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True West Cinema Festival's fifth annual round-up promises wild ride

Founded in 2004, the True West Cinema Festival has been bringing the Treasure Valley a yearly harvest of the most esoteric, intriguing and challenging films being made today along with the pioneering men and women who created them. With a four-day weekend of open panel discussions, a sprinkling of short films wedged between full-length features and about-the-town parties in different Boise locales—it promises to provide all the hipster cred of Cannes, without having to learn French. Plus, five years down the road you'll be able to say you saw them when.

Conceived by local filmmakers Gregory Bayne and Travis Swartz, True West is committed to providing a venue for independent filmmakers to showcase their work.

"The bulk of our program has always been and continues to be focused on regional filmmakers working without a net," says Josie Pusl, managing director of the festival. "We hope through the program to be able to introduce local audiences to a wide array of films and filmmakers they may not ever hear of otherwise."

Working without the financial backing of a studio system requires filmmakers to spend countless extra hours procuring funding, seeking distribution and securing screening sites, often completely out-of-pocket. Festivals provide a venue, advertising, exposure and, perhaps most importantly, the networking that is the lifeblood of these passion projects. As filmmakers themselves, the designers of True West understand this need, and their commitment to seeing the art of film furthered is apparent in this year's film selections.

Based on the past four years of the festival, we can trust that every film chosen for this weekend has been selected based on its artistic merit and entertainment value. If you can't pony up the clams for a full weekend pass (though at $75, it's a steal), following are a few recommendations.

Thursday night, catch the Idaho premiere of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. This creative documentary promises to be almost as bizarre and entertaining as Thompson's work itself. Using excerpts from the author's journals and essays along with exclusive home videos, director Alex Gibney (whose previous work has garnered him both an Oscar nomination and a win) highlights the major events of Thompson's turbulent life. Johnny Depp narrates the film and also stars in True West's retro film selection, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an adaptation of a Thompson novel playing on Sunday.

This vein of madcap bravura continues Friday with the locally shot A Season for Brooding. A neat concept, it's based on two thugs tossing out opinions on good moviemaking, which results in five other short horror films being incorporated into the movie. Packaging these "micro-cinema" works into the movie allows it to serve as a sort of film festival in itself, in which multiple directors' visions can be seen.

Immediately following this is The Legend of God's Gun by Portland director Mike Bruce. Based on a psuedo-soundtrack by L.A. band Spindrift, this neo-Western promises to have as much style and old-West shoot-'em-up action as any Tarantino flick.

An early morning panel on Saturday will discuss the future of independent filmmaking by asking the question: "Are emerging technologies and sharing Web sites helping or hindering the industry?"

A collection of short films created at the 2008 True West Cinema youth summer camp will also be a nice afternoon treat.

Saturday evening check out James Castle: Portrait of an Artist, a documentary about the deaf Idaho outsider artist who communicated solely through his artwork. Working without formal training or wealthy connections, Castle still made a significant impact on the contemporary art world before his death in 1977. His story mirrors that of many independent artists and could serve as a good analogy for many of the films at this festival.

If you see Gonzo then you have to catch Sunday's Fear and Loathing. Following it is a short film collection that brings together a range of works from Portland, New York and California as well as the third True West premiere from local director Matthew Wade. A genre-crossing, multi-stylistic grouping of works, it promises to be an intriguing hour and a half.

Closing out the festival will be To Die in Jerusalem, the story of two mothers on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who meet to mourn the death of both their daughters in a single terrorist act. Nominated for three Emmy awards, this documentary ends the weekend on a somber note.

True West's fifth annual festival is sure to be a wild and exciting weekend. Many of the directors and stars of the films will be in attendance, talking on panels and drinking at the table next to you. The crowd will be varied, the films fierce and the parties off-the-hook.

Aug. 7-10, Flicks, 646 Fulton St., 208-342-4222. See the insert in this issue of Boise Weekly for a complete lineup of films and events or visit truewestcinema.org for more information.

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