Adam West
Adam West

I, who was scared I’d fall while walking down the dark theater aisle, still don’t understand exactly what motivates these folks to endure the dangerous climb. Especially when told that for every four people who have reached the summit, another one has died. Seems impossibly lousy odds. 

Exceptionally, instead of rushing off to another movie, my Ketchum cousin Diana and I had a nice lunch – turkey-squash-cranberry salad for her, wiener schnitzel, cabbage, and potato salad for me-- at the nearby mittel-European and charming Konditorei, which also boasts glass-fronted cases full of beautiful baked goods.

Afterwards Diana dropped me off at the Magic Lantern cinema in Ketchum in time for me to catch Lacey Dorn’s assured short film “Frontera," in which a young Texas ranch wife, facing financial ruin, agrees to be a drug runner, with an unpredictable denouement.  I was stressed and engrossed during its brief 15 minutes, but brought up a bit short by its brisk, abrupt, and shocking ending. 

Luckily on my way out I ran into Will McCormack and two of the actors who’d participated in his “We Are Puppets” reading, who I’d happened to sit next to yesterday during Barbara Kopple’s “Running from Crazy” documentary about Mariel Hemingway’s family history of madness and suicide (more on Day One here), and who’d invited me to see their short “No Love Song” in Saturday’s Shorts Program 1. They’d just seen “Frontera,” and together we reconstructed the ending to our satisfaction.

I rushed off to a 3 p.m. press conference for what we’d been told was exciting news, and learned of a partnership among Nat Geo WILD, the Sun Valley Film Festival, and the African Wildlife Foundation: the first annual WILD to INSPIRE Short Film Competition, accepting submissions starting April 1st through October 1st of nature films no longer than 5 minutes.

The top three finalists will be screened at the 2014 Sun Valley Film Festival, and the grand prize winner will receive a trip to AWF’s African nature park in Tanzania, apprenticing with a National Geographic filmmaker. I won a ton of swag, including a fancy journal, a chic gray knit cap, and something called a paracord, which I was told was a “survival bracelet.”

Afterwards it seemed appropriate to attend the 3:45 screening of Nat Geo Wild’s “The Wild West,” one of a three-part series set to debut on the network in June, back at the Opera House. Upon entering I was given two more chic knitted caps, one in black-and-white, one in red. Thank you, Nat Geo Wild!

Luckily for me, this story of the various wild inhabitants of the Western desert – gila monsters, rattlesnakes, scorpions, hawks, buzzards, mustangs – was influenced stylistically and tonally by spaghetti westerns, a favorite genre of mine, and “Rango,” which I also enjoyed – and, the cherry on the sundae, the somewhat cutesy anthropomorphized narration was lent gravitas by the insinuating voice of Timothy Olyphant, another weakness of mine.

In the same venue at 5:30, the labor of love “Starring Adam West” documentary, helmed by James Tooley, Ketchum-born-and-bred filmmaker son-in-law of West, was pure pleasure. There’s the inherent charm of the puckish, witty 84-year-old West, the poignant nature of West’s career – three years of success as Batman, followed by decades of struggling to escape typecasting, and a current renaissance of voice-over work for Seth MacFarlane and adulation from Comicon crowds – and a cleverly intertwined multi-year quest of getting West a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  We expected the Ketchum-dweller to appear onstage afterwards, alongside his beautiful daughter Nina, Tooley, the film’s editor, Matthew Johnston, and cinematographer Blair Madigan, but were told he was home sick, alas.  Tales were told of raising half the film’s budget through Kickstarter, and locking the print just last week.  A distributor will be sought through the film festival circuit – “We’re taking business cards!”

I stuck around for the 8:00 p.m. screening of “Chlorine,” an independent feature with an intriguing cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, Kyra Sedgwick, Michele Hicks, Dreama Walker – and more familiar faces popped up as the film unspooled, including Tom Sizemore and Elizabeth Röhm.  I found the tone unsettling: the central family of D’Onofrio and Sedgwick and their two adolescent children all seemed in crisis, and all the people surrounding them were cruel, feckless, betraying, and mean-spirited. I was reminded of “American Beauty,” but less so.  Amazingly, after everybody did everybody dirt, there was a surprisingly sweet-tempered ending, in which at least D’Onofrio and Sedgwick seemed reconciled.

Writer/Director Jay Alaimo, carefully and stylishly dressed in a cool aesthetic of plaid trousers, blue shirt, dotted tie, and corduroy jacket, seemed almost apologetic, oddly modest, self-deprecating, and very soft-spoken – he didn’t use the mic he was given, and we strained to hear both him and the questions from the sliver of the audience that stuck around. 

Even though I hadn’t really warmed to the film, I was immediately impressed when he said it had been shot in 17 days, which seemed almost impossible (especially when he said that many other scenes that he shot didn’t make it into the film), on a tiny budget, in super 16.  I was interested in a discussion of side-by-side testing of the Alexa digital camera and 35mm Fuji film for a new project – he preferred the digital – and just shot a project he directed for hire, “The World Within,” digitally with two cameras at once, not only saving time but, he said, capturing amazing energy in performances.

Still, I was left with two wistful soundbites: “I think this film [“Chlorine”] has been jinxed in a lot of ways that make me laugh,” and what he said was a quote: “Filmmaking is the least artistic of all the arts” – to which Amaino added “It’s true, and it’s a bummer.”

I mused as I walked back to the Lodge on how both the ebullient Gaghan and subdued Amaino had said that they knew they wanted to be writers from the age of seven.  (Separated today only by a dozen hours and, well, don’t ask.)  I peeked into the crowded Duchin bar off the lobby, where a jazzy piano/drums/bass trio was playing a song from a Broadway musical that I almost recognized and knew I liked.  People were dancing, ballroom-style!  Festive.