IMPACT | The 13th Annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Continues
Film Festival highlights and memorable moments from the first week of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
CONGRATS TO THE BIG SKY DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS!
Mini-Doc Competition – films 15 minutes and under
Winner: MINING, POEMS, OR ODES, directed by Callum Rice
Robert, an ex-shipyard welder from Scotland, reflects on how his life experience’s have influenced his new found compulsion to write. His retrospective poetry revels a man who is trying to achieve a state of contentment through words and philosophy.
Artistic Vision Award. Mini-Doc Competition: A CEREBRAL GAME, directed by Reid Davenport
Short Competition – films between 15 and 40 minutes in length
Winner: DAGUAVA DELTA, directed by Rainer Komers
Far from the centre of the city Riga and separated by the historical Spilve Airport with adjoining large allotment site, the suburbs Bolderāja and Daugavgriva are a kind of social island or biotope – a blend of apartment and detached family houses, backyards, shipyards, docks, yacht club, sea academy, historic fortress and barracks. Here, where the Daugava River flows into the Bay of Riga, anglers crowd the sunny mole during the spawning season of sprat, while veterans in the local pub are in memorial of their fallen fathers on Victory Day.
Artistic Vision Award, Short Competition: ZONE BLANCHE, directed by Gaëlle Cintré
Big Sky Award – Presented to one film that artistically honors the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West.
Winner: HUNTING IN WARTIME, directed by Samantha Farinella
Hunting in Wartime profiles Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska who saw combat during the Vietnam War. The veterans talk about surviving trauma, relating to Vietnamese civilians, readjusting to civilian life, and serving a government that systematically oppresses native people. Their stories give an important human face to the combat soldier and show the lasting affects of war on individuals, families and communities.
Feature Competition – films over 40 minutes in length
Winner: LAST OF THE ELEPHANT MEN, directed by Daniel Ferguson and Arnaud Bouquet
Artistic Vision Award, Feature: FOLLOWING KINA, directed by Sonia Goldenberg
When Kina Malpartida won her title as the first Peruvian World Boxing Champion, the country was struck by a female boxing fever. Inspired by her, two young women fight against all odds to sustain a dream and become the next champion. Without any official support, they are driven by passion and perseverance to succeed in a totally male-dominated sport.
BSDFF WILL BE RE-SCREENING THEIR FEATURE AWARD AT 7PM AT THE WILMA TONIGHT (2/27)
AND THEIR MINI-DOC, SHORT & BIG SKY SUNDAY 2/28 AT 9PM
They won’t have time to replay their artistic vision award winners, but ZONE BLANCHE is
scheduled to screen Sunday, Feb 28th @ 2:30 pm – Wilma
Monday’s most thought provoking films were three: Calling the Cops on Jesus, Kanada Girl and Pink Boy. All are shorts; all poignant.
Calling the Cops on Jesus by Peter Carolla (8 minutes) is a little film about a bronze statue of Jesus dressed as a homeless man, sleeping on a bench outside an Episcopal church in Davidson, North Carolina and the community’s reaction to the figure. Controversy is of course the heart of this film.WWJD?
Kanada Girl by Rebecca Campbell (11 minutes) is quite the opposite. A poignant look at the competitive world of cowboy action shooting. We see it through the lens of Flora Kapsch, sharpshooter (aged around-sixty), who dresses in costumes reminiscent of wild west saloon gals while she takes her show to contests. A Philippina, she has had a curious life. Inspiring in a wacky way, I loved this film.
Pink Boy by Eric Rocky (15 minutes) is an observational film about a six year old boy Jeffrey and his adoptive moms as they negotiate the world of shifting genders. The moms have shunned girly things their entire lives, and now their adopted son prefers to dress like a stereotypic girl in gowns and play with barbies. The film turns gender on it’s head as the moms work to protect their son from those who might not understand in conservative, rural Florida.
