If you're looking to escape the scorching heat this weekend and happen to "get off your horse" near the Flicks, you're in for a treat. The theater is trading in its penguins for caribou and mad hot kiddy competitors for "nickel" runaway children as it hosts the second annual True West Cinema Festival-me and you and everyone we know ... mark your calendars.
The 2005 festival presents six feature films, three documentaries and Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner as the inaugural True West Retro debut, along with 22 short films in three separate programs. Idaho premieres include 5th World, Reefer Madness, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and True West is also honored to present the world premiere of the locally produced feature, Beautiful Ambitions. In addition to two panel discussions on filmmaking and the film industry, several Loft Sessions will be held to offer the public an intimate hour with the directors and producers behind the films. And, of course, don't forget to check out the parties-what would a film festival be, after all, without the camaraderie and comrades made at a few low-key soirees? (See the festival guide insert for the full line-up and show times.)
Since True West is still in its toddler phase, an explanation of its roots is relevant. The festival is the result of local filmmakers Gregory Bayne and Travis Swartz taking the next step in providing "exhibition opportunities to local and regional filmmakers, as well as a tangible way to connect with other industry professionals," says Bayne. According to Heather Rae, festival "chairgirl" (chairman + cowgirl), "It all started in Greg's head." Flicks Manager Josie Pusl then came on board, as well as Andrew Ellis of Small Pond Films, and the addition of Rae sealed the deal.
Rae was lured into moving back to Idaho by Bayne and Swartz after six years as a festival programmer for Sundance Film Festival. "I noticed that the creative community, particularly in relation to film, was growing strongly," says Rae. "Greg and Travis were doing such great work as innovators and indie filmmakers."
All founders were determined to shine a little light on a film scene with "a lot of gaps to fill," says Bayne. "This year, being our second, we were able to find some incredible films from all over the West. The overriding theme this year is the independence factor-Each film, either in its vision, the way it was made or the personality of the filmmaker, is fiercely independent."
An excellently fierce example is performance artist and filmmaker Miranda July, who wrote, directed and stars in the opening night film, Me and You and Everyone We Know. July, currently an "it" girl in the independent film circuit due to her film's success at Sundance and Cannes, exudes artistry, originality and modesty to counter her recent "it" tag. "At a certain point you realize you just have to continue with your life and start to perform, start writing again and move on," says July, "even if you're happy that the world is focused on what you did." Known by her colleagues to have a remarkable work ethic, July is her own relentless critic. "I have the illusion sometimes that I'm not doing anything of value unless I'm producing," she says. "Right now, I'm trying to figure out other ways to know myself and live because I've got this sort of creative part down, and there's just so many other things to life."
As Me and You is her first feature-length film, July naturally feels like an outsider in the industry which she imagines will never change, surmising that "most people don't really feel like they belong." And should she get to do anything different with her next film, "I would somehow have less fear," July says. "I realized in retrospect that I had been afraid of every single step along the way, and I don't think it really helped me to be so afraid. So all this intervening time before I get back into production, [I'll be] figuring out how to get on top of fear."
Though recognition is not entirely new to July because of her groundbreaking work as a performance artist, recently losing more of her cherished "invisibleness" has its quirks. She recalls a funny recent encounter with a woman who recognized her from Me and You, and while they were talking, July realized she was wearing the same exact outfit she used as a costume in the final scene of the movie. "I decided at the last minute I wanted to wear [that green top] in the movie ... I was like, 'Gosh, she must just think I'm totally weird.' Or maybe I'm like a fictional character," she adds laughing.
Performance art is not a medium with which the majority of people are familiar. Usually it's best described as a mixed media live performance. July's current performance-in-progress is a mixture of monologue, audience interaction, video and text that she describes as "really, really fluid. The difference when I sit down and work on a performance-I'm really, really free as far as what could happen or what it could look like," she says. "It's the one medium where I remind myself how free I am, and I think for that reason alone I'll always keep doing it. With fiction writing, I'm much more comparing myself to other people and probably with movies, too, just because it's so established-there are so many great people out there. But with performance, I feel much more off the envelope, like a kid."
She goes as far as comparing performance art to Britain's television show Ali G., a farce about a rapper which July pegs to be "obnoxious" at times, but "if you could add a little more beauty and a little more sadness and compassion, you would actually have something not that far from stuff that I would do," she says. "I think that there are possibilities right now for some pretty strange stuff to get financed and made accessible on a wider level instead of just staying ghettoized in a fine arts world."
Luckily, Me and You and Everyone We Know broke out of the "ghetto," and if it's as evocative, humorous and visionary as July seems to be herself, and as critics have made the film out to be, this is the festival flick not to miss.
Another highly anticipated feature this weekend is Reefer Madness-the wild ride wilder than any of the Western-themed films in the lineup. The Saturday night feature is a spoof adaptation of the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film and stars Christian Campbell and his sister, Neve, (in a bit part), as well as Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming and Steven Weber. The hilarity of this version is that it's a musical-not to mention one that works surprisingly well as a musical-and includes several complicated dance sequences and the strong (authentic) voices of the entire cast singing songs like "Come to Jesus, Jimmy."
Reefer Madness chronicles the descent of Jimmy (Christian Campbell) into the "notoriously dangerous" world of pot, a world portrayed as if it's crack they're smoking. Campbell is ideal in the role of Jimmy, his talent (and dimples) conveying the innocence of his character effectively. As an actor in stage, screen and television, Campbell says he depends on good material to steer him in the right direction, though "I prefer whoever will hire me," he adds laughing. "I've been doing some productions that I really enjoy doing, that I believe in. It really has to do with whether I believe in it or not." The film is the outgrowth of the stage musical created in 1999 that became "a cult hit" in L.A., after its off-Broadway run suffered from an untimely debut. "We opened up [in New York] two days after 9/11," Campbell says. "It makes a lot of commentary about propaganda and American misinformation-not a good film to open up when the war drums are beating." After their three-month stint off-Broadway, however, it fared better in California and eventually was picked up by Showtime to produce the movie version.
True West is unique among festivals as no awards are given. "We feel, as great as it is to win an award," says Bayne, "it sucks to not get one and unfortunately makes you feel like you've 'lost' something." "My theory is that people want community-they crave a cultural experience beyond the blockbuster and popcorn," adds Rae. No blockbusters in sight at True West, but popcorn-maybe.