The 19th Big Sky Documentary Film Festival unveiled its lineup Thursday from February 18-27, with in-person screenings at venues across Missoula and a virtual festival available to anyone, anywhere from February 21-March 3.
A total of 50 non-fiction feature films and 95 short films from around the world will be screened.
Executive Director Rachel Gregg listed highlights such as a slew of films relevant to Montana and the West, adventurous titles (including Antarctica), a slew of native shorts, original offerings like ” Cat Daddies”, and more.
So far in the pandemic, Gregg said, “we’re starting to see passion projects” that filmmakers have been saving until the time is right.
“They’re very happy that we’re hosting in-person screenings of their films,” she said, and many are planning to come.
When deciding to return to theaters, organizers spoke of “everything that is lost when we don’t have that collective experience,” she said. Reactions from others (even under masks) and a sense of civic engagement are essential, she added.
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After an online-only festival in 2021, films will screen at the Wilma, Zootown Arts Community Center Show Room, Roxy Theater and some at the Missoula Community Theater Center for the Performing Arts. DocShop Film Conference events will be held at the Missoula Public Library.
The majority of the films will be available for on-demand home streaming from February 21 to March 3 via the Eventive platform. The shorts will be in place throughout this time, while the feature films will go live the day after their in-person premiere and remain available for four days.
There are 50 world premieres and 21 North American premieres. The open call attracted over 2,000 submissions from 84 countries.
Viewers will likely notice that many films will feel relevant to Montana and the American West, Gregg said.
“Up on the Mountain” by Olivier Matthon and Michael Reis, a world first, follows mushroom pickers, including refugees from Southeast Asia, immigrants from Central and South America and poor rural people. They travel across the United States to pick mushrooms on public land to sell to restaurants, leading to access disputes.
Tasha Van Zandt’s “After Antarctica,” a Montana first, charts Will Steger’s crossing of the icy continent three decades ago as he prepares to revisit the feat in a modified climate.
Inhabitants of Costa Boutsikaris and Anna Palmer, a first in Montana, examines indigenous land stewardship techniques that are again being employed in the United States. The festival also features the Nia Tero Reciprocity Project with short films by Indigenous storytellers.
Sara Terry’s “A Decent Home,” a North West first, examines the threats to low-income housing that mobile home parks provide when investment and private equity firms buy them up.
The program is divided into thematic sections on the festival website. Those who need something light or unusual can check out “Stranger Than Fiction.” It features offerings like Mye Hoang’s “Cat Daddies,” a “tender portrait” of eight male cat owners and their relationships with their pets.
Sports fans take note of Ira McKinley and Bhawin Suchak’s ‘Outta the Muck’, an examination of ‘family, football and history’ of black families across generations in Florida, according to the film’s website .
In the “Made in Montana” category, there are a number of Missoula-related films.
“Daughter of a Lost Bird,” directed by Polson’s Brooke Pepion Swaney, has been in the works for years. She and co-producer Kendra Mylenchuk Potter tell the story of Potter, an Indigenous woman who was adopted and raised by a white family. In the film, she “reconnects with her birth family, learns about her Lummi heritage, and confronts issues of her own identity,” according to the film’s website. This is the film’s first screening in Montana – it premiered at the Maoriland Film Festival last year.
Director Dillon Drew Xanthopoulos’ “Fathom” follows two scientists from around the world as they study communication between humpback whales. An AppleTV+ movie, it screened in Missoula last summer.
EW Ristau’s ‘Return to the Big Skies: Miss Montana to Normandy’ documents efforts to repair a D-3 smokejumper-turned-bomber plane and fly it to Europe for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, according to the Big Site Internet of the sky. It’s “a story of community resilience and an interesting tribute to the history of the plane itself,” Gregg said.
Those three people were all part of the nonprofit festival’s fiscal sponsorship program that provides funding, mentorship and administrative support, Gregg said.
“Meantime” by Missoula director Michael Workman documents his father’s life after a work-related stroke. It’s “a deeply personal exploration of memory, guilt, labor, and the attempt to preserve the ephemeral,” according to the festival’s website.
The DocShop is back, with filmmakers and professionals taking part in panels February 21-25 on the fourth floor of MPL. The filmmakers will compete for funding through Big Sky Pitch.
In person and online
The calendar will increase on January 24. Passes are on sale now and individual tickets go on sale January 31. Room capacity will be limited to 50% to 75%, with the potential for additional openings depending on circumstances.
Last year, the virtual festival drew just over 30,000 movie views from all but one state and 35 countries, Gregg said. The ability to cast a wide net for the public is “exciting” to keep delivering.
“We’re hearing very positive feedback from our audience about this option,” she said.
Meanwhile, holiday sales for passes were “easily triple what they have been in the past,” an indicator that audiences are eager to return to theaters, she said. The virtual pass is $100 or $150 for a household.
They encourage people to buy in advance to avoid any queues and must create an account with their details in case contact tracing is needed. Masks will be mandatory.
More announcements are forthcoming, including the opening night movie, closing night, and centerpiece. This year, they have chosen not to organize retrospectives of filmmakers.
They have created a “How to Fest” page and a virtual guide to the festival with all the information about bigskyfilmfest.org.