Tuesday at the movies:
I slept through a bit of a gorgeous film (an after lunch issue) called Nallau (76 minutes). A haunting portrait of the Pond Inlet Inuit in Nanavut living with a tragedy. In 1943 over half the population of the community died within the span of a few days. A personal and intimate documentary of two survivors. The sparseness of the landscape can not be overstated. Gorgeous in a haunting way, with a quietness that contributes. By director Christian Mathieu Fournier, Canada.
To round out the day, the film The Seventh Fire has me thinking hard. Directed by Jack Riccobono and presented by Terrence Malick, it is difficult to watch for it’s haunting sense of hopelessness in a remote Ojibwe reservation community in Minnesota. If there is a category for films made with a call for social change this might fit. Perhaps. It is an unflinching examination of gang activity and drug use in this forsaken place. No solutions are offered, merely reality filming. Heartbreaking. My lingering question is what are the ethics in making a film like this? How does the Native community feel about this sort of exposure? I will ask Native filmmakers I have met here this week and report back. This is a film I did not sleep through.
Sunday’s screenings included multiple groupings of short films as well as long format docs. Especially thought provoking is a film Vultures of Tibet, directed by Russell Bush. Bush created the film as his MFA Thesis while living in Austin, TX. The film explores the Tibetan cultural tradition of sky burial for the dead, a tradition unfamiliar to most Westerners. In the tradition explored in this film we see bodies prepared for a sort of open disposal (placed out of doors in a sacred space), by way of vultures. In a very organic sense the bodies support the nutritional needs of the vultures and are treated as a passage through the world of Buddhist reincarnation. One of the issues the film examines is the tourist industry that has sprung up around this custom, primarily fueled by Chinese entrepreneurs. The Monks seem unable to prevent the bus-delivered tourists from gawking, photo taking and generally less than respectful behaviors. Clearly the behaviors evoke strong feelings in the filmmaker. However unsettling some may find the film is a window into culture. And that is always interesting.
VULTURES OF TIBET is a documentary film that explores the commercialization of sky burial, a private death ritual where the bodies of Tibetan dead are offered to wild griffon vultures. During this sensitive event, the political, cultural, and spiritual conflicts between ethnic Chinese and Tibetans are exposed, providing an intimate window into a relationship often hidden to outsiders. To learn more click here.
Saturday’s screening highlights included a few surprises.
Sometimes the single storyline narrative with a quirky premise makes the best film. Such is the case with Skips Stones for Fudge.
A film about the competitive world of skipping stones (Who knew!) made us smile. And best was the entire cast came up on the stage following the screening. What a delightful film with quirky characters. This film got it right.
Skips Stones For Fudge, is set in Western Pennsylvania. Kurt “The Mountain Man” Steiner and Russ “Rock Bottom” Byars are locked in a vicious battle for a Guinness World Record in a sport that demands intense concentration, immense talent, and a lifetime of total dedication: skipping stones. And the Guinness World Record stands at 88 skips. Impressive.
And then there was :
The story of Pete Weber, five times National Bowling Champion, was well told in the anticipated film : The Bad Boy of Bowling. The film is infectious as are the wild performances of Pete Weber, with original footage of his career. He is credited with bringing back an interest in bowling partially through his antics in the bowling lanes. If tennis had John McEnroe, and boxing’s Mohammed Ali, Weber is their equal in the dramatics department. The upside is that crowds love theatre.
Pete Weber is the self-declared “bad boy of bowling.” This funny and touching documentary tells the story of the past, present and future of bowling through the eyes of its most colorful and controversial character.
Opening night’s showing of MAVIS! a documentary about the singing life of Mavis Staples, of the famous multi-generational singing family, kicked off the ten day festival with a bang and tears to the eyes of many. Mavis is a seventy-something force of nature, still belting out Gospel, R &B, and yes collaborations with Bob Dylan and Prince. The HBO documentary shows later this month, but we had a look last night. Fabulous! With superb editing highlighting touching and humorous clips of Mavis, her father and siblings, I was carried away for the 80 minutes. Uplifting. Marvelous Mavis!
