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Return to Sender Production. Image courtesy Karla Petermann Return to Sender Production. Image courtesy Karla Petermann

Sandpoint's growing film scene

Ahhh, swimming pools. Movie stars. The glitter and glam of the red carpet at the Academy Awards. That’s Hollywood, right? Not quite. That’s the Hollywood the camera lets the audience see. Behind the scenes, there’s some hard work happening there. Most days, a filmmaker’s schedule runs seven days a week for three full months, or longer for a major summer blockbuster. While Sandpoint hasn’t yet reached the major hub proportions of the Los Angeles film industry, there’s a strong and growing film scene in this sleepy little town.

“Experienced crews and creative disciplines like L.A. are lacking, but it’s moving forward all the time,” said Sandpoint resident and veteran filmmaker Ted Parvin (Romancing the Stone, Psycho, Around The World in Eighty Days, Meteor) and costumer for noted directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Anderson.

Idaho’s Northwest Film Institute is also Parvin’s brainchild. His vision was for peers to pass on their expertise to the next generation of filmmakers, maybe as the veterans of his filmmaking days did for him.

“The most important thing I learned from working with Mr. Hitchcock was the psychology behind the camera with regards to movement and placement in telling a story with pictures,” Parvin said.

Sandpoint filmmakers interested in expanding their skills can find a home at NFI in two-year disciplines in the fields of Motion Picture Production, Directing, Cinematography, Screenwriting, Editing and Art Direction.

Parvin is also a member of the KNIFVES group, (Kootenai North Idaho Film and Video Entertainment Society), that hosts professional workshops and luncheons in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane. The group boasts two Academy Award Winning documentary directors, and other members, like Parvin, who are actively involved with filmmaking. This is one of the main hubs for filmmaker involvement here.

“Four years ago, a film company from Los Angeles asked if I would be the Line Producer on an independent feature to be shot in the North Idaho. Through that experience, I came to discover that northern Idaho was teaming with top notch film and video professionals,” W.J. Lazerus, Founder and President of KNIFVES, said in an interview.

“In January of 2006, I decided to call up a few of these professionals for a lunch, so we could get together and swap production stories in a relaxed atmosphere. There were only four of us at that first lunch,” Lazerus said.

The next meeting grew to eight and the third to 16. By the fourth meeting there were over 50 members. Today there are nearly 80 KNIFVES members. In November of 2008, the IRS accepted the group’s not-for-profit designation. One of the group’s main goals also is to pass on skills to the next generation of filmmakers.

“Topics for our monthly meetings have included the Idaho Film Incentive Legislative efforts, the economic and social impact of filming in our area, the business of film producing and financing, film and video capabilities and equipment in Northern Idaho, acting talent for stage and screen, Special Industry speakers from Hollywood, Northern Idaho Film Festivals and special performances by regional theatrical groups,” Lazerus said.

“As a part of KNIFVES, we have established four special interest groups: production, writing, acting and women in media,” Lazerus said. “These groups meet every other month and help in training and resources for members interested in those career paths. We also host seminars taught by industry leaders as part of the KNIFVES KNOWledge Series to help train our local workforce.”

Three upcoming KNIFVES seminars are “Production Assistant’s Workshop,” “Production Scheduling” and “Production Budgeting.”

KNIFVES is currently holding a screenwriting contest for short film script entries. KNIFVES members will produce the short project this summer. Top movie professionals in the group act as mentors during the film productions.

Lazerus is also one of five board members of the state sponsored Idaho Film Advisory Committee and is on the Executive Board of Idaho Media Professionals.

Parvin got involved in film here on a much different level than in Hollywood’s golden days.

“After teaching a class on film production, I was asked to help on a short film that Mitchell Fullerton wanted to make,” Parvin said. Fullerton is Sandpoint Films’ coordinator and stage manager and one of the people behind the Lakedance International Film Festival held locally since 2006.

The Lakedance International Film Festival was founded by Fred and Trevor Greenfield, a father-son team, as the Idaho Panhandle International Film Festival, and was originally a three-day event at Schweitzer Mountain and the historic Panida Theater. Since, the event has grown to a seven-day full blown festival and was renamed to its current marquee. The festival is dedicated to screening international independent films including 50 or more dramas, comedies, documentaries and thrillers. Special categories include students, Northwest USA, Idaho, experimental, and music videos.

