UPDATE: The Magnificent Six 

Anticipating the sixth annual Sun Valley Film Festival

No worries: There won’t be any outdoor screenings at SVFF. That said, more than a few festival attendees take advantage of the still-spectacular skiing conditions in Sun Valley.

Ryan Johnson

No worries: There won’t be any outdoor screenings at SVFF. That said, more than a few festival attendees take advantage of the still-spectacular skiing conditions in Sun Valley.

UPDATE: February 23, 2017

The Sun Valley Film Festival unveiled its much-anticipated movie schedule Thursday, revealing the strongest slate of films in the festival's six years. Movies featuring Ellen Burstyn, Viola Davis, Sam Elliott, Tony Hale, John Larroquette, Rami Malek, Nick Offerman, Hayden Panettiere, Bill Pullman and Elijah Wood will be screened during SVFF, which runs Wednesday, March 15 through Sunday, March 19.

The festival will open with the world premiere of documentary Blood Road on March 15, starring endurance mountain bike athlete and Sun Valley local Rebecca Rusch, and close March 19 with the documentary Big Sonia, which chronicles the life of 91-year-old Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor who spends her days comforting victims of trauma in schools and prisons.

click to enlarge More than 30 feature-length films will be screened at SVFF 2017. - (CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT) WALKING WITH GIRAFFES, DAVE MADE A MAZE, HERO AND BRAVE NEW JERSEY
  • (Clockwise from upper left) Walking With Giraffes, Dave Made a Maze, Hero and Brave New Jersey
  • More than 30 feature-length films will be screened at SVFF 2017.
The festival will also feature the documentary Dina, sharing the unlikely love story between an outspoken women and a painfully shy Walmart greeter. The film took the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Nat Geo Wild will screen three world premieres in Sun Valley: Walking With Giraffes, featuring unprecedented footage of some of the planet's most threatened giraffes in Africa and Asia,; Parched: Money Flows, detailing another public water scandal in Detroit; and Animal Moms: Toddlers, revealing the surprisingly human ways in which animal mothers raise their young.

Among the roster of 30 feature-length entries, SVFF 2017 showcases a growing number of comedies—rare for the recent trend of independent films. They include:

  • Brave New Jersey, a comedy about what happens on the night of Orson Welles' legendary "War of the Worlds" broadcast, starring Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep).
  • Bitch, about a lonely, distraught housewife who—at her wits end—takes on a vicious new canine persona, starring Jason Ritter (Parenthood) and writer/director Marianna Palka.
  • Dave Made a Maze, the story of a man who builds a fantastical fort in the middle of his living room. Using puppetry and stop-motion animation, it re-imagines 1980s adventure films.
  • L.A. Times, an irreverent tale of life and the search for love in the 21st century.
Check out the complete slate of films here.

ORIGINAL STORY: February 22, 2017

It's called a Cinetransformer and when it rolls into Ketchum next month, it will have a lot of people talking. It will also have a lot of people laughing, crying and cheering when its doors swing open on Wednesday, March 15, launching the sixth annual Sun Valley Film Festival.

The Cinetransformer is a theater on wheels. Inside the giant mobile unit, which was a smash hit at Sundance Film Festival this year, is a 95-seat state-of-the-art, high-definition, climate-controlled movie theater.

"When I saw it at Sundance, it was stunning," said SVFF Program Director Laura Mehlhaff. "Honestly? I was skeptical at first. Would this be something a filmmaker would be willing to showcase their work [in]? It turns out they loved it. It even expands out to include kiosks for snacks and ticket sales."

Mehlhaff's recent journey to Sundance included much more than checking out the Cinetransformer. As she put the finishing touches on another stellar slate of films for SVFF, Mehlhaff was anxious to screen a selection of just-completed movies.

"This is a very interesting time of year in the film industry," she said. "In the wake of Sundance, some films are just now securing distribution, others are trying to catch the eye of critics and a lot more are still way under the radar. Where are we with finalizing our schedule? Believe me, there are some films that we absolutely, positively have to get for Sun Valley."

SVFF Director Candice Pate likens the current state of the festival to that of making a feature film.

"Let's say we're in pre-production. With just a few weeks to go, it's less about hunting for films or sponsors, and it's more about making things pop," said Pate.

Part of that "pop" is the festival's growing presence on social media. Instead of a random number of announcements, revealing a few films or celebrity appearances, the strategy this year has generated plenty of buzz. For example, a brief Facebook post splashed the movie poster from the 1988 classic Beetlejuice and teased, "someone is coming to #SVFF2017."

On the night of the recent season premiere of HBO's Girls, SVFF teased, "Our favorite Girls are back tonight. Have you figured out which one will be at #SVFF this year?"

The star power at SVFF has been unmatched in recent years, with appearances from Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone, Jodie Foster, Bruce Dern, Bill Paxton, Kevin Smith and a long list of Oscar-winning filmmakers.

"Do I get star struck? Sometimes. It's great to get to know them behind the scene, so to speak," said Pate. "But then someone like Clint Eastwood walks into the room and you're... well, you're gob smacked, aren't you."

What really "gob smacks" Pate, she said, are the corporate relationships—including those with Zions Bank, Tito's Vodka and Nat Geo Wild—that sustain the growing festival. That list is only getting longer.

"We're pretty excited that Stella Artois and Entertainment Weekly approached us this year to be sponsors," Pate said. "To think that we started this just six years ago, and now here we are as a significant engine to help drive the local economy."

Those six years of success have made a significant difference for Mehlhaff in luring the industry's hottest filmmakers to Sun Valley.

"I remember approaching a filmmaker years ago about the possibility of coming to Sun Valley. Not successful," Mehlhaff recalled. "This year, that same filmmaker approached me at Sundance and said, 'I keep hearing about your festival. Let's talk.' I don't even know if she remembered we had talked years ago. One more thing: Certain distributors who wouldn't give me the time of day before are now perfectly open to talk about bringing their films to Sun Valley."

One of Pate's fondest memories is of the early days of the festival, when she and SVFF Executive Director Teddy Grennan were anxiously anticipating the inaugural event.

"It was at the very beginning; we had a welcoming party. There we were, Teddy and I, welcoming all of these amazing filmmakers stream into town. It was almost like people arriving for this amazing wedding," she said. "It was an energy that I had never felt before. Every year since—and I'm assuming it will be here this year—that energy settles into Sun Valley."

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