Friday, February 19, 2010

Tap Water to the Rescue

There have been handfuls of films released in the past couple years addressing environmental issues--from Food, Inc. to Gasland to King Corn to An Inconvenient Truth--but none of them have tackled the issue of water as aggressively, as honestly and as artistically as Stephanie Soechtig and Jason Lindsey did in 2009's Tapped.

Is access to clean drinking water a basic human right, or a commodity to be bought and sold like any other article of commerce? This feature is an unflinching examination of the big business of bottled water. This timely documentary is a behind-the-scenes look into the unregulated and unseen world of an industry that aims to privatize and sell back the one resource that ought never to become a commodity: our water. Using interviews, quirky graphics and honest imagery, Tapped is made someone who really, truly, genuinely cares about this issue.

This fast-paced, well-narrated, and highly educational film looks at the illegal bottling practices of Nestle, cancer-causing factories and the overall state of the country's tap water. Tapped is definitely a flick that will leave viewers dying to learn more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Festival Winners Announced!

The judges of the seventh annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival have selected this year’s award winning films in the four competitive categories: Best Feature, Big Sky Award, Best Short Film and Best Mini Doc (under 15 minutes). The awards were announced Thursday evening at the awards ceremy at the Loft in downtown Missoula.


Best Feature: Lixin Fan's Last Train Home
Artistic Vision for Best Feature: Josh Fox's Gasland

Big Sky Award: Joseph Aguirre's Next Year Country
Artistic Vision for Big Sky Award: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash's Sweetgrass

Best Short Film: Charlene Music's Danza Del Viejo Inmigrante
Artistic Vision for Best Short: Kelly Anderson's Never Enough

Mini-Doc (under 15 minutes) Award: Paramita Nath's Found
Artistic Vision for Mini-Doc: Tony Donoghue's A Film About My Parish-6 Farms

There were also four Programmer’s Choice Awards, awarded by the Big Sky
programming staff. Michael Angus’s Salt and Robert Drew’s The Sun Ship Game both
received awards for Excellence in Cinematography. Rainer Komer’s Milltown, Montana
received an award for Excellence in Editing. And Briar March’s There Once Was An
Island was awarded the Natural Facts Award for its artistic rendering of a vital
environmental issue (climate change) and its effect of human life.

The Best Feature and Big Sky Award films will receive a guaranteed broadcast deal from
Free Speech TV. Both shorts categories will receive a broadcast guarantee and generous
licensing fee from The Documentary Channel.
Several of the award winning films will play again at the Wilma Theatre over the closing
weekend of the festival. The schedule is as follows:

Friday, February 19 at 7:30
Danza Del Viejo Inmigrante
Never Enough
A Film About My Parish – 6 Farms
Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers*
Anonymous Rebellion*
(* Rescreened due to technically difficulties)

Saturday February 20 at 7:30
Next Year Country
Milltown, Montana

Sunday February 21 at 8:00
Last Train Home

This year's jury: Jeanie Finlay, Cliff Froehlich, Tim Huffman, Thomas Phillipson, Doug Pray, Rick Prelinger, Gordon Quinn, Shirley K. Sneve, Richard Saiz

Doug Pray Plays the Hits

Documentary filmmaker Doug Pray has made movies about surfers, truck drivers, graffiti artists, hip hop DJ's, grunge rockers and advertising gurus. But while his maverick subjects vary in profession, Pray says they all play roles as "fiercely independent individuals" in search of the certain rush that comes with defying the status quo.

"They're all celebrating what is meaningful," he says, "but they're working in different ways.

To continue Big Sky's annual tradition of showcasing a collection of work by a distinguished documentary filmmaker, Pray's retrospective kicks off today with his most recent work, Art & Copy. The 2009 film deals with the creative minds behind some of the most famous advertising campaigns ever. Lee Clow of Apple, Dan Wieden of Nike and George Lois of Tommy Hilfiger, among others, discuss their work and how they approached the task of successfully selling a product to an entire society.

What this film ISN'T, says Pray, is a look at the 98% of what he calls bad, manipulative mediocre and demeaning advertising that exists today. Nor is it a social critique or an attack on advertising companies. What it IS, however, is a "celebration of that rare 2% of really good advertising that can actually inspire people."

The dozen or so artists interviewed in the film were all given one arduous task: to create a reason for people to buy a certain product. This movie explores their passions, methodologies and reasons behind working like they did. The question here is: "When you are given a job, how can you do it in a way that's better and more interesting?"

"Advertising isn't going away," says Pray. So why not do it well?

The subjects of Pray's work may at first glance seem divergent. But through his observant lens, the films explore the known (and unknown) boundaries of their respective subcultures and feature the top tier of practitioners with the group, those that have stepped fully into the fold and aren't afraid to look back.

