The Sun Valley Film Festival, poised to enter its fifth iteration, has evolved into a showcase for the art of filmmaking as much as the art form itself. This year's festival, slated for Tuesday, March 2 through Sunday, March 6, features the work of Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Irons, Helen Mirren, Robert Redford and Oliver Stone, but offers equal promise from tomorrow's Oscar winners.
"It's become an ultimate yet intimate event," said SVFF Director Candice Pate. "When we started offering unique access to some of the industry's filmmakers just three years ago, it took off."
Giving Idaho film fans face-time with Jodie Foster, Bruce Dern, Clint Eastwood, as well as screenwriters, directors and producers of top films, has strengthened the festival's credibility.
"Remember how it is now," Foster cautioned 2013 SVFF attendees. "Years from now, the lines may be longer and you'll think back. But it will always be about people who love movies."
SVFF's waiting lines are nowhere near the queues at many other festivals, but the popularity of so-called "coffee talks," filmmaker salons and exclusive previews of works-in-progress separate Sun Valley from the pack of other festivals.
"We designed those coffee talks and salons to be little gems. But now, in their third year, people say, 'Holy smoke. We have to get in on those,'" said Pate.
At the heart of this year's SVFF is a slate of more than 60 movies, crafted by festival programmer Laura Mehlhaff, who says she's always looking for a unique blend of film while celebrating diversity.
"You might find an obscure film that you might not have a chance to see anywhere else. But you'll also preview an amazing film that might actually screen at the Flicks in Boise," said Mehlhaff, referring to the Treasure Valley's go-to screen showcase for Oscar winners, documentaries and foreign films.
Among this year's slate are: Eye in the Sky, a provocative Kubrick-esque black comedy with elements of serious drama detailing a top-secret drone warfare operation. Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren, Idaho native Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman in his final film appearance. I Saw the Light is the musical biography of country music star Hank Williams starring Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Bradley Whitford. Louder Than Bombs is a family reunion drama starring Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg. Miles Ahead is the much-anticipated biopic about jazz legend Miles Davis, written, directed and starring Don Cheadle. The Man Who Knew Infinity stars Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel in the true story of a young Indian man who rises from poverty to be one of the greatest minds of his generation.
Documentaries include: American Epic, narrated by Robert Redford, chronicles a 1920s project to record raw expression of emerging American cultures. Can We Take a Joke? features the talent of Gilbert Gottfried and Lisa Lampanelli about politically incorrect humor. The Story of God features Morgan Freeman exploring creation, evil and miracles.
SVFF will also serve as a platform for emerging filmmakers such as Christian Lybrook, whose previous efforts were tied directly to the festival. In 2012, Lybrook said he was ready to give up his dream of pursuing a career in film when he decided to give what he called "one last try" and secured a SVFF slot for his short, Idaho-based film Crawlspace.
"Somebody came up to me and asked, 'What are you doing at the festival?' I was apologetic and felt like a bit of a fraud when I said I had a little film in Sun Valley," Lybrook said. "But they said, 'So, you're a filmmaker.' It hit me. And I said, 'Wow. Yes. Yes I am a filmmaker."
A year ago, Lybrook won SVFF's inaugural One Potato screenwriting award for his script of a short film titled Carbon. In addition to a $2,500 prize, Lybrook received the priceless honor of a premiere slot at this year's edition of SVFF.
"The value of that is immeasurable," he said. "Who knows what the future of the film beyond the festival might be?"
Mehlhaff, who co-produced the film with Lybrook while working double-duty as the festival's programmer, said the One Potato initiative also came with some amazing contacts for Lybrook.
"The Sun Valley Film Festival is quite rich in friends—if not in money, then in our friends of the festival," she said. "Some of the industry's hottest filmmakers have been mentoring Christian this past year. Trust me, the value of One Potato is much more than a check. It's opportunity."