Montana’s largest film festival, Missoula’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, kicks off its 11th edition tomorrow, Saturday, February 15, and running through Sunday, February 23. Presenting a mix of new films, recent festival favorites, and a healthy dose of retrospective selections, the event has carved a distinctive space for nonfiction in the American West. This year, in addition to its annual Made in Montana sidebar, showcasing local productions like Daniel T Skaggs’ FREELOAD, about modern-day train hoppers; music doc section Sights and Sounds; indigenous showcase; and past fest participants, Encore; the event offers sidebars on comedy docs, wilderness films, and a retrospective on Robert B Weide. Other selections are highlighted below.
Ten titles are in the running for Big Sky’s Feature Competition, including David Beilinson, Suki Hawely, and Michael Galinsky’s WHO TOOK JOHNNY (pictured), an investigation into a three-decades-old missing child case. Also featured here are two films straight from Sundance – the audience award-winning ALIVE INSIDE by Michael Rossato-Bennett, and Joe Berlinger’s WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V JAMES J BULGER – and several past DOC NYC alums: Mahdi Fleifel’s award-winning A WORLD NOT OURS; Samantha Grant’s A FRAGILE TRUST; and Jeremy Xido’s DEATH METAL ANGOLA.
The festival’s Big Sky Award Competition, celebrating films featuring the American West, includes three shorts and four features. The latter are DOC NYC alum URANIUM DRIVE-IN by Suzan Beraza, Todd Darling’s OCCUPY THE FARM, about civil disobedience that attempted to save farmland from development; Devon Riter’s ART IS WAR, following an environmental activist and her assistant; and the world premiere of Anna Hudak and Nicolas Hudak’s WHERE GOD LIKES TO BE (pictured), a portrait of modern life on the Blackfeet Indian reservation.
Nearly three dozen additional features screen outside of these competitions. Among the newer, less familiar work are several intriguing entries: Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm’s DRYLAND (pictured), a coming of age portrait set within a rural community’s annual combine demolition derby; Kate Logan’s KIDNAPPED FOR CHRIST, an exposé of a Dominican Republic Evangelical Christian reform school for so-called troubled teens; Theo Love’s Slamdance entry LITTLE HOPE WAS ARSON, an investigation into a series of church burnings in East Texas; Colin Ruggiero’s EXUMA, an exploration of a Bahamian paradise through the perspective of one of its inhabitants; Maureen Judge’s LIVING DOLLS, a survey of people obsessed with collecting dolls; and film historian Charles Musser’s ERROL MORRIS: A LIGHTNING SKETCH, a day-in-the-life of the famed documentarian.