Sun Valley, Idaho, has well preserved its long-established reputation as a winter playground for the millionaire sports enthusiast, with sparkling snow blanketing its ski slopes and throngs of snowboarders shredding the gnar. It’s also a center of creative passion and grand literary achievement. Ketchum, minutes away from Sun Valley’s main drag of town, is where Hemingway lived and died. His gravesite, spare and set in the grass, attracts thousands of tourists each year, who make their pilgrimage to commune with the great American writer, leaving behind half-drunk bottles of bourbon as a testament to Hemingway’s liquor-fueled legacy.
The affluent resort town is also home to the Sun Valley Film Festival, one of the best-kept secrets among cineastes and those craving a deeper connection to the arts. As far as film fests go, Sun Valley is not on the scale of Sundance or Cannes, but that’s what makes it so desirable. Teddy Grennan, SVFF executive director, has dubbed the fest “a little Hollywood ski Shangri-la.”
“I think of us as being like a bonsai tree,” says fest director Candice Pate. “We don’t want it to grow that much, we just want it to be better and keep people really involved with the craft of filmmaking.”
Kicking off its seventh edition March 14, this year’s five-day fest features star wattage by way of Gwyneth Paltrow, set to receive its Vision Award, as well as a stellar lineup of women working in various aspects of the film industry. Writer-director Lynn Shelton, whose latest feature “Outside In” is screening at SVFF, will receive the High Scribe Award and host the Screenwriters Lab, a script workshop. (Jay Duplass, who co-wrote and stars in “Outside In,” will share the award also participate in a panel discussion.) Kate Bosworth, who produced and appears in the drama “Nona,” will take part in a Q&A with husband Michael Polish, who wrote and directed the film, and actress Jeanne Tripplehorn (“Big Love,” “Grey Gardens”) will be there to participate in one of the fest’s signature coffee talks.
“It’s sort of kismet,” says Pate of these female headliners. “With the Me Too movement coming to light and all these powerful women whose films are screening at the fest, it all just started falling into place and aligning with the current zeitgeist.”
Shelton, who cut her teeth working on indie films in “the extremely progressive, feminist” city of Seattle, hopes that through her participation in SVFF, she can inspire other female filmmakers struggling to find their voice in an industry in which the “toxic male culture” still rears its ugly head.
Storytelling, she says, can shift the entire world’s perception of what it means to be a woman.
“Storytelling is so important to human civilization,” she says. “People just yearn for, hunger for, stories — in whatever way they get them. Well, when the storytellers are all from one segment of the population, you get one lens. Right now I want to see women, other members of marginalized parts of our population; I want more diversity on every scale. I feel like it’s of the moment. Now is the time. There’s something brewing.”
For Bosworth, what’s also key in terms of bolstering the Me Too movement is encouraging and supporting male filmmakers with an eye toward creating female-driven content. Polish, she notes, was equally invested in making “Nona,” which centers on a young woman from Honduras who falls victim to a sex-trafficking ring in Southern California.
“The coming together has been critical, this idea of this being an inclusive movement is critical,” she says. “I’m really lucky in that my husband came home and wanted to make a movie about a girl from a Third World country who falls into sex trafficking, and this is such a major issue for women in the world. That’s the partner I live with, and it’s inspiring and really validating because he’s far more interested in female stories than male stories.
“It’s important for women to come together, and it’s also important for men to say, we want female stories, too,” she continues. “That’s an important aspect to moving the dial in a real, long-lasting way.”
Secured talent aside, the Sun Valley fest is also very female-driven in terms of its leadership. When it comes to who runs the show behind the scenes, Grennan is outnumbered.
“We were looking around at our meeting the other day and it’s 90% women working on this festival,” says Emily Granville, who created and oversees the Screenwriters Lab. “The festival has been great for people like me and Candice [Pate] who have chosen to be mothers but have also been able to develop this fest in a way that fits into our lives. What’s also a great thing is the amount of women submitting scripts to the lab. Over the last few years that number has risen about 17%. It’s pretty incredible. It’s like they say, if you build it they will come.”