Reality Plays Itself at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Photos By SARAH JOANN VANNORTWICK (Using a 4 x 5 film camera)

Audience members shift in their seats as if they can feel the millipede they’re watching mechanically dance across the screen, on their own skin. Its tiny body magnified to the big screen encourages more squirming and a few “ews” from the crowd. One can only imagine their reaction as they watched a human subject in the film prepare bee larva and scorpion and then proceed to pop them in her mouth like candy.

Sunday was the final day of the 10th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, a 10-day romp through myriad subjects, ranging from animal slaughter, to childhood vaccinations, from Polaroid film to an autistic teenager confronting adulthood.

“Bug People,” a 15-minute film by Paul Meyers, investigates our culture’s discomfort with insects. Meyers was present for a Q&A after the screening and said he hasn’t incorporated bugs into his diet but that they tasted better than expected.

“They really taste of the earth,” Meyers said. He was inspired to create the film after seeing different ways people interact with insects. “It’s almost hypnotic to watch the millipede’s legs,” Meyers said. The film follows a chef who uses insects in the meals she prepares, an exterminator and an entomologist, a person who studies insects.

“Chicken and Zoe,” a four minute black and white film, documented a 4-year-old’s first experience with an animal slaughter. Director Yael Bridge took a simple, yet powerful approach in documenting the delicate subject of life and death between a father and daughter.  The dialogue between Zoe and her father, who was performing the slaughter, was genuine and relatable, leaving viewers empathizing with Zoe’s inquisitive nature.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival offers a variety of genres, topics and styles of documentary filmmaking from filmmakers all over the world. The first year of the festival started with an audience of seven people in 2003 and has grown to over 20,000 this year. With more than 100 filmmakers and an average of 125 films annually, the festival offered a diverse selection of films.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival offered four juried competition categories- Feature Documentary, Short Documentary, Mini-Doc and Big Sky Award. The 2013 winners of these categories were screened earlier in the week and then again Sunday, the final day of the festival.

“Not Yet Begun to Fight,” by Sabrina Lee and Shasta Grenier won the Big Sky Award. This award goes to the best film about the American West, whereas the other categories are based on running time. “Not Yet Begun to Fight,” follows traumatically wounded veterans as they travel to Montana to learn how to fly-fish and experience releasing a living creature unharmed. The film’s director of photography Justin Lubke whose film “Class C,” won the Big Sky Award in 2008, said at a Q&A Sunday evening that there’s a strong theme of community in his films, “We all have a desire to be part of a community and I am always amazed at the way people do that.” The film exemplified the community theme by exposing the veterans struggles and successes with returning to civilian life and learning a new skill.

Steve Hoover’s “Blood Brother” won the Feature Competition with its portrayal of a young man in India working with HIV-positive orphans. “Slomo,” a 17-minute film by Joshua Izenberg, depicts a neurologist’s radical transformation from doctor to fanatic rollerblader, won Best Short Documentary. “Amar,” a 10-minute film by Andrew Hinton, documents a young boy’s daily routine of  main breadwinner, student and child, won Best Mini Doc.

Artistic Vision Awards were also given to one additional film per category. “The Thick Dark Fog,” a 57-minute film by Randy Vasquez, follows a Lakota Indian’s journey of reclaiming his heritage. “The Words in the Margins,” a 15-minute film by Sara Mott, depicted a 31-year-old’s struggling to learn how to read. “Do Not Duplicate,” a 31-minute film by Jonathan Mann and Mary Anne Rothberg, follows a Greenwich Village locksmith’s shop as it undergoes an artistic transformation.

“Where reality plays itself,” was this year’s slogan for the festival and regardless of the reality one chooses to abide by, there is something for everyone to enjoy as long as you ‘turn your minds on, and your cell phones off.’