Just like the pioneers who blazed through the West centuries ago, the organizers of the True West Cinema Festival are blazing trails with Boise's annual film festival dedicated to the pioneering spirit of the West.
Now in its third year, Boise filmmakers Greg Bayne and Travis Swartz originally conceived of the True West idea and then turned to fellow local filmmaker Heather Rae to help get it off the ground. In 2004, along with the help of Josie Puls from The Flicks and local filmmaker Andrew Ellis, the first True West Cinema Festival invaded Boise in 2004.
"The original intention was to create a festival for the film community with a hand in the industry," says Rae, the festival's board chair. "I know that's really happened and we've created a dialogue. I really feel like the festival has been successful at providing a unique voice for the local arts community."
And with a local film festival of True West's caliber in Boise, everyone from movie buffs to local filmmakers benefits. In addition to a slew of shorts, feature length films and parties (think Sundance on a smaller level), several sneak previews of local films will be released. Swartz, executive director of True West, premieres a special work-in-progress screening of the feature Norman Waiting, which he wrote and directed. Artistic director and programmer Greg Bayne will also preview his current work-in-progress, the feature film Ibid.
In addition to readying their own films for True West, Swartz and Bayne have spent the last several months poring over festival submissions to determine which films would be screened before a committee, which had the final say so about which films make the cut.
"We watch the films, discuss our views and ... well, there's some diverse taste," Bayne says of the selection process. "I tend to go for the experimental. Andrew [Ellis] likes the straight narrative, more traditional. And Josie [Puls] rides the line." To better categorize films for submission purposes and for audiences, True West films are categorized as one of three genres: narrative, documentary or short. Films make their way into the festival by one of two avenues: Festival organizers choose a lineup among entries submitted nationwide, or organizers invite films that have previously appeared in other festivals but which fit the True West concept. In addition, organizers also choose one film as the retrospective film, a groundbreaking feature that has something to do with the West and is "usually something I want to see on the big screen," says Bayne. This year True West selected 1969's Easy Rider directed by Dennis Hopper.
However this year's submission and selection process transpired a little differently than usual. "In previous years we've had a number of invitations," says Rae. "And this year it's almost all submissions." That's in part because the festival is gaining reputation and in part because True West is now accepting submissions via www.withoutabox.com, a program that offers a method of communication between film festivals and filmmakers.
So what can True West-goers expect to see? Bayne says all the movies in the festival are wonderful. It's easy for him to say that since he helped pick everything, but Rae, on the other hand, says she hasn't yet seen all of the films.
As for the films she has seen, she's impressed. Of the three films invited this year, only one can have the honor of opening the festival, and this year's opening act is The Hawk is Dying, directed by Julian Goldberger. Hawk premiered at Sundance, went on to Cannes and makes its third stop at True West. "It is a special film," Rae says. "Julian--I would call him a director's director. A lot of eyes are on him, [because] not a lot of American films make it to Cannes."
Another invited film, Wild Tigers I Have Known written and directed by Cam Archer, also premiered at Sundance this year. "It's one of these wildly original films," says Rae. "It's been at every lesbian film festival in the world ... he's raised a lot of eyebrows."
Bayne agrees, "The film is really great," he says. "It was done for a low budget and [Archer is] having success on the festival circuit." It's the kind of film that without True West, might not otherwise make it to Boise--perhaps because it tells the story of a lonely teenage boy who creates an alternate feminine persona while he harbors a crush on another boy.
The third invited film, Iraq in Fragments directed by James Longley, closes the festival. "I sat on the jury at Sundance and we gave this film three awards. I don't know that that's ever happened before; there are only five awards," says Rae. "It just blew all of us away. It's not a political film; it's a visual film and an experience."
The filmmakers filmed in Iraq for two years, and Rae hopes that both pro-war and anti-war community members watch this film for the sake of understanding what's really happening in Iraq.
As for submissions deemed worthy of a spot on the True West lineup, several are creating talk around town. Among them is the Idaho premiere of the independent Western drama Dual directed by Steven R. Monroe. The version of the film screened at True West will be a work-in-progress, according to the film's writer/actor/producer Michael Worth, who will speak at the screening. Bayne suggests Before Turning the Gun directed by Jason Rodriguez, written by Rodriguez and Brian Duffy, and produced by Kathryn Bucher, a True West alum. Bayne hesitantly describes the film as "Tarantino-esque."
"It's got that witty dialogue, kind of crime related, but it's pretty original in the ideas it comes up with," he says. "It is visually fun to watch and well paced. We were happy to get that submitted."
One notable documentary submission is 10mph directed by Hunter Weeks and produced by Weeks and Josh Caldwell. It's the story of two guys traveling cross country on the weirdly futuristic Segway Scooter at, obviously, 10 mph. On their journey from Seattle to Boston, the dudes pass through Idaho. Enjoy the hijinks as they hook up with some sheriffs.
According to Bayne, roughly 70 percent of the submissions for the festival were shorts. "There were around 100 submissions, so it was quite a bit to get through," he says. "We are showing 17."
Short films are sectioned into two programs, the first showing is Planet Dust: The New Frontier of Cinema, which is 12 innovative and experimental narratives that are particularly visually-interesting films. The second showing is Magic Hour: Cinema Nostalgia, which features Secession, written by Earnest Pettie and directed by Kate Christensen. A first film from the duo, it's a short comedy about a fed-up housewife who decides to move into her pantry. "I can't help but be pleased that the heartland has been so receptive to our movie," says Pettie.
More cool films are showing at the festival, but if all of this discussion about things to see while you sit on your keister makes you restless already, take heed: True West offers activities other than just watching flicks. There are parties, musical performances, discussion panels and beer gatherings. And when you're partying True West-style, it's a unique chance to mix, mingle and network in the film industry. It's become evident that True West is Boise's bridge to Hollywood, and each year it just gets bigger and better with greater audiences, more industry representation and really great films.
"Our goal is to be here for the long run," Rae says. "So True West becomes the idea of Boise. When people think of it, they think, 'Oh, Boise, Idaho, isn't that where True West happens?'"
True West Cinema Festival, August 10-13. Films play at The Flicks. Check out schedules, synopses, maps, party info, prices and more at www.truewestcinema.org. Tickets are on sale at The Flicks (646 Fulton St., 342-4222) and online at www.ticketweb.com.