In the Spirit of Things 

Sun Valley film festival screens 28 films

When it was founded in 2005, the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival was yet another event in a long line of festivities surrounding the Dalai Lama's visit to Idaho that year. SVSFF's organizers never expected the Buddhist-themed film festival to launch out of the starting blocks so easily.

After finishing its first year well out of the red, SVSFF took on its second year by expanding its selection of films to include those of any spiritual bent, and the selection ballooned from the first year's 15 to a field of 34. Barreling into its third year this weekend, co-founder Claudio Ruben says 28 films comprise the screening schedule. However, fewer films on the docket aren't an indication of dwindling interest.

"We received twice as many submissions this year than last year, and we weren't expecting that," says Ruben. "We were just hoping to stay in the same range."

Through an online film submission Web site, invitations to filmmakers from festival founders, and word as it made its way through the grapevine, Ruben and co-founder Mary Gervase pre-screened an unbelievable 280 films. In wading through submissions to cherry-pick the most pertinent, passionate and well-made films, Ruben says he and Gervase tried to strike a balance between films of good quality and those with a great story.

"Some of the films are not great quality, but they have an empowering, spiritual, heartfelt message," explains Ruben. "We tried to find educational and spiritual films that teach about other spiritual traditions."

Ruben explains that despite the spiritual aspect of the festival, it's not religious. In its scope of spirituality, SVSFF does include films about traditional faith structures however, with a liberal definition of what is considered spiritual, Ruben and Gervase encourage the festival to go in unexpected directions. For example, in addition to films about the Jewish community in South America, a Christian Cistercian monk and a young Muslim-American girl are such films with less obvious spiritual overtones.

"The lessons [these films] offer are not a part of religion, but are something we can all benefit from as human beings," says Ruben. Bethany Hamilton's inspirational story about returning to competitive surfing after losing an arm in a shark attack is the subject of Heart of a Soul Surfer. The award-winning documentary Favela Rising, about social revolution through music in Brazil, is on the weekend's lineup, as is Mystic Ball, a film about the Burmese sport Chinlone. And in The Cats of Mirikitani, spiritual journey is that of a New York City street artist as he delves into his tumultuous past in Hiroshima.

Augmenting the busy film schedule are discussions and presentations from a number of speakers, including filmmakers and spiritual leaders from various faiths, many of whom will speak on the weekend's theme of forgiveness.

Sept. 14-16. Info on prices and locations at

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