Shining a Spot Light on Sun Valley Film Festival’s Laura Mehlhaff


by Pamela Kleibrink Thompson, photography courtesy of Sun Valley Film Festival

Boise native Laura Mehlhaff—Director of Programming of the Sun Valley Film Festival (SVFF)—has worked in film in Los Angeles, New York City, Baltimore, and Albuquerque, but is enthusiastic about growing the film industry in Idaho. While working on a feature film in Los Angeles, she was invited to lunch by Heather Rae—a former Idaho-based producer—and was introduced to Teddy Grennan. “Teddy was interested in starting a film festival in Sun Valley, which I thought was neat, but didn’t give it much thought,” shares Mehlhaff. “Flash forward to a few weeks before the first festival, and Heather recommended Teddy contact me when he told her he was looking for additional staff for the fest. After helping launch the first installment, Teddy asked me to come on board as the Director of Programming, which has been my role ever since.”SV2

Mehlhaff had been involved behind the scenes peripherally at the True West Cinema Festival, a Boise-based festival that ran for a number of years. As a filmmaker, Mehlhaff attended marquee festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto) and often was the point person for materials/information that was needed by the festival in order to properly showcase the films she worked on. “I came to SVFF with a solid base knowledge of what would be required and what questions to ask. My experience as a filmmaker made me fall in love with the film culture that festivals celebrate,” she says.

The Sun Valley Film Festival has something for everyone. “We celebrate varied aspects of film culture, and showcase films from hard-to-find indie gems to arthouse theater stalwarts. Between the films, panels, guest speakers, parties, and other events, people of all interests tend to find something that resonates. While there are all-inclusive passes for those who want to participate in everything, we have plenty on the docket that is either free or sold on an individual ticket basis.”

When asked what she likes most about Boise, Mehlhaff answered, “Public support of art and creative endeavors of all kinds. Boise is primed for things new and exciting. And while there have always been amazingly creative and bold movements in Boise, it seems that the public is ready, now more than ever, to show up and help keep things in momentum.”

Now in its fifth year, there are a lot of wonderful things that make the Sun Valley Film Festival unique, but one of the things that sets SVFF apart is the level of accessibility. “Accessibility was an important goal for us from the onset, and is even more important as we continue to grow in size. A great example of our commitment to accessibility is our Coffee Talks series. Coffee Talks is often hailed as the ‘crown jewel’ of our festival; it’s a chance to hear from some dynamos in the world of film regarding their experiences and what they’ve learned along the way, as well as an interactive Q&A session. We’ve had amazing speakers including Jodie Foster, Kevin Smith, and Bruce Dern, and the Coffee Talks are always free and open to the public. It is important to us that filmmakers and film lovers are able to participate in our festival.”

Sun Valley Film Festival
March 2-6, 2016
PO Box 3471
Sun Valley, ID 83353


What advice do you have for filmmakers?SV3

“Be adaptable. Someone once told me that all filmmakers should know what both their ‘dream job’ in film would be, and what their ‘day job’ in film could be. To work on both and give yourself options. For example, if you want to be a director, find out what ‘in demand’ job will help get you the experience and connections you need. Be willing to work your way up. With so much access to decent equipment and other elements necessary to make a film, a lot of people are prone to just jump to whatever their dream position in film is, without doing the work to make sure they really have a foundation and know what they should to be successful. Be prepared to learn from mistakes and handle failure. One of the best ways to know one’s strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker is to go out and make films.”