Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Missoula MT’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival opens this Friday, February 15 and runs through Sunday, February 24. Montana’s largest film event, the festival annually features more than a hundred selections and welcomes scores of visiting filmmakers to experience Big Sky Country. While I’ve never attended, I’ve heard glowing reports from those who have, and the event has certainly established itself on the documentary festival circuit. Following are some feature highlights from this year’s edition, which, in addition to screening a robust selection of new films, also includes a retrospective series of films from the fest’s first decade; Resistance,” a thematic grouping of films about social unrest; “Stories from the City,” docs on NYC; sidebars on Montana-made films, seniors, indigenous communities, and art; and a retrospective of Stanley Nelson’s work.
Big Sky’s Feature Competition includes a couple of Sundance alums, including big winner BLOOD BROTHER, as well as 99% – THE OCCUPY WALL STREET COLLABORATIVE FILM, plus DOC NYC alums BETTING THE FARM and THE MOSUO SISTERS. Other titles include the world premiere of Logan Hendricks’ LOVE AT A CERTAIN AGE, focusing on intimacy and relationships among seniors; YOUNG LAKOTA (pictured), Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt’s (THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX) portrait of a college student and her young friend who become involved in reservation politics; Andrew Berends’ DELTA BOYS, an exploration of the struggle of the people of the Niger Delta against their corrupt government; and Shannon Walsh and Arya Lalloo’s JEPPE ON A FRIDAY, a day-in-the-life of a Johannesburg neighborhood.
The Big Sky Award Competition includes, among other titles, Maxine Trump’s MUSICWOOD, where the future of guitar manufacturing is caught up in a political, economic, and environmental controversy; Brian Lindstrom’s ALIEN BOY: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JAMES CHASSE, an investigation into the death of a schizophrenic man at the hands of Portland OR police; Brian Truglio’s RACING THE REZ (pictured), about rival high school Native American cross-country runners; and Sabrina Lee and Shasta Grenier’s NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT, which explores the healing power of fishing on wounded veterans.
Outside of the competition titles are a mix of a number of recent docs that have been well-represented elsewhere on the festival circuit, as well as others that perhaps may not be as recognizable but are worth a look. Among these are TC Johnstone’s RISING FROM THE ASHES, about the hope engendered by the development of a professional Rwandan cycling team; Red Tremmel’s EXOTIC WORLD, following the efforts of a former dancer to keep her small desert burlesque museum open; Brent Chesanek’s post-apocalyptic hybrid CITY WORLD; Caroline Båcle’s LOST RIVERS, an exploration of now-buried urban waterways; Mike Gualdoni’s DIGNITY HARBOR, a portrait of a homeless community in winter; Mike Scholtz’s WILD BILL’S RUN (pictured), which revisits the unbelievable legend of a snowmobiling outlaw in 1972; and Lindsay Pollock and Sam Lawlor’s THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, the story of Holocaust survivors Thomas and Edith, separated by six decades.