Coming Soon: Reality Plays Itself at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

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Reality plays itself at the 2013 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, the premier showcase of nonfiction film in the American West.

For ten days in February, the silver screens of the historic Wilma Theatre and the Crystal Theatre in downtown Missoula will serve as windows into the beautiful, tragic, uplifting, mystifying, hilarious and heartbreaking truths of our world, when the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary with screenings of the best nonfiction films of the past year and the past decade.

With an expected audience of more than 20,000 filmgoers augmented by more than 100 visiting artists, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival has emerged as Montana’s biggest cinematic event and the premier showcase of nonfiction film in the American West. In addition to more than 100 film screenings, the festival boasts a packed schedule of panel discussions, workshops, performances and parties.

“Missoula residents care about their city and they care about their world,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “The growth and success of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is a testament to our community’s engagement with the important issues, people and stories of modern times.”

This year’s festival kicks off February 15 with a free screening of “First Comes Love,” sponsored by HBO. A wry autobiographical story of a single woman choosing to have a baby on her own, “First Comes Love” premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews.

A crowd waits for the doors to open at last year's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

A crowd waits for the doors to open at last year’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

That screening will birth a festival schedule rich with diverse subjects and filmmaking styles, from a three-minute portrait of a talented young wood sculptor in Nigeria (“Artist Hustler”) to a 146-minute exploration of the career and personality of one of the most influential politicians of modern times (“The World According to Dick Cheney”).

There are films about the plight of small dairy farmers in Maine, the challenges faced by Muslims attempting to build the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City, and the colorful personalities of a parking lot circus troupe in Rio de Janeiro.

Even animation will have its moment at this year’s festival when Missoula artist Andy Smetanka presents a sneak-peak of “And We Were Young,” a feature-length film based on the diaries and first-person accounts of American doughboys in World War I. Films by several other Montana filmmakers will be featured, including the world premiere of Damon Ristau’s “Saved By the Birds,” a moving documentary about a woman whose record-setting career as a bird watcher began with a near-suicide.

For its annual filmmaker retrospective, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is excited to welcome Stanley Nelson, an Emmy-winning MacArthur “genius” Fellow and co-founder and Executive Director of Firelight Media. Several of Nelson’s films will be screened including “Jonestown: The Life And Death of Peoples Temple,” “Sweet Honey in the Rock Raise Your Voice,” and “Methadone: Curse or Cure.”

To celebrate the festival’s 10th birthday, the schedule will also include a look back at some of the most beloved and popular films from past festivals. Films featured in the “Best of 10” include Linda Hattendorf’s “Cats of Mrikatani,” Les Blank’s “Gap Toothed Women,” David Silberberg’s “Oh My God! It’s Harrod Blank!” and others.

A still from Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

A still from “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.”

“Over the past decade, we have seen this festival grow from a poorly kept secret among local documentary film buffs, to a destination event for filmmakers and audiences from across the country,” said Gita Saedi Kiely, festival director of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. “If you have ever been moved by a documentary film, then this year’s festival is certain to have something you will love.”

Throughout the festival, downtown Missoula will be a scene of heightened activity and excitement that reaches far beyond the actual theater spaces. In addition to the screenings themselves, the festival will host many events and parties in the downtown area, including an ongoing public café at Montgomery Distillery where filmgoers can reflect on the films they’ve watched, view trailers for films to come, and enjoy handcrafted, Missoula-made spirits from the Distillery alongside coffee from local roaster Black Coffee.

Meantime, visiting and aspiring filmmakers will be kept busy at the Doc Shop, an industry-focused feature of the festival that offers opportunities for networking, discussion, and professional development. This year’s packed schedule includes workshops, work-in-progress presentations, panels and the annual Big Sky Documentary Pitch session. The Doc Shop takes place Feb. 18-21.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival takes place February 15-24. Festival passes are now available for purchase on the BSDFF website. Visitors can find lodging options and other local information at the site, along with a full listing of this year’s films.