Grand Teton Film Festival features and inspires local filmmakers
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REXBURG — Hundreds of people filled the Rexburg Tabernacle on Saturday for the inaugural Grand Teton Film Festival award show and concert. It was an evening full of music, laughter and the celebration of cinema.
Many attendees also saw it as a testament to the power of film as an art form and a huge step forward in east Idaho’s cultural development.
Although the festival featured films from across the world, many were produced locally. Throughout the night, film after film featured locations easily recognizable to those who know the area.
And it became evident that not only do people in east Idaho love watching movies, they love making them.
“There’s a lot of talent — not just the university students here,” said Steven Vest, the festival’s founder. “There’s a lot of people who love to make videos and are good at it.”
Vest saw the wealth of talent and the lack of venues for local filmmakers to display their work and thought he would create something east Idaho sorely needed. He and a team put together an event that would not only give filmmakers a chance to show their films but also to learn from and network with industry professionals.
“I think the film community in eastern Idaho seems to be pretty underserved,” said Vest. “Even in Idaho in general, there’s a lack of support for independent filmmakers. So a lot of the talented people throughout Idaho are not very represented. So they try to get their films into other festivals to try to get noticed.”
Many of those involved in making the films see themselves as storytellers.
“I like the ability to tell a story and hope that maybe one person in the audience can relate to it,” said McKenna Steel, the female lead of the multi-award-winning short “Dream Girl.” “That’s how I got started in acting. I went and saw ‘Newsies’ on Broadway and walked out feeling inspired and like I could take on the world. I just felt empowered as a creative person to go do good in the world, and I was like, ‘Wow. If I can make anybody feel as uplifted and empowered as I feel now, I will count my life as successful.’
Aaron Johnson, a Wisconsin-based filmmaker whose animated documentary short, “Hoan Alone,” bagged the Honorable Mention award, expressed similar feelings.
“I’ve always been a storyteller,” he said. “The best way as a child for me to tell stories was through pictures. It’s always been about telling a story and creating worlds and creating characters.”
“Hoan Alone” tackles the connections between several people and a bridge in Milwaukee that’s well-known as a site for suicides. Johnson said he tried to handle the subject with extreme care, and he hopes the audience will feel that.
“It’s difficult subject matter, but hopefully done in a positive, hopeful way,” said Johnson. “The fact that it’s animated, I think it has an intimate feeling, and I hope it done with care and an artistry people appreciate.”
Johnson said collaboration and bringing in new blood are keys to nurturing the local film community.
“Things like this festival is a great start,” he said, “Having events like this where people can network and meet each other is important. But more important is if someone is on the fringes of wanting to start filmmaking, they can come to a festival like this and see things that people locally or who are just starting out are doing, and it gives them the motivation that ‘Yes, I can do this too.'”