Without much fanfare, Michael Clair and his Western States College (WSC) film program have helped turn Gooding into a growing film destination for south central Idaho. With his first annual Gooding Film Festival slated for Nov. 17 to Nov. 20, Clair is three years in at WSC and on a cinematic roll.
"We are finally making the headway we always dreamed of," he said.
The festival films—numbering nearly a dozen and ranging from commercials to feature-length productions—will play at the Schubert Theatre, at 402 Main St. in Gooding. Each night opens at 7 p.m. and will cost $5 for the entire evening's program, meaning plenty of film for the dollar.
The two features, "Countdown to Destruction" and "Unfinished Business," play on Saturday and Sunday night, respectively.
"Unfinished Business" is the highlight of the festival and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the film's director and writer, Franky Ramont.
Ramont, a deaf filmmaker from Texas, returns to Gooding where she was once a student at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind. A sign-language interpreter will accompany her for the post-screening town hall session.
Ramont's film was completed without sound, music or audible dialogue, but with subtitles, so Ramont approached Clair for help with a soundtrack. He and his WSC students accepted, painstakingly constructing the auditory elements to a film that was originally created with the deaf filmmaker's intensity of vision.
"She has no hearing, so she has to tell her story visually, so she has an edge over us," said Clair of Ramont, WSC's featured filmmaker of the year.
The collaboration has paid off well for both Ramont and the WSC: "Unfinished Business" has been accepted by a handful of prestigious national and international festivals including Cannes (France), Telluride, Austin and the Los Angeles Digital Film Festival.
Prior to Ramont's film, Sunday night's program will open with the 45-minute WSC documentary, "Meth in the Valley," a gritty investigation of southern Idaho's worst drug epidemic. The film represents the college's annual community service project, Clair said.
"Meth in the Valley" was produced and distributed with the help of a $10,000 grant from Magic Valley Regional Hospital.
Upon it's release, the documentary was immediately adopted as an educational tool by various arms of local and state government—schools, police departments and health centers across the state have been ordering copies of the film on DVD.
"Meth in the Valley" takes a comprehensive and detailed look into a growing nationwide drug problem.
"We interviewed addicts, police, judges, psychologists (for the film)," Clair said.
Clair feels strongly about educating people about the scourge of methamphetamine. He has even encouraged underground copies of the DVD with a message on the disc: Record and share the film with anyone who will watch it.
"It's a hideous drug, I can't believe people put it in their body," said Clair of crystal meth, a highly addictive stimulant that can be "cooked" using a variety of household chemicals.
Clair plans on entering "Meth in the Valley" in a number of documentary festivals around the country in 2006.
"The quality is there. It's as good as anything out there," he said.
Next year, Clair also plans on filming "Meth in the Valley II," a follow-up investigation on the lives of the addicts and the drug's ongoing presence in the Magic and Wood River valleys.
On Saturday night, audiences can catch the feature-length, locally produced "Countdown to Destruction."
Written by Lois Glenn of Ketchum, the film is a timely depiction of a United States president wreaking havoc on the environment. After the president's dying mother convinces him to reverse his earth-harming policies, an evil vice-president has him killed.
Glenn submitted a script after she took a screenwriting course at WSC. Eventually, the script was accepted and Clair set about producing a large-scale film, recruiting over 70 Idaho actors and shooting over 50 hours of film locally.
The film had "virtually no budget," but nonetheless looks professional thanks to the plentiful Hollywood quality equipment available to the filmmakers in Gooding, Clair said. WSC has benefited from industry donations of everything from microphones to cutting-edge editing stations.
"None of the actors were paid, none of us were paid. We did it just for the love of doing a real movie," Clair said.
Clair has been doing what he loves for three years in Gooding and now, with an annual film festival to hold, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Festival of films
Films start at 7 p.m. each night from Nov. 17-20. On Saturday, catch locally written and produced "Countdown to Destruction." Sunday, the documentary "Meth in the Valley" precedes "Unfinished Business," the festival's keynote film by Franky Ramont, a deaf Texas filmmaker.
Pull Quote: "Unfinished Business" has been accepted by a handful of prestigious national and international festivals including Cannes.