Way Ahead of the Curve: Previewing the 2019 Sun Valley Film Festival 

This year's showcase includes some of the most talked-about titles of 2019

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One of the best things about attending a world-class film festival is catching the screening of a film that very few people have seen. But one of the most challenging things for the organizers of those same festivals is getting people to see those films, particularly since very little has been said or written about them. Take, for example, last year's Sun Valley Film Festival, which included Leave No Trace, a movie that at year's end was on most critics' Top-10 lists for 2018. The 2018 SVFF schedule also included Minding the Gap and Of Fathers and Sons, both 2019 Oscar nominees.

"We're so fortunate to get films, even before most people have heard anything about them. Distributors may not even have their marketing materials ready," said Laura Mehlhaff, SVFF director of programming.

Through the years, festival audiences have become increasingly curious, even adventurous, with their film selections according to Mehlhaff, and that curiosity usually pays off by placing them among the lucky few to see a film that may ultimately be an Oscar nominee a full year later.

"I think people are now a little less cautious to see a title they may not have heard before. It's exciting to be way ahead of the curve," said Mehlhaff.

All that said, it's Mehlhaff's job to screen hundreds of possible titles, winnowing that list to a fortunate few.

"Am I excited about this year's films? Absolutely. Am I little nervous? Absolutely," she said. "But that's the way it should be, don't you think?"

Oscar winners, some of the industry's most cutting-edge writers and directors, and emerging filmmakers: the 2019 SVFF slate has them all. Here's a sample:

The provocative Her Smell premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to some of the most wildly varying film reviews of the season. It stars Elisabeth Moss as a punk rock superstar with enough baggage to fill a jumbo jet. Amber Heard, Eric Stoltz and Virginia Madsen co-star.

"It's totally insane, but I kept thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I'm having so much fun watching this. I had to program it," said Mehlhaff. "To be frank, I absolutely know it's going to wildly divisive, but I love films that can get a real gut reaction from audiences."

Long Shot will head to Sun Valley hot off its world premiere at this month's SXSW festival. The romantic comedy co-stars Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron.

"I'm really looking forward to it simply because this a fun movie. A lot of independent films are more serious, but this one should definitely attract a big audience," said Mehlhaff.

Director Stephen Moyer will come to Sun Valley with his film The Parting Glass, co-starring his life partner, Anna Paquin, plus Denis O'Hare, Melissa Leon, Cynthia Nixon and Ed Asner. It tells the story of a suicide and how it tests the bonds of a family. Given Idaho's high rate of suicide, the film is certain to trigger an engaging post-screening conversation.

The Sound of Silence, a contemplation of the modern environment and our desire to understand and control it, co-stars Peter Sarsgaard and Rashida Jones.

"What's so fantastic about this film is that its writers, Ben Nabors and Michael Tyburski, had a short film submitted to the 2013 Sun Valley Film Festival. Then, they won the SVFF High Scribe award in 2017 for the script that has ultimately become The Sound of Silence," said Mehlhaff. "It's totally a relationship that spans across the years and is coming full circle."

The SVFF documentary slate includes David Crosby: Remember My Name, one of the best-reviewed films at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The doc, exploring the life and creative renaissance of music icon David Crosby, is also directed by Ketchum native A.J. Eaton.

Running with Beto chronicles one of the most charismatic figures in American politics, Beto O'Rourke. The film, an HBO production, will also come to Sun Valley fresh from its world premiere at SXSW.

"There are so many titles that we're excited for this year," said Mehlhaff. "Comedies, dramas, family friendly films, short films, it's a wide variety. And who knows? This time next year, you'll be able to tell everybody else that you saw the film in Sun Valley."

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