After the screening a party with delicious food and Bernice’s famous cupcakes were the hot ticket.
Notice the BSDFF motif. Yeow.
Wonder what the director is thinking before it begins? Listen to this interview with Gita Kiely, Director of the 2016 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, recorded for KSVRfm, Skagit Talks:
Gita Kieley speaks: https://archive.org/details/BigSkyFestivalRecordingST622tu
At First Glance
I’m placing these three films at the top of my list for the 2016 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
One local to my geography and neighbors: NW Washington State
Maiden of Deception Pass: Guardian of Her People
Tracy Rector, Lou Karsen, 2015, USA, 27 minutes
Saturday February 20 @ 12:00 pm – Crystal
United States Premiere
Long ago a maiden named Ko-kwahl-alwoot risked her life to save the Samish people from starvation. She did so by agreeing to marry a man of the sea, who threatened to take the plentiful sea-life away from the area if she did not. Her reluctant father demanded that Ko-kwahl-alwoot return annually. But, after about four years of visits, it became increasingly difficult for her to return to the village. And so, today, Ko-kwahl-alwoot lives eternally underwater.
The documentary The Maiden of Deception Pass: Guardian of Her Samish People tells her story and how tribal history inspires generations of Samish people.
One for the title: The Bad Boy of Bowling: a doc by Bryan Storkel.
Who hasn’t known a Bad Boy and wondered? Mix in the sport of Bowling and it could be compelling.
Bryan Storkel, 2015, 19 minutes
Saturday February 20 @ 9:30 pm – Wilma
Sunday February 21 @ 12:15 pm – Wilma
Pete Weber is the self-declared “bad boy of bowling” and first rock star of the sport. As one writer put it, “He’s the greatest show in bowling. Or, depending on how you judge him, he’s a giant black eye on a sport constantly searching for respect.”
And finally an International Film: Another Kind of Girl
by Khaldiya Jibawi, 2015, Jordan, 10 minutes
Sunday February 21 @ 10:00 am – Wilma
Monday February 22 @ 5:15 pm – Crystal
17-year-old Khaldiya meditates on how the refugee camp has opened up new horizons and given her a sense of courage that she lacked in Syria.
This film relates to an interview I did recently for radio with local filmmaker, Aaron Wagner, whose non-profit Voices of the Children is doing similar work in the same Jordanian camp. Important stuff, the kind we need to know.
(The interview begins about 5:03 into the recording)
See you in Missoula!
A word from the Director:
Dearest Missoula, Filmmakers & Fans:
We are here because stories matter. They connect us, humanize us and transform us. Documentary film captures stories from across the globe that open our eyes to the world beyond us. The 13th Annual BSDFF brings this year’s best stories to Missoula, featuring films that entertain, educate and impact us all.
IMPACT defines the festival this year: the impact of the stories we tell, the impact we have on the planet, and the impact we can have on society. The next 10 days will abound with impactful films, panels, workshops, retrospectives and live performances. We will showcase over 200 independent films. We have over 100 Montana, U.S. and world premieres. We will celebrate the breadth of work of two out- standing female directors: Lucy Walker and Ondi Timoner (see page 7 for details on our 2016 retrospectives).
On February 22nd we begin our BIG SKY DOCSHOP media conference, with five days of panels, workshops and works-in-progress (page 10). This year our focus is FILMS FOR CHANGE, with prominent change agents coming from across the U.S. to share their expertise, their stories and their work. In an effort to reduce our impact on the planet, we are moving toward zero waste for the festival (page 2).
We turn 13 this year thanks to the enthusiasm and engagement of Missoula, the sponsors who believe in us, the audience that comes out snow or shine, and the filmmakers who create explosive, thought- ful work about the world we live in. So sit back and enjoy 10 days of stories that will blow your mind, conversations that will change your worldview and a festival that promises to expand your heart.
Cover Art: Courtney Blazon
Gita Saedi Kiely Executive Director Big Sky Film Institute
Previous articles and featured films from past Big Sky Documentary Film Festivals: