Independent Film Festival Returns to Polson

Sixty films on schedule for fourth annual Flathead Lake International Cinemafest at Showboat Cinemas

By CLARE MENZEL for the Flathead Beacon

The Volkswagen Buses are beautiful. One pearl gray, another emerald green, a third powder blue, they star in the trailer of “The Bus,” a documentary by Missoula’s own filmmaker Damon Ristau. It’s a tribute to the cultural icons that ferried a free-spirit way of life across the country. “A film as charming as its subject,” a Vancouver Sun reviewer wrote, the documentary taps into the soul of the VWs that are, as one owner says in the trailer, almost human.

The film is a headlining feature of the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest (FLIC), which kicks off Jan. 22 at Showboat Cinemas in downtown Polson. It’s one of 60 films from 12 countries that the FLIC committee selected for its fourth annual event. There are documentaries, spaghetti westerns, and animated, feature, and student films, among others.

“It’s sort of a grab-bag and it’s a gamble,” said David W. King, a FLIC co-chair and judge who runs a production company in Polson. “You’re not sure what you’re getting into when you go into a theater with independent films. A lot of people here are culturally inclined but they don’t have that many opportunities to expand their wings.”


“Victory in Christ.” Courtesy Photo

The titles include “6 Bullets to Hell,” an adventure Western; “Driven,” which tells the story of open-water swimmers taking on 20 miles of ocean during a 10-hour marathon in California; and “Victory in Christ,” a film that depicts the persecution of Christians by ISIS in the Middle East.

“[Victory in Christ] is a beautiful, harrowing documentary,” said King. “It features testimonies from people who have been directly prosecuted. It’s timely.”

It’s also the work of Polson filmmaker Elias Nawawieh, who was born in Bethlehem, West Bank, and grew up surrounded by people of all faiths and nationalities who had traveled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. He received a film education in Jerusalem, and then went on to work for National Geographic and photographing Palestinian and Israeli conflicts. He moved to the Flathead after meeting his wife, a Polson native.

After hearing unbelievable, emotional tales about the religious refugees, Nawawieh grew inspired to help people share their stories through film. “Victory in Christ,” which was voted Best Documentary at the 168 Film Festival in September 2015, features footage from Amman, Jordan, and Iraq. It opens with a group of children singing the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic, and cuts to sounds of conflict before zooming in on the determination and devotion of the faithful. The film goes on to tell the stories of children kidnapped, families fractured, and lives shattered. But more than anything, the story is about people helping each other survive.

Another film, “Rising Voices/Hóthaninpi,” tackles a different sort of threat – “an insidious, impersonal victim,” the film’s website reads. “The menace is the English language, and the victim seemingly marked for extinction is the Lakota language itself – the language of the Lakota nation … it’s just one instance of a massive, global [problem] – a worldwide epidemic of language extinction.”

The project is part of The Language Conservancy’s ongoing efforts to preserve languages and revitalize phonetic cultural communities in North America. It “depicts an exhilarating effort by both Lakota and non-Indian people to hold back the floodwaters of history: the day-by-day struggle to save a dying language.”

“It’s interesting and very well done,” King said. The film won Best Documentary Feature Film at the South Dakota 2015 Film Festival.

Like “The Bus,” “Victory in Christ,” and most other films on the festival’s schedule, “Rising Voices” offers people the opportunity “to get out of Polson with their minds and explore art.”

The festival kicks off on Friday, Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. with an opening night party at the KwaTaqNuk Resort. The event’s theme is “Cinema Royale – 00FLIC” and attendees are encouraged to dress in James Bond attire. There will be a free showing of “Paddington” on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. for families. Children are welcome to arrive in pajamas, and are invited to enjoy a free breakfast courtesy of the Polson Rotary Club.

Eight showings will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, including “The Bus” and “Victory in Christ.” Visit the website for a complete festival schedule and to purchase tickets.