Burning Bright: The Big Burn Ready for Its World Premiere Close-Up at SVFF 

The winner of the 2017 Sun Valley Film Festival 1 Potato award might be an "accidental filmmaker," but her film will premiere at SVFF 2018

Nearly one year afters its screenplay took home the top prize in the 1 Potato Initiative, The Big Burn will premiere Thursday, March 15 at the Sun Valley Film Festival.

Samantha Silva

Nearly one year afters its screenplay took home the top prize in the 1 Potato Initiative, The Big Burn will premiere Thursday, March 15 at the Sun Valley Film Festival.

The vistas of Idaho are a filmmaker's dream. Clint Eastwood used the Gem State as a backdrop for Bronco Billy (1980) and Pale Rider (1985). Marilyn Monroe's star vehicle Bus Stop (1956) was filmed in Sun Valley, Heaven's Gate (1980) was filmed in the panhandle city of Wallace and the independent breakout hit Napoleon Dynamite (2004) was filmed in the eastern Idaho town of Preston. Still, financing a major film production in Idaho can be a nightmare. Many states offer generous tax breaks to entice filmmakers, and although the Idaho Legislature Idaho passed some incentives for media production in 2008, that same legislature never funded the program. Like a car without an engine, it went nowhere.

The 1 Potato Initiative, developed by the Sun Valley Film Festival, is a game-changer, particularly the annual 1 Potato Short Screenplay Competition. Now in its fifth year, 1 Potato was created to "support emerging filmmakers and incentivize filmmaking in the state of Idaho." The cash prize is modest—the winning screenwriter is awarded $5,000 towards filming on location in Idaho—but the 1 Potato platform is huge. Hopeful screenwriters have their work judged by some of the most successful filmmakers and, most importantly, the finished film gets its world premiere at SVFF the following year.

"It's been quite a wild ride," said author/screenwriter Samantha Silva, winner of the 1 Potato 2017 prize. "I've written screenplays for more than 20 years, but this was my first time at the helm as a director. I would have to call myself an accidental filmmaker."

Silva's screenplay, titled The Big Burn, triggered a year-long effort to develop, shoot and edit the film, which will have its world premiere on Thursday, March 15, at SVFF 2018.

Silva chose a familiar locale to frame her drama: the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains.

"Redfish Lake...," Silva said, then took a long breath and smiled. "It's one of the most magical places in the world, but I hate to let the secret of my story out."

The secret is revealed in Silva's screenplay, which is based on a true story that has haunted her for years.

"We have such great fortune in Idaho to having this majestic landscape, but there's danger with that beauty," she said.

The cast of The Big Burn includes several Idaho-based actors: Lisa King Hawkes (who works at the Boise-based Drake Cooper agency), Neil Brookshire, Ellen Campbell and Lynn Allison. Idaho musicians Steve Fulton and Lindsey Hunt, who both have cameos in the film, provided the score, and veteran Idaho filmmaker Gregory Bayne (6 Dynamic Laws for Success, Bloodsworth) served as the director of photography.

"I reached out to Greg for advice, and he asked, 'Why aren't you asking me to shoot this movie?' He was incredibly supportive, especially with me being a first-time director," said Silva.

Perhaps the most impressive element of The Big Burn is its gender equity.

"This is a movie about a woman, written and directed by a woman," said Silva. "Women have 75 percent of the dialogue and about 50 percent of our cast is female. Considering that this is an industry that never seems to get there, here in little Idaho we managed to make a woman-centered, woman-driven movie. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life."

The Big Burn - A Short Film Written & Directed by Samantha Silva - Trailer from Gregory Bayne on Vimeo.

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