by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he general trend in film festivals is that you start small and, through buzz, cred and community-building exercises -- over a period of years -- you grow your festival to a size that's supportable by the arts community in your town. That's how it was done from Cannes to Sundance to Spokane. When you're a town with identity issues like Sandpoint, though, that growth model gets a little muddy. On one hand, you've got a strong base of old-guard hippy artist/survivalists (along with their Kerouac- and H.S. Thompson-worshipping offspring) creating and supporting an arts scene much bigger than a town like Sandpoint should be able to handle. On the other hand -- and at the opposite end of the spectrum -- is an indeterminately large influx of retirees, power players and Hollywood brass looking to spend their summers and winters in conspicuous consumption at libertarian tax rates.
With this strange dichotomy at play, it's a little unclear just how big Sandpoint's arts community might be. Likewise, it's a little tough to judge what kind of film festival they're trying to put on. The Idaho Panhandle International Film Festival, in its first year, mirrors the town in many ways, displaying the same bright lights, small city schizophrenia. At year one, it's already bigger, in some respects, than Spokane's 9-year-old semi-institution. They'll show a dizzying 55 films in three days, Aug. 24-26, with a free sneak peak of the festival's jewel, The Trouble with Dee Dee, having shown on Aug. 23. Dee Dee is an heiress and socialite; the trouble begins when daddy disowns her.
They're organizing it, though, like a small festival. The only individual screenings are the two showings of Dee Dee that bookend the festival. The rest of the multifarious shorts, docs and feature length films are arranged into three-hour blocks of time that share loose themes and MPAA ratings. The highlights:
Block One: Learning Something Mature Thurs., 11:30 am-2:30 pm & r & Seven shorts surround a 45-minute film about the peaceful teamwork of Crow Indians and white men as they reenact the bloody skirmishes between the Crow and the U.S. Cavalry.
Block Two: Wildflowers Mature Thurs., 3:30-6:30 pm & r & Journeyman is a road film born in the wake of 9/11. (What isn't?) In search of her father, young Anna retraces his steps.
Block Three: Jungles and Small Towns Mature Thurs., 7:30-11 pm & r & A dude obsessively searches for a tree that apparently cures AIDS in the doc Eco-Traveler Safari: Sarawak. Another film, The Garage, is about a kid who keeps finding reasons not to leave the small town he hates.
Block Four: Treasures, Ideas and Heroes PG-13 Fri., 11:30 am-2:30 pm & r & The Treasure of Costa Rica is a decade-and-a-half-old Indiana Jonesy docu-drama about, you guessed it, a treasure in Costa Rica. The film, though, has taken on new significance as a document of a coastal culture largely wiped out by modernization.
Block Five: The Human Drama Mature Fri., 3:30-6:30 pm & r & The most wankerishly innocuous block title hides perhaps the three most salacious films of the festival. Aimee Price, Die Besucher and Five Moments of Infidelity examine emotional fulfillment as a function of sex and togetherness.
Block Six: Bachelors and Bigfoots Mature Fri., 7:30-11 pm & r & From serious to slapdash, the centerpiece of this absurd-sounding block is a film called Bachelorman, starring ... David DeLuise (Dom's son). We'll let you knock this one out of the park yourselves. And Bigfoot's Eulogy plays, too.
Block Seven: All Ages ... All Genres Rated G Sat., 11:30 am-2:30 pm & r & The only kid-centric block of film is not only thematically appropriate, it's tailored to fit those squirrelly little tykes and their five-minute attention spans. The longest of the 13 films clocks in at just about 18 minutes.
Block Eight: Looking for Answers Mature Sat., 3:30-7 pm & r & Preceded by four interpersonal dramas, this block ends with two shorts, Valour and Kuwait, which examine the trauma of war from different perspectives and across a century. The first is a lone survivor's recounting of a failed WWI offensive, while Kuwait tells the story of a captured reporter and her psychological duel with her captors. Looking for My Brother rounds out the block.
Block Nine: Awarding the Eagles PG-13 Sat., 8:30-11 pm & r & The final block begins with a two-hour, 15-category award ceremony that promises clips of each nominated film and the presentation of the glorious and prestigious awards for best feature, documentary and short. And though it doesn't have the Francophonically satisfying ring of the Palme d'Or, we're sure the winning filmmakers will be thrilled to take home the "Soaring Eagle."
An encore presentation of The Trouble with Dee Dee closes the festival.
IPIFF at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 24-26. Show times listed above. Festival passes: $49, walk-ups available for each block on a first-come basis. Visit www.ipiff.com or call 208-597-0961.