If you didn't get tickets to Willie or the Dalai Lama ... 

... there's still reason to head to Sun Valley this weekend for the first annual Spirituality Film Festival.

Held Friday through Sunday at the Sun Valley Opera House and Friday through Monday at the Liberty Theater in Hailey, the inaugural festival's focus is Buddhism, though future years will screen films involving a wider range of spiritual traditions. Fifteen films and documentaries will grace the two theaters with everything from comedy (young monks grappling for a TV to watch the World Cup) to reality (the transformation of a feminist vagabond into a Tibetan Buddhist nun) to mystery (the award-winning Zen Noir). What will predominantly be conveyed, however, is all that we yearn for in our a drama-drenched culture constantly exposed to shock-value footage: peace.

The festival is organized by long-time friends Mary Gervase and Claudio Ruben who initially tossed around the idea over dinner in December 2003. When the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was announced six months ago, Gervase and Ruben decided to run with it, though the bulk of the labor was mainly in the final stretch. "Most challenging?" Ruben says of organizing the festival. "Putting this together in three months. It's intense work coordinating a festival but it's fun--so it's been good." Gervase echoes his point and emphasizes the great amount of community support they received. "So many people have volunteered their expertise or discounted their cost for services or provided financial support," says Gervase. "We have quite a visionary advisory board as well--they continue to go above and beyond the call of duty! A husband of one of our member, David Wilkinson, and board member Michael Cortese actually flew in David's plane on Thursday to get posters and postcards distributed around downtown Boise about the event."

As few and far between as spiritual film festivals are, Idaho is lucky to have the unique festival with its message of "wisdom and compassion in the Rockies." There are a few high profile spiritual film festivals in bigger U.S. cities, like California's International Buddhist Film Festival, Parabola Film Festival, Damah Film Festival or New York's God on Film, that adding Sun Valley to the list (despite community perks like private planes for last minute distribution) is an unusual, noteworthy achievement of a few dedicated Idahoans.

The festival serves a timely purpose, as its message of peace and understanding through Buddhist spirituality (meant to coordinate with the Dalai Lama's visit) increases in relevance with recent tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina. "People seem to be hungry for positive messages instead of the constant barrage of negative information, nightly news murders, action/sex/violence etc.," says Ruben. "Hopefully, through these films and documentaries that explore spiritual leaders and regular people who live their lives with compassion, understanding, acceptance and wisdom in the world, our audience can consider (if they haven't already) that it is possible to incorporate spirituality into their day to day lives--and that they don't have to be a Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa to do so."

--Jennifer Parsons

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