The divine madness that is filmmaking is matched perhaps only by the fervor of those who are simply mad about the movies. But passion for watching great films does not necessarily translate into a successful film festival. Trust us, Boise Weekly has attended more than our fair share of film festivals--foreign and domestic--and we've watched how inadequate venues, poor timing or a lousy slate of films can turn off an audience. Having the soul of Steven Spielberg is nice, but it also helps to have the compromising skill of Henry Clay and the iron fist of Mussolini to schedule, budget and manage a better-than-average festival.
Which is why it's so impressive that the Sun Valley Film Festival, still in its infancy, has managed to negotiate the delicate balance of show business and the business of show--examining the grand bargain of filmmaking while celebrating the movies themselves.
"I just think that we're still striking that sweet spot," said Candice Pate, SVFF director.
And that spot still tastes sweet, a full year-and-a-half since Pate was asked to bring her marketing skills and experience as the Hallmark Channel's vice president of business development to the SVFF. A year ago, BW asked Pate how she would assess her first year as the festival's director (BW, Screen, "SVFF Will Only Become More Successful," March 20, 2013).
"I was a little nervous about moving Hollywood to my own private Idaho," she told BW at the time. "We really want to grow this thing and I think we have found a sweet spot: a little bit of glitz, but not a Sundance wannabe."
And Pate is in no hurry to turn SVFF into "Sundance North."
"When you're just getting started, you're hungry for validation and brand awareness, and you can't grow fast enough," said Pate. "But I'm finding myself, a year later, acutely aware that this is where we want to be right now."
And while SVFF 2014 offers scores of feature-length narratives, documentaries and short films to sate any festival-goer's appetite, a big part of the four-day event's genuine appeal is a guest list of Oscar-winning and -nominated directors, screenwriters and producers participating in screenwriters' labs and so-called "coffee talks," featuring the men and women responsible for Clerks, The Dallas Buyers Club, The Descendants, The King's Speech, Little Miss Sunshine and Nebraska.
"We have so much industry 'street-cred' from these type of events. They're free, open to the public and incredibly appealing to filmmakers, students and academia. Great films are all about creativity and storytelling," said Pate, who relies on SVFF Programming Director Laura Mehlhaff to curate the festival's roster of films from several hundred entries.
"A film's budget could be huge, its technical achievement could be unsurpassed, but if the story is a dud, you're just not going to see it at our film festival," said Mehlhaff. "It's actually pretty hard to put into words. But the characters have to feel real; and as simple as that may sound, believe me, it's not simple. "
SVFF's schedule of films include some real gems, said Mehlhaff, including so-called "works in progress," where filmmakers bring an as-yet-uncompleted film to Sun Valley to gauge an audience reaction.
"In Hollywood, studios will pay tens of thousands of dollars for test screenings," she said. "But here in Sun Valley, we want this to be an extra level of engagement between filmmakers and audiences. "
Mehlhaff and Pate are quick to share any credit with their colleagues and, in particular, Teddy Grennan, the tall, always-smiling, always-moving founder and executive director of SVFF.
"Wow, yeah, Teddy," said Pate with a big smile. "The coffee talks were his idea, plus the works-in-progress; and they have just become roaring successes. And, of course, he works so closely with Laura on putting that final schedule of films together."
But when the lights dim and the films begin to roll, Pate said she still makes a point to absorb the moment.
"I still get lost in the movies," she said. "What can I say? I'm still a popcorn kid."
David Seidler is one of the most famous writers on the planet. He spent his early days writing for dozens of television programs and movies and was commissioned to write the English dubbing dialogue for Godzilla movies.