On the eve of the 11th annual Sun Valley Film Festival, Vision Award honorees Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler are both experiencing a bit of déjà vu.
For three-time Oscar nominee Harrelson, it’s because he has just learned that his role in the reboot of his 1992 big-screen breakthrough, “White Men Can’t Jump,” will be played by rapper Jack Harlow.
“I don’t know him, but it’s fine with me,” Harrelson says. “I’ll look him up now. I don’t see [myself] being in it, but I feel great about them doing a remake. I just hope he’s a better ball player!”
For Poehler, talking about the fest, which takes place March 30-April 3 in Sun Valley and Ketchum, Idaho, makes her feel a bit like history is repeating. The Emmy-winning “SNL” co-host and “Parks and Recreation” alumna was set to receive the Vision Award in March 2020, but COVID reared its ugly head and the fest was canceled just days before its launch. In 2021, with the pandemic still ablaze, SVFF segued into a virtual online mode. Now, it’s finally back to an in-person event.
And Poehler’s award is ready to be polished and handed out to the veteran comic.
“It’s wild. It’s like time paused, yet it kept going!” Poehler says. “We all thought, ‘I’m sure in a couple weeks it will be fine.’ So when it came back around, I was thrilled.”
Sun Valley fest founder-executive director Teddy Grennan and festival director Candice Pate couldn’t agree more.
“It was by demand that we’re back this year,” Grennan says. “Everyone’s been dying to get out and do things.”
The fest is honoring “Dopesick” showrunner Danny Strong with its prestigious Pioneer Award, presented by Variety. The cast of Netflix’s “Outer Banks” — Chase Stokes, Madelyn Cline, Madison Bailey, Jonathan Daviss, Rudy Pankow, Austin North, Drew Starkey and Carlacia Grant — will receive the Rising Star Award, and Nathalie Dougé, star of the pandemic doc “The First Wave,” will be honored with National Geographic’s Further Award.
“Wave” is one of more than 25 narrative and documentary features set to screen in the ski resort town, and passholders from around the country will be able to view many of the films online. The fest opens with two films, the award-winning volcano chronicle “Fire of Love” from National Geographic Documentary Films and the feature film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s final novel “Across the River and Into the Trees,” starring six-time Golden Globe nominee Liev Schreiber. The fest closes with CNN Films/HBO Max’s timely Russian politics doc “Navalny,” which screened at Sundance Film Festival this year, winning two awards at the storied fest.
For Harrelson and Poehler, who will each participate in Coffee Talk events, SVFF offers a chance to reflect on their decades-long careers and how they’ve managed to branch out into producing and directing without being pigeonholed.
“I’ve got one word for you: luck,” says Harrelson of his success in the biz. “Back when I was on ‘Cheers,’ playing this naive, affable bartender, I really did worry that that might be the only part I’d ever do. At that time, you couldn’t jump from TV to film easily, but there was a lucky sequence of movies that helped move me out of just that one category.”
Poehler is netting raves for directing her first doc, “Lucy and Desi,” which centers on the seemingly idyllic marriage and eventual break-up of Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz. But Poehler is clear to point out that her 2012 split from husband, Will Arnett, was not a motivation to tackle this documentary project.
“Comparisons between people are really not what I’m in the business of doing, certainly when it comes to myself,” Poehler says. “There were certainly ways in [for me], in terms of Lucy as a woman in comedy, a public person, a hard- working person and a working mother. But after that, I felt like I needed to just be an observer and less of a person who is connecting the dots, because you could start to get a little too ‘snake-eating-its-tail.’”
Grennan and Pate note that fest attendees can expect some big surprises at the producer-focused event before and after hitting the slopes in the famed ski resort town.
Along with the fest’s Screenwriters Lab — hosted by Sundance film fest director of programming Trevor Groth — and the High Scribe screenplay competition, there is an eclectic mix of films, from the sci-fi dramedy “Linoleum,” starring Jim Gaffigan, to French auteur Claire Denis’ romantic drama “Fire” with Juliette Binoche.
“One of the things that sets us apart is this high-level quality of films mixed with an intimate environment that’s accessible — the antithesis of Aspen,” Pate says. “There’s no secret industry event that you can’t get access to if you’re willing to support us, and not even at crazy levels. It’s what makes us unique.”