The 2017 edition of the annual Sun Valley Film Festival, which wrapped up March 19, will ultimately be remembered for striking a balance between honoring the past; celebrating, contemporary groundbreaking movies; and pushing up-and-coming filmmakers to foster a new generation of storytelling.
Rebecca Rusch's past finally caught up with her, and it's a good thing. The world-class extreme athlete rarely stands still—she's a seven-time world champion in multiple sports—but she embraced the opportunity to take center stage for the March 15 sold-out world premiere of Blood Road, which chronicled her ride across Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh trail in her search of the spot where her father was shot down and killed during the Vietnam War 45 years ago this month.
"My father was talking to me through the years," Rusch told BW. "All my roads led to this journey." When the lights came up after the premiere, the audience leapt to its feet in applause. Blood Road was so popular, a second screening—also sold out—was added to the festival. The film took home the acclaimed SVFF Audience Award.
National Geographic filmmaker Bob Poole lights up when he talks about his latest project.
"Actually, it was at last year's Sun Valley Film Festival that Nat Geo approached me and said, 'We've got two words for you: Cheetah Diaries. Of course, I had to do it,'" Poole told BW. His relationship with National Geographic began when he was a teenager living in Kenya. Scores of awards and accolades later, the legendary Poole, now 58, is one of the planet's most prolific filmmakers.
"Let me show you something," he said, playing some just-filmed footage of Africa's rugged terrain and close-ups of a mother cheetah and her two cubs. "I've got all of these insanely beautiful images." The following day, Poole was in the limelight, again sharing his enthusiasm at SVFF's popular Salon series. Attendees were granted a first glimpse of Poole's latest work as the filmmaker beamed with pride.
"I can't wait for you to see it," he told the audience. "If all goes as planned, it will be part of Nat Geo Wild's 'Big Cat' week. Maybe if we're lucky, we'll bring it back here to the festival."
Geena Davis has had quite a career. The breakout role for the former model was in the 1982 classic Tootsie and she went on to star in an impressive string of iconic films: The Fly, Beetlejuice, Thelma & Louise, A League of Their Own—she took an Oscar-winning turn in The Accidental Tourist. She has graced the small screen as well, starring in ABC's Commander in Chief and, this year, taking a spin as the very-possessed mother in Fox's The Exorcist. Get Davis talking about the future of her Institute on Gender in Media, and she really lights up a room.
"Our motto is: 'If they see it, they can be it.' And it's true," said Davis, the honoree at the SVFF Vision Dinner. The IGM mission is to tangibly increase the presence of female characters in media aimed at children and reduce female stereotyping by the still-male-dominated industry.
"My archery coach told me that he had noticed something while looking at graphs of people who participate in archery. In 2012, the participation of girls skyrocketed. The graph went straight up 105 percent. Well, that's the year Brave and Hunger Games both came out. It was girls seeing female characters as archers that encouraged them." Davis insists that stereotyping and gender equity could be fixed in a heartbeat. "I promise you, we could fix this overnight," she told a room full of accomplished and budding filmmakers. "The very next movie or TV show that you create can be gender-balanced. When you write your scripts, change the first name to a female name. It's quick. In a crowd scene write, 'Crowd gathers' but insist on adding 'Crowd is 50 percent female.' I promise you: If they see it, they can be it."