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Brody Diary Day One: Sun Valley Film Festival Brings Will McCormack, Barbara Kopple and Mariel Hemingway, ‘Wind Walkers’

Brody Diary Day One: Sun Valley Film Festival Brings Will McCormack, Barbara Kopple and Mariel Hemingway, 'Wind Walkers'

Why am I at the Sun Valley Film Festival for its second
annual outing?  Because I ran into film
blogger Michael Guillen, of The Evening Class, at the San Francisco Silent
Film Festival Winter Event on February 16 – a delirious day-long
extravaganza of silent films with eclectic live music accompaniment, a teaser
for the annual four-day festival in July – my favorite among many film festivals in San Francisco.

Michael, longtime San Francisco resident and international
film festival devotee, now divides his time between SF and Boise, Idaho, and
has become deeply involved in the Idaho film world. He’d been deputized by the
Sun Valley Film Festival to invite a few journalists this year. And, it turns
out, running into me in the aisle in the Castro just happened to remind Michael
that I write about film festivals. Invitation proffered, and happily
accepted.  I’ve never been to Idaho,
after all.

Lucky me, as I’ve just had about
as diverse and exciting a film festival day as one could hope
for. I’d heard little about the movies
in the line-up except for the ones I’d seen
already on the festival circuit: “The Sapphires” at Telluride,
Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in Toronto and
“Starlet” in Mill Valley.

And Day One was happily to start slowly, happily because
yesterday’s travel started at 4:20 a.m.. After a change of
planes in Seattle, I was met at Boise by Michael and Peg Owens of the Idaho Film
Office, taken to a quick lunch along with fellow journalist Brandon Harris of
magazine, followed by an even quicker
and dirty radio interview, and piled into a van for the 2 ½ hour drive to Sun
Valley. During which Brandon regaled me with tales of his feet not touching the
ground as he ricocheted from the quirky Eastern Oregon Film Festival
 in La Grande, Oregon, to the Miami International Film
 to a fast few days at South by

Within, it seemed, minutes of checking in to the posh,
storied Sun Valley Lodge,
built in 1936 and a favorite Hollywood retreat since
– a hallway off the lobby is brocaded with dozens of pictures of everybody from
Mary Pickford to Clint and Arnold, with Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Lucy and
Desi, Peter and Jane Fonda, and assorted Kennedys inbetween – we’re treated to
a lavish, somewhat overwhelming, multicultural, multi-ingrediented dinner at
, hosted by Greg Randolph of the Sun
Valley Marketing Alliance. (I had cauliflower bisque, elk loin, and coconut
panna cotta, washed down with Spanish white wine.  By this time I have already accepted more
hospitality than at my last three festivals combined.)

I fully intend to fall asleep within minutes of returning to
the Lodge, but hey!  They have Turner
Classic Movies on the channel lineup!  So
I start watching Lionel Rogosin’s “Black Roots” and fall asleep with the TV on,
just like at home.

Day One looks to be a blessedly light schedule, since I’ve
already seen “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” playing as a freebie at 11
a.m.  It was co-written by Rashida Jones
and Will McCormack, and McCormack is hosting the Screenwriter’s Lab, my first
official Festival event, at 1 p.m., in Ketchum, the town adjacent to Sun

Before it starts, I’m accosted by a beautiful young woman,
Lacey Dorn, who reminds me that we’ve met at Telluride, under the auspices of
Tom Luddy.  She’s here with her first
short film, “Frontera,” which she wrote, directed, edited, and co-starred in –
it’s showing tomorrow, and I promise to see it. 
She’s also finishing a documentary about suicide.

The Lab turns out to be a live staged reading of a pilot
script, “We Are Puppets,” that McCormack sold to Showtime, the day, he tells
us, after the same pitch left HBO cold – “They were not into it,” he
deadpans.  Eleven actors make brisk and
amusing work of the half-hour pilot, which sets up a “Sesame Street”-like
beloved children’s puppet show, whose Jim Henson-like creator’s sudden demise
and subsequent will reveals that, in addition to his two daughters, he had an
unacknowledged (and unaware) son – who has just had a one-night stand with one
of them. No doubt hilarity ensues, but McCormack told us that Showtime, who
encouraged him to let the pair go all the way (he’d pitched it as nothing more
than a good night kiss after a cute meet), is now not producing the pilot. 

Afterwards McCormack and the actors take questions from the
audience. He speaks charmingly about collaborating (Rashida Jones and he “dated
for three weeks in the 90s – she made me cry”), versus writing on your own,
both of which he enjoys.  Influences
include “When Harry Met Sally,” “Broadcast News,” Woody Allen, and he cites
Mike White’s HBO series, “Enlightened,” no surprise after the edgy tone of “We
Are Puppets.” When questioned about writing for movies versus TV, he says that
movies used to be for adults, and television was for kids, but now that seems
to have flipped – pithy and true.