Another venue for filmmakers is the Panida Theatre. Karen Bowers, the theatre’s director, has a longstanding Hollywood acting career. She has dedicated the screen there to a first-rate sense of taste in arthouse cinema, a creative line of films that tend to be more culturally and cult-following oriented. This little gem of a theatre, on the National Register of Historic Places, opened as a Vaudeville stage in 1927. Its name is constructed from just as unique a connection of letters: PANhandle of IDAho, or Panida.

Local documentary director and producer Karla Petermann and local screenwriter Mary Wolkosz started a film screening series at the library this last spring. With the help of the library’s screening license, that group grew to about 30 members over the course of the series and screened and commented on a number of very popular films from female directors like Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), currently directing the Johnny Depp film Shantaram in India, and Mongolian and Academy Award nominated director Byambasuren Davaa (Cave of the Yellow Dog).

“The film series was actually very easy to launch, mostly as a result of the library’s support,” Wolkosz said in an interview. “They were as excited as we were, providing assistance in every way we asked and then some. The library provided the room and technical equipment, produced our marketing flyer and photocopies of our weekly handouts, ordered and reserved films we selected for the film series. They even provided us with popcorn and snacks to create a theatre-like environment for participants. This would not have happened without the Sandpoint library. They have incredible staff and a fabulous film collection.”

Wolkosz came to Sandpoint from the Seattle area and is interested in film as a global story-telling and myth-making medium, and the role that women play in that.

A second film screening series will be announced for Fall. Watch the library’s events calendar for more information.

Petermann has been so involved in film in Sandpoint there is hardly a group here that does not have some of her handiwork on its structure or operating arrangements.

“In 2005, I met Ted Parvin when he held a two-day film class at the library in Sandpoint,” Petermann said in an interview. “Subsequently Ted and I, along with several other interested filmmakers, began collaborating on film projects in North Idaho.  Up to that point, I wasn’t aware of anyone else interested in or even working in filmmaking in or out of Idaho.”

The Sandpoint film scene has grown significantly over the last few years. Petermann attributes that to a few local sources for that growth.

“It has grown in the sense that working filmmakers have moved to Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and other local areas,” Petermann said. “I have seen more novice filmmakers become involved, which is largely due to the efforts of Sandpoint Films and the film program taught by Jeannie Hunter at Sandpoint High School.”

But this new growth is in a rickety position due to lack of state funding.

“New pros are moving here, but they still have to leave the state to work since the Idaho Congress did not fund the film incentive bill passed last year,” Petermann said. “If that doesn’t change, these pros might be forced to relocate out of state.  I know of a couple people who have left Sandpoint because of that.”

In another effort to promote film in this area, Petermann was part of the original Sandpoint Films group.

“After working on a film called Sandpoint Punchline with Ted Parvin and several others, a few of those folks decided to put together a local film production company,” Petermann said. “In the spring of 2006, myself, Janice Jarzabek, Pat Ficek, Mitchell Fullerton and Rick Sierra formed Sandpoint Films, a not-for-profit filmmaking company. We held several workshops and shot several film shorts in a workshop capacity to offer apprentice positions for local novice filmmakers to learn the mechanics of filmmaking.”

Petermann is currently producing and directing a documentary with Pat Ficek.  The working title is Sandpoint Wonder Pets, a film about Sandpoint businesses and locals and their relationships with their pets.  

For more information, visit these sites on the web: www.KNIFVES.org; www. Lakedance.com; www.Panida.org and www.nwfilm.org

Photos: (p.4) Pat Ficek and Eric Howell on the set of “Return to Sender.” Photo courtesy Mitchell Fullerton (p.40) Pat Ficek films Karla Petermann for their new documentary “Wonder Pets,” while Dave Gunter takes photos. This page, shooting on location at the Sandpoint Cemetery in November 2007 of Petermann’s film “Return to Sender,” which was accepted into the Lakedance Film Festival. Photos courtesy of Karla Petermann.

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Kriss Perras Running Waters Kriss Perras Running Waters is an American female screenwriter, film director and publisher. She is a former Ocean Systems Technician Maintainer for the US Navy, and was the publisher of both PCH Press and the Malibu Arts Journal.

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From the set of Sandpoint's Wonder Pets From the set of Return to Sender Katie Edwards Pat Ficek and Eric Howell Ted Parvin and Idaho Rep. Eric Anderson

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