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

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood March 15, 2013 at 1:02PM

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.
Celeste and Jesse Forever

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 OWN.

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.

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Sun Valley Film Festival

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.