When you think of Idaho, “celebrity hot spot” and “filmmaker destination” probably don’t come to mind. However, the Sun Valley Film Festival is changing that perception, bringing both cinema and activism to the majority red state. Over the past eight years, the picturesque ski-town has attracted the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Oliver Stone, Jodie Foster, Geena Davis, and Clint Eastwood to the week long festival each March. For 2019, the five-day event saw headlining appearances from Chelsea Handler, Aaron Paul, and Meg Ryan as A-list producers and directors flew under the radar in snow boots and ski jackets in between screenings.
The affluent town itself — Ernest Hemingway once called it home — boasts a rich history in art and culture, and the festival has established Sun Valley as a destination for cinephiles and adventurers alike. In fact, attendance this year was double the town’s year-round population.
“Sun Valley is a place which prides itself on low-key sophistication, and we've tried to carry that through the experiences we program at the festival,” says Candice Pate, the festival’s director. “From its roots as the original Hollywood Shangri-la, to the moguls and movie stars who attend the Allen & Co. Conference each July, Sun Valley brings together the right people to drop their egos at the door and drink in the breathtaking views. We welcome movie-lovers to literally get above it all, away from the business of filmmaking to remember the inspiration in the art. The intimate size and scope of the festival brings people together to connect them through the magic of storytelling. It seems to be working, and now it's our job to keep the magic.”
This year’s programming leaned into a slate of environmentalism based documentaries, in addition to feature narratives, including The Biggest Little Farm, Running With Beto, and the world premiere of National Geographic’s series Hostile Planet. For a conservative state whose economy relies heavily on the food processing industry, these seemingly liberal-leaning themes were met not with backlash from local attendees but thoughtful, robust debates.
For example, an unnamed oil company board member engaged with Fisher Stevens in his Q&A about environmentalism impact filmmaking. After assuring Stevens that “there are leaders in the oil industry who do recognize the importance of making shifts in the way we think about energy,” the exec offered him a significant sum of money to fund his upcoming venture. A similar scenario unfolded in a room of expensive cowboy hats after Erika Bergman, one of the world’s only female submarine pilots, promoted her underwater robotics program and her oceanic conservation efforts. A screening of the final documentary feature, Running With Beto, which profiles Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, drew a packed crowd who stuck around for a Q&A with former democratic Idaho Governer candidate Paulette Jordan.
Beyond the theaters, Sun Valley Film Festival’s experiential programming was just as robust as the cinematic slate, with attendees traveling via gondolas (complimentary champagne included) to mountaintop events.
National Geographic hosted a slew of filmmaker discussions and vision dinners, where patrons networked with filmmakers in majestic, hygge-intensive log cabin venues. Premium guests also enjoyed excursions to nearby destination venues, like the iconic Sun Valley Lodge, with legendary nordic ski and spa amenities.
For adventurers and those seeking a less-saturated landscape for art and activism, mark your calendars for Idaho in March. Check out a sneak peek from Sun Valley Film Festival’s world premiere of Hostile Planet, debuting on National Geographic April 1st for Earth Day.