Sun Valley Film Festival Trots Out Socially Conscious Fare: ‘Impact With Gal Gadot’ and ‘The Good Lord Bird’

Impact Good Lord Bird Sun Valley
Impact: Sebastian Gil Miranda; Good Lord Bird: William Gray/Showtime

“The evolution of art is in constant flux,” says Ethan Hawke. “I don’t know what the future will bring.”

Hawke, one of this year’s Vision Award recipients at the 10th iteration of the Sun Valley Film Festival, has been championing independent cinema since he first emerged on the big screen as a teenager in such films as “Explorers” and the Oscar-winning “Dead Poets Society.” By the time he starred as intellectual slacker extraordinaire Troy Dyer in Ben Stiller’s now-cult classic “Reality Bites,” Hawke was the pop cultural embodiment of Generation X and the epitome of 1990s 20-something, post-collegiate ennui.

A four-time Oscar nominee — most recently for his 2014 turn in Richard Linklater’s experimental drama “Boyhood” — Hawke’s debut small-screen project, the Showtime pre-Civil War miniseries “The Good Lord Bird,” comes to the Sun Valley fest as not only a rousing example of American historical fiction, but Hawke’s unwavering commitment to high-quality, character-driven, thought-provoking fare.

The fest, streaming online April 14-18, will screen two episodes of “The Good Lord Bird,” which Hawke stars in, co-wrote and executive produced with his wife, Ryan. Hawke will also partake in a virtual Coffee Talk conversation. One of his key takeaways: film festivals such as Sun Valley are more important than ever.

“I know that when I started acting, I had a dream of being a dramatic actor,” says Hawke, who portrays abolitionist John Brown in the series. “And that job is getting harder and harder to do. You know, dramas take work on the part of the audience. And one of the things that big business has done to the art form is that they realized how enjoyable it is. The problem is, they spend so much money to make a product that is very easy to watch. And so the movies tell you how to feel, they crank up the music, they push in on the eyeball — it’s not much work to watch a lot of these really popular movies. Whereas if you go back and watch some of the older movies like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Five Easy Pieces’ or anything by Bergman — they ask a lot of the viewer. These would be small independent movies now. It would be very difficult to get these films made.”

Other highlights of the fest include the Ford Producers Grant, in which three select finalists will get to pitch their film to a panel of award-winning film producers, with one winning $25,000; the Sun Valley Screenwriters Lab, with script submissions judged by “The Mule” and “All the Money in the World” producer Bradley Thomas; and the Pioneer Award, presented by Variety to “Judas and the Black Messiah” Oscar-nominated co-screenwriter and helmer Shaka King.

Israel-born “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot will receive the fest’s other Vision Award, participate in a virtual Coffee Talk and screen two episodes of “Impact With Gal Gadot,” her debut docuseries for National Geographic, which she exec produced with husband Jaron Varsano through their Pilot Wave production company. Series bows on the network April 26.

“National Geographic has been a decade-long partner of ours,” says SVFF founder and executive director Teddy Grennan. “So that was a natural fit for us.”

“Impact,” which chronicles the lives of six women and their positive contributions to their communities, is part of Gadot’s mission “to bring something good to the world.”

“The concept was, let’s do a short-form documentary that follows extraordinary six women that have an amazing impact,” says Gadot, who recently wrapped Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile.”

“I do feel like ‘Impact’ is especially timely,” she continues. “After this terrible year we’ve all experienced, between the pandemic and politics and whatnot, now, more than ever, people are looking for inspiration around them, to see what connects us to each other, to see how we can support one another.”

While not being able to gather in person for the second year in a row — last year’s Sun Valley fest was canceled five days before its start due to spiking coronavirus numbers — the virtual concept, says fest director Candice Pate, has actually worked out well, enabling artists including Hawke (riding out the pandemic at his family’s Connecticut homestead) and Gadot (based in Los Angeles and pregnant with her third child) to take part.

Films streaming during the fest include a dozen by women directors. Among them are “Everything in the End,” “How It Ends,” “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” “See You Then” and “Women Is Losers.”

“Sun Valley is so core to the fest’s DNA, the intimacy of the mountains, but we are so proud of the 10 years that we’ve got under our belts and really felt that staying on people’s radar screens was critical,” Pate says. “Looking towards 2022, we probably will take our learnings from this year’s online model, and try and incorporate some of this broader exposure, which I think is kind of cool.”