Idaho International Film Festival 

Boise nabs the cream of the festival-circuit crop

Crafting a film festival in Idaho is no stroll through the tater field. Sure, we may feature an independent theater hither, some local production companies thither, and movie-star summer homes out the yin-yang, but a notable void in our state has kept large-scale film buffs away until the inaugural 2003 Idaho International Film Festival (IIFF). This void is summed up in a word: people--and the support for cinematic specialization that large populations allow. In other cities, festivals can thrive simply by showing certain genres of films to that genre's fans be they horror, documentary or the nebulous "indie." But according to Bruce Fletcher, programming director for both versions of IIFF, as well as the San Francisco Independent Film Festival and Driggs, Idaho's Spudfest Film Festival, "To a market of Boise's size, a festival has to be all things to all people. I have to appeal to my grandmother's demographic as well as my hipster college friends. That pretty much had to be the focus I had last year, and now it's this year's focus--nothing succeeds like excess."

If Fletcher's choice of language makes the festival and its programmer sound like one and the same entity, it isn't coincidental. Even though his tenure with IIFF has been far shorter than at the illustrious and multifaceted San Francisco IndieFests, the former Canadian film censor harbors special affection for the cinematic challenges and opportunities presented by Boise, his current hometown. "San Francisco is my main gig; this is my fun festival," he says. "At a little regional festival, somewhere that isn't a 'market,' it has to be fun in order to work at all. Also, this is the last festival of my season, so the material is all the best stuff that I've played and seen at other festivals."

Fletcher backs up this promise with an ambitious and far-reaching program that mixes acclaimed contemporary films with unheralded works, which he freely admits, "only a festival programmer would know about." Of the 32 feature-length films comprising IIFF's four-day lineup, two are world premieres: the documentary and environmental horror story Libby, Montana, and a work-in-progress screening of the Nigerian psychological drama Palava [Trouble]. Two others, Japanese horror legend Takashi Miike's latest offering Andromedia and Indian documentarian Rakesh Sharma's Final Solution, a brutal comparison of post-9/11 India with pre-WWII Germany, are making their U.S. premieres. The other films comprising the lineup have come to IIFF after months of travel on the festival circuit and arrive with unique stories and bragging rights all their own.

The festival's opening film, for example, is the Canadian wilderness survival epic The Snow Walker, which boasts an audience award for best feature after premiering at the Palm Springs Film Festival, as well as garnering gala screenings at both the Toronto and Vancouver International Film Festivals. The closing film, a Canadian medical survival epic titled The Blue Butterfly, counters with a Best Feature Audience Award at the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival and having generated a one-and-a-half-hour question and answer session following its premiere at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. Burying the Past, filmmaker Brian Patrick's documentary about the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah, recently won the award for Best of State Award: Utah 2004, but also carries the distinction of having been removed from Spudfest out of fear (according to Patrick) of protest by local LDS wards. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the documentary Sons of Provo (which premiered at Spudfest without incident), provides a straightforward cinema-verité look at the Mormon boy band Everclean, and will be accompanied by a member of the band.

The festival is a heady, highly balanced mixture of the foreign and the familiar, made all the more intriguing by Fletcher's practiced, often ironic scheduling style. A well-organized film fan can catch Burying the Past, Sons of Provo and the zombie gut-buffet Dead and Breakfast in a straight shot without ever having to walk more than two blocks between venues. Those more inclined to sedentary cinema will find an equally stirring double feature at Fletcher's posh jerry-rigged theater in the Boise Centre on the Grove Summit Room, wherein the government-surveillance documentary Echelon: The Secret Power will precede Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson, a highly acclaimed biography of the madcap philosopher, conspiracy theorist and novelist by Caldwell native Lance Bauscher. "If there was ever a double-bill for college students, it is Echelon and Maybe Logic," Fletcher explains. "You'll never look the same way at the world ever again."

A handful of short local films (with the exception of the expanded version of North End Films' Pizza Man vs. The Dude) will provide the mortar between the international bricks from locations like France and China. A few, like local phenom Tyler Neisinger's stylish short mystery Like Flies, will be familiar to local film fans who attended the i48 or True West Cinema festivals. Others, like the shorts Half Ass Jig and Breaking Cycles, both by BW 'toon alums Chad and Cecilia Rinn, will be utilizing IIFF for world premieres. Both of these prolific filmmakers will be present to field responses to their new works, and they will have plenty of company.

Over half of IIFF's films, both local and international, will have one or more representatives or "delegates" present to tackle questions, soak up applause or, if necessary, parry picket signs. Fletcher names 16 delegates in all, ranging from Annabella Piugattuk, Inuit co-star of The Snow Walker to Dayo Ayodele, Nigerian director of Palava to Valerie Van Galder, president of Columbia Tri-Star Pictures, who will introduce Michael Hoffman's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Fletcher cites both the length of IIFF (four days, as opposed to IndieFest's 14) and the "festival village atmosphere" of downtown Boise (read: small, with few non-cinematic distractions) as contributing factors to the astonishing number of film reps present. "I've gotten feedback from [festival-goers] who say that Boise is much more fun even than San Francisco's festivals, because of the vibe here," he reports. "There, they are tourists; here, it's all about the films. Anyone coming in doesn't need cars, shuttles, anything. They just walk to and fro within two blocks from all the screenings, view movies all day and hang out with their colleagues at night."

The breadth and imagination of Fletcher's lineup puts IIFF squarely in the front ranks of Western American film festivals--a conclusion cemented by the several free educational seminars and extensive youth features, the most promising of which is the highly acclaimed neo-monster battle Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. What is perhaps most impressive about Fletcher's custom creation, though, is his total satisfaction with it. Although only in his second year as IIFF brainiac, he carries no regrets over cancelled guests, no grief from dreams left unrealized. On the contrary, he explains, "At this point, every single idea that I've wanted to utilize has happened. I've got my premieres, I've got films for all different kinds of taste categories, free kids' screenings, my free workshop support from downtown businesses, my 16 delegates, and all in my nice little festival village. As far as this festival goes, it's as good as it can possibly be."

For the full IIFF schedule, see this week's insert or visit www.idahofilmfestival.com.

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