It's always thrilling to be in the room when someone's artistic dreams come true. Almost as exciting is the moment just before that wish is granted.
One of the highlights of the 2014 Sun Valley Film Festival was March 15's culmination of a yearlong challenge to budding filmmakers where the winner of that challenge ends up spending up to three months in Africa, honing the skills of documentary filmmaking alongside the masters of the trade: National Geographic.
It was almost exactly a year ago (March 16, 2013) when Boise Weekly talked to the folks at NatGeo Wild when they unveiled their "Wild to Inspire" competition, challenging American filmmakers to create a short nature-themed documentary (no more than 5 minutes).
"One of my favorite parts of the Sun Valley Film Festival are the friends I make. Never mind that they're filmmakers or sponsors (Nat Geo Wild is both)," SVFF founder Teddy Grennan said Saturday from the stage of the Sun Valley Opera House. "National Geographic came to the first year of the festival and, afterwards, said, 'Come on, let's do something special.'"
And Wild to Inspire is definitely it. BW got a chance to talk to some of the finalists of the competition—they're quite an impressive lot. The young men sat proud but nervous among an inspired Opera House audience who watched their dazzling efforts Saturday.
"We had over 150 submissions," said Geoff Daniels, Nat Geo Wild executive vice president. "The quality of the films was amazing, and it was so hard to pick these three finalists."
Based on the reception, the three finalists were already winners:
Always Endangered, filmed by Jim Laybourn, told the beautiful but dangerous story of Grizzly No. 399, dubbed by the U.S. National Forest Service. Laybourn followed the female grizzly and her three cubs in Grand Teton National Park.
Bee Happy, filmed by David Thompson and Jacob Taylor, captured the warmth and unmistakable gold of bees and the "honey junkies" that keep them.
And Wolf Mountain, by filmmakers Dan Duran, Sam Price-Waldman and Brendan Nahmias, visits California's Lucerne Valley and the woman who maintains a unique wolf refuge. It's haunting.
Any one of the three is worthy of having their passports stamped to Africa.
Ultimately, Wolf Mountain took home the top prize, sending the team of Duran, Price-Waldman and Nahmias to Tanzania. All three are only 23-years-old.
And as if viewing the competition's finalists weren't enough, Saturday's audience at the Sun Valley Opera House—which included a generous number of kids who couldn't get enough of the action—also watched the world premiere of Nat Geo Wild's Kingdom of the Apes, chronicling two of the most famous apes in history, named Freud and Frodo by the legendary primatologist Jane Goodall.
"This story has deceit, betrayal and Machiavellian politics," said Daniels. "It's Nat Geo Wild's version of Game of Thrones. And it's a little easier to follow."
It's a stunner and I can't recommend it enough. It will debut this coming summer on the Nat Geo Wild channel and it's appointment television.