Award nominations for her roles in Nixon, the Contender and the Crucible. "I liked the idea that this was tailored after a woman who was very seemingly forward thinking and independent for her time, and so I appreciate it very much," Allen said. "I think it's wonderful for the local people to have the opportunity to see a variety of things and I think it's good for independent filmmakers to have audiences come and see their work." To sum up the direction JHFF is heading in, Allen said, "I don't know how much business goes on at this festival yet because it's a young one, but I'm sure over the years it will morph and change into a good thing." Perhaps a gross understatement or a shortsighted prediction-either way the festival was a success this year. Heading to Jackson as JHFF continues to thrive in years to come is a worthy goal for Idahoans, visit www.jhff.org for more information.