Perhaps it was the elevation (the Roundhouse Restaurant sits atop Mt. Baldy at 7,700 feet), but Clint Eastwood suddenly appeared in front of me. I swear I never saw him walk into the room but as soon as I saw him, I heard the coyote-like theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly playing in my mind's ear. As he began to survey the room, that Clint squint nearly made me jump out of my boots... until I remembered I wasn't wearing boots: the March 7 dinner to honor Eastwood with the Sun Valley Film Festival's Vision Award was a semi-formal affair.
Making the scene even more surreal was a full moon just outside the Roundhouse's window, providing a perfect spotlight. Eastwood was a class act and graciously entertained a few questions.
"First off, I should tell you that I love Sun Valley," Eastwood said as the crowd around us began to swell. "The film festival folks have been kind enough to give me this award tonight, and I think that's a pretty good deal."
Eastwood has won five Oscars (he has been nominated 12 times), he's the recipient of France's Legion d'Honneur medal, plus he has been feted for a lifetime achievement award by the Kennedy Center Honors.
"Yeah, I've been doing this for a while," Eastwood said. "I've been in the business for 63 years and honestly, I don't think I'm even 63-years-old," he added, laughing. "Now, how did I pull that off?" (For the record, Eastwood is 84).
From Rawhide to American Sniper, Eastwood's career is legend.
"But you never know about this business. It's a lot of hard work but it takes even more luck," Eastwood said.
"And tonight, I'm lucky to know all of you," he added, gesturing to the crowd.
Eastwood's appearance was the penultimate event of the five-day Sun Valley Film Festival. I was not only fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to much of it, but, on a couple of occasions, I took the host's seat when festival organizers asked me to moderate two popular Coffee Talk sessions at Ketchum's NexStage Theatre: the first with Trevor Groth, director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival; the second with Bill Paxton, star of Apollo 13, Twister, Titanic and other audience favorites.
Paxton said he was particularly excited to be able to tell Eastwood—face to face—how much he meant to him professionally.
"He was my idol as a boy. He's still my idol today. He's a true auteur, in the same vein as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Woody Allen. He does it all," said Paxton, adding that his professional bucket list still included working for Eastwood.
The 2015 edition of SVFF was perfectly accessible to film fans. Thousands of attendees were able to get face-time with some of the industry's finest screenwriters, such as Craig Borten (Dallas Buyer's Club), Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Descendants), and Stephen Gaghan (Traffic); directors like Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief); and producers such as Heather Rae (Frozen River, Magic Valley) and Lauren Selig (Begin Again, Lone Survivor). Several workshops, featuring works-in-progress, saw budding filmmakers sit alongside movie fans to get an inside-the-ropes look at the creative process of turning a raw script into a feature-length film.
"This was a really big year for us. We got some great talent. We went a day longer this year and I think we pulled it off," said SVFF Director Candice Pate, adding that she had little desire to expand the festival too much, at least vertically.
"You know, I don't think we want to get too big," she said. "This was the first year where I finally relaxed about the size of the festival, and started to shift the focus toward quality over quantity. I think a big part of the reason this works so well is that it's still relatively small; it's an intimate, accessible experience."
As for next year?
"What day is it today?" she asked, knowing SVFF 2016 planning will have to begin soon. "We start working on next year sooner than you think."
See more of Boise Weekly's SVFF 2015 coverage on boiseweekly.com/blogs/Cobweb.