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All in a Day's Work

Boise filmmaker judges Sundance Film Festival


Heather Rae is a slight woman with long brown hair, a quick smile, intense eyes and a penchant for cowboy boots and horses. She picks kids up from school, shops for groceries, goes to movies with friends and does all of the other things people do in their ordinary, everyday lives. However, her life is anything but ordinary.

Rae owns a film production company (Iron Circle Pictures), directed a movie that opens nationwide in February, is a member of the Idaho Film Task Force hoping to pass legislation to make Idaho a more financially viable movie location, and is on her way to the 25th Annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, as a judge in the U.S. Documentary Competition.

Since 1994, Rae has attended Sundance in some capacity. And as a movie producer herself, she has always been aware that films—specifically independent films—serve several purposes: they are a form of entertainment and art, but can also be a vehicle for social change. On her Web site,, there is a button titled "mandate." Click on that button, and the following statement appears: "Iron Circle Pictures is an independent film company endeavoring to develop and produce quality feature films whose content is rooted in culture, myth, history and politics. Iron Circle seeks to work in the spirit of collaboration with fellow artists and executives toward an enrichment of content and commerce in the independent film industry." It's a lofty goal and one not easily achieved, but that's just what Rae is doing.

For the last six years, Rae worked as a programmer at Sundance. Year after year, she had seen some of the finest American independent films by some of the country's best directors. And, in 2005, Rae brought her own vision to the big screen. Her directorial debut, Trudell (done through Appaloosa Pictures, a division of her film company), a fascinating documentary about the life of Native American political activist John Trudell, was screened in over 45 film festivals and ultimately shown at Sundance. Even though her film did not win, she understood the honor of it being chosen among the hundreds submitted each year. It's hard to imagine, short of making another meaningful documentary, a greater professional achievement. And then she was asked back to Sundance. But this time, Rae will not return as a director, but as a judge.

Usually Sundance judges are chosen from among the pool of directors, actors and editors whose films have won awards at the festival. This year, judges include Audrey Wells, director of Guinevere; actor Terrence Howard from Hustle and Flow and Crash; and Alan Rudolph, who directed The Secret Lives of Dentists. Rae's Trudell did not win any awards in 2005, but the power of the film and the respect she has garnered for her knowledge of movies made her a clear choice to sit on a panel of celluloid luminaries, which include Academy Award-winning director Zana Burski (Born Into Brothels) and director Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), who will choose this year's documentary winner.

Though excited to be a judge this year, Rae describes the schedule as "grueling." The festival is 10 days long, starting on January 19 and ending on January 29. In that time, she will attend conferences, meet-and-greets and view 16 films. It would be a difficult mission for even the most die-hard moviegoer to sit through so many movies in so few days without the added responsibility of watching them with a critical eye. And, she's under a strict gag order not to talk to anyone about what she sees. Rae is dedicated to the task at hand, but it's no small addition to her to-do list that Trudell opens nationwide in February. The film premieres in San Francisco and then opens in Los Angeles and New York, all three of which Rae hopes to attend. Locally, Boise State may show the film as part of its diversity series in March.

Most people don't deal with as many major accomplishments in a lifetime. Rae knows that due to her hard work and talent, she is being granted some pretty amazing opportunities. She also knows that without the support of those closest to her, none of this would have been possible. And that includes the contributions of her oldest son.

Rae's oldest son celebrates a milestone birthday this year: he turns 16 years old at the end of January. The Sundance Film Festival, which happens at the end of every January as well, also celebrates an important milestone this year: it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Do the math: she has been at Sundance every year on her son's birthday. He's a bright, charming young man and no doubt understands his mother's dedication to her work. Rae understands that 16 is a significant birthday and should be celebrated in grand fashion, so she's taking him with her to the festival this year. He'll have the opportunity to meet some interesting and possibly influential people. And, seeing his mother at work may set him down the same career path she took. If nothing else, he's going to have fodder for one helluva "What I Did on My Vacation" story.

When Rae gets back to Boise after Sundance, she'll begin preparations for the national opening of Trudell. She'll get back to her work on the Idaho Film Task Force. She'll continue to work on more documentary films. She'll also go back to helping her kids with their homework, paying the bills and doing those things mothers do every day. She's an ordinary woman living an extraordinary life.