After a brief pause where we’re invited to sip Wyoming
Whiskey in the lobby (I decline, in the interest of staying awake), McCormack
hosts the second part of the lab: he awards the Screenwriter’s Lab winner,
chosen from among three finalists (out of 125 submissions) by Oscar-winning
screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, to Cody Tucker, for “Life of the World to Come.”  McCormack and a number of the actors from “We
Are Puppets” then do a reading of the last 19 pages of the script, an
apocalyptical vision of all the world’s dead returning, naked, to life on
earth, which then begins to fall apart. It’s a lot drier and less amusing than
the previous reading, but its message of the importance of family and “only
connect” gets to me, and I tear up at the end.

A quick stop at the Hospitality Suite, where I compliment
one of the table read actors on the depth of the acting talent in Idaho.  It turns out, of course, that he’s from San
Francisco, where he works with an improv group called Killing My Lobster. Michael, Mr. San Francisco, not only knows
the group but begins doing his favorite routines, some of which, of course, are
to be found on Youtube

There is a tempting table of “Idaho bites” from two local
restaurants, and an even more tempting bar, featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka, a
Festival sponsor, but I head off to the free bus that will take me to the Opera
House, a mile away, for the 5:10 p.m. screening of Barbara Kopple’s new
documentary, “Running from Crazy,” about Ketchum native Mariel Hemingway’s
grappling with her family’s history of mental illness and suicide.

I knew, of course, of her grandfather Ernest’s suicide, his
father’s, and her sister Margaux’s, but it seems there are seven or eight more
that she knows of in her family. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol
exacerbate the underlying psychological problems, and Mariel even reveals that
she suspects her beloved but troubled father Jack of molesting her sisters –
and hints that is why she slept with her mother from the age of 6 to 16,
leaving to live in NY on her own at the age of 16. Hemingway is also filmed
talking about the family’s history with her two daughters, Dree (who I found a
revelation in the starring role of “Starlet” and Langley.  I find myself tearing up again at the end
(yes, I’m a sap). Oprah Winfrey produced the film, which premiered at Sundance
and is doing the Festival circuit now, but one assumes will eventually play on

Hemingway, her business
and personal partner Bobby Williams, Kopple, and the CEO of St. Luke’s, a local
hospital which is currently building a sorely needed mental health clinic and
sponsored tonight’s screening, are onstage for a Q and A.  Hemingway says she agreed to do it because
Kopple made her feel safe.  Kopple tells
us that she discovered that her sound man, Alan Barker, had entirely
coincidentally been a cameraman on a 1984 documentary that Margaux Hemingway
made about Ernest and her family, and in addition had discovered 43 hours of
additional period footage in an archive, unbeknownst to Mariel, who first saw
it when she viewed a rough cut and was moved to see revelatory scenes of her
parents during their nightly “wine time” in their Ketchum kitchen, exactly as
she had remembered and described them.

I leave before the Q-and-A is over to catch a
shuttle back down to Ketchum and a Work-in-Progress screening of a horror film,
“Wind Walkers,” in which a group of
friends head into the Everglades for a hunting trip that goes very bad indeed,
apocalyptical even, and perhaps the beginning of the end of the world.  (It seems to be a thing.) So are mutli-hyphenates like director-writer-co-star, Russell Friedenberg,
who chats with the audience afterwards about their concerns.

I stop by the Opening Night
party at the Casino
, which I’m told was, yes, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite dive
bar.  It’s rather a clean well-lighted
space, for a dive bar. There are pool tables, a long bar backed with many bottles,
and a bartender who sweetly refuses to take my money when I attempt to treat a
festival publicist to a cup of coffee.

I ask another Idaho Film Office stalwart, the lively Diane Norton, if anybody asked about Hemingway’s
revelation of molestation after I left. Yes, she says, a woman who said she
loved Jack seemed horrified that Mariel would mention such a thing, and
Hemingway responded that she felt obliged to tell the truth, even knowing that
her father was a beloved local character.

I am sorely tempted, but instead opt for a ride back to the
Lodge when the party’s live music starts up at the Casino – not a comment on
the group’s prowess, just a nod to (a) the fact that conversation is now
impossible and (b) I have a deadline.

And tomorrow the day starts at 10 a.m, with a conversation
with Stephen Gaghan, and there are six movie slots following, in five different
venues. Give me strength.

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