Rising in the West 

A True West cinema primer

The months of ads and calls for entries in publications in 11 Western states, the cryptic and eerily sexual flyers on local telephone poles and the even more cryptic local TV spots of sullen teens shooting bears--have all finally culminated this week in the inaugural True West Cinema Festival. For event founders Greg Bayne, Travis Schwartz, Josie Pusl and Heather Rae, the festival is both a celebration of Western films and a grassroots community event. For audiences, it is a rare opportunity to get a cinematic jump on the rest of the nation on some bourgeoning talent. Here are a few highlights to plan your weekend around.

In terms of unique offerings, True West will feature several "work in progress" screenings of films that will make their proper premieres at Sundance in January 2005. Consider these our film community's cinematic coups. The first to be screened is Trudell, a documentary produced by True West Board Chair Heather Rae about the life of legendary Native American poet, activist and musician John Trudell. The second pre-Sundance teaser will occur on Friday night, when acclaimed Montana filmmaker Travis Wilkerson will attend a screening of his first fictional film Who Killed Cock Robin? Wilkerson has already received positive reviews from both The New York Times and The Village Voice for his experimental documentary An Injury to One, which will also show on Sunday. Both films focus a politically-charged lens on the mining-marred landscape of Butte, Montana, and the questionable morality bred by life in downtrodden post-industrial communities. Wilkerson will hold a brief Q&A following each screening.

From a more urban perspective, San Francisco-based director Calum Grant will attend a screening of his post-apocalyptic fable Ever Since the World Ended at the festival's end on Sunday evening. Grant's film, shot in San Francisco with a skeleton crew in true independent style, grabbed the Audience Award at the 2002 San Francisco Indie Festival and "Best Feature Film, Sci-Fi" at the 2002 London Film Festival. It will soon be released for theatrical distribution and presents a rare chance for Idaho audiences to view a young filmmaker on the brink of national notoriety.

For the 11 short films showing in a pair of two-hour programs on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, a remarkable range of styles from the aesthetically experimental to hard-driving narratives to musical comedy are represented. On one hand, Christian Campbell, brother of Neve, will star in the musical necro-mance Pretty Dead Girl--which is Western only in that director Shawn Ku is a University of Southern California grad. On the other, Buhl, Idaho-based filmmaker and New York University film grad Jaffe Zinn's fractured drama Bliss will showcase the technical heights of Idaho's contemporary scene. The film has garnered awards for sound and directing and it grabbed third place overall at the recent First Run Film Festival in New York City.

The hidden gem of the festival, however, may be an event happening far from a movie screen. On the morning of Saturday, August 14, at the Kulture Klatsch, Rae will mediate a panel discussion entitled "Flapjacks and Filmmakers," featuring an all-star lineup of local directors and festival guests. Bayne, Small Pond Films' Andrew Ellis and local cinematic prospect Tyler Neisinger will join Wilkerson, Grant, Idaho Public Television's Lynn Allen and current Sundance programmer Bird Runningwater in a heady discussion of films, western filmmakers, and current trends in independent cinema. For such a summit to take place between established national and local figures not only allows curious film fans the opportunity to pick the brains behind the cameras, but it also represents the achievement of the original vision of True West. According to Bayne, "I think we got what we were going after: To celebrate the West, but also to make it a smaller world for the filmmakers who live there."

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