These inspiring portraits of artists, revealed in films like Hype! (about the grunge scene in Seattle in the late 80's, early 90's), Scratch (about Hip-Hop Dj's), Veer (about 6 Londonites), Feel Your Heart Race (about NASCAR nation), Surfwise (about a family of surfers), Big Rig (a look at America through the eyes of truck drivers), Infamy (a look at graffiti artists) and Art & Copy, will all be screened starting today at the Wilma. SCHEDULE HERE.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sweetgrass Gets Monster Turnout

Whether it's ranchers or farmers, locals or urbanites, the crowd here tonight at the Wilma is KILLER. And it's all for a little film by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor called Sweetgrass. The theatre is packed and the energy is high, all in anticipation of one of the festival's major draws.
Don't you wish you were here?

Sweetgrass and Let Your Feet Do the Talkin' Deliver Tonight!

The 6th day of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival delivers the most talked about film of the festival: Sweetgrass. The film mercilessly follows the cowboys of the American West on their annual trip into the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains with their sheep. This astonishingly beautiful yet unsparing film reveals a world in which nature and culture, animals and humans, vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed. Heralded as being "majestic," "breathtaking," "bracing" and "astounding," and reviewed by such publications as the New York Times, Variety and Slate, this film will make its Montana premiere in the historic Wilma Theatre on Wednesday at 7.30pm.

Stewart Copeland's newest short film will show with today's Shorts Program, "Some Dreamers."

Copeland won for Best Mini-Doc for his film "Jennifer" at the 2009 festival, and his films are proven to be some of the festival faves.

Check out "Let Your Feet Do the Talkin,'" a short film about Buck dancing in the South, at the Wilma Theatre on Wednesday at the 5.45 Shorts Program.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Historic Wilma

Great Photos up at

The Mormons Cut It Out in Cleanflix

Cleanflix is a documentary about the phenomenon started by the Mormons in Utah who edit violence, sex and profanity from certain films so they are "clean" enough for their people to watch. Is this sanitization process acceptable? What about the artists whose films are being censored?

Josh Ligairi of Cleanflix, screening as a U.S. Premiere Tuesday night at 7.45pm, talks with Big Sky Film Fest about his connections to the Mormon culture, his struggle with objectivity and the relationships he fostered with his subjects.

BS: How did you hear about this subject matter of censored videos?

JL: We both lived in Utah when we decided to make the film, and edited movies were kind of in their hayday. You couldn't miss them. Andrew had a lot of experiences with them in college; his roommates watched them all the time. I think seeing Steven Soderbergh's Traffic edited, which is one of his favorite films, was a pretty traumatic experience. I had never actually seen one before we started the film, but it was a subject that interested me a great deal. For me, the most interesting aspect when we began was the notion of self-censorship.

BS: Are you Mormon? Did you grow up around Mormons?

JL: We both grew up Mormon, but not in Utah. We both moved around a lot growing up, Andrew in places like Georgia and Michigan, me in places like California and Idaho. We both eventually made it to Utah.

BS: What drove you to make a film about this topic? Was there a personal connection?

JL: Neither of us were supporters of edited movies. We both had Mormon heritage and we were both filmmakers (not to mention huge cinephiles), so all of that played into it. However, I'm not sure either of us felt any specific personal connection. For me, I just saw a story and it was a story that I knew I could tell. Still, I do think our experience with Mormon culture was a huge help when making the film.

First, we understood the mindset of the people who were editing the movies, even though we didn't necessarily agree with their point of view. I think it would be really easy to paint this issue black and white, but I feel like being able to empathize with the culture made for a much stronger, much more nuanced film. For some people that is a problem with the film. They want to feel superior to these people whose actions they disagree with. We didn't want it to be that simple.

The other advantage is that we had access. I think these guys would have been a lot more suspicious of outsiders than they were of us. That familiarity with the culture gave us a lot of freedom and opened up a lot of doors that a complete outsider could have never opened.

BS: Why do you feel this topic is an important one to show the public?

JL: There are so may issues at play here. First, again, it is just an interesting story. It is entertaining. It is real human drama. If you wrote it, nobody would believe it.

Second, the film deals with questions for which there are no easy answers. Should corporations be able to tell us how to use their products if we have purchased them? Is it different if those products are also art? What if censorship comes into play? These are really grey areas that I struggled with for three years while we made the movie and I want the audience to struggle with them, too, because they are not going away once our film is over. As we become immersed in the digital age, people are going to be re-mixing and re-mashing their media in ways that we haven't yet imagined. How will artists respond? How will copyright holders respond? Cleanflix could be seen as a little test case of things to come.

BS: Where is most of the film shot?

JL: Well, 90% of the film was shot in Utah Valley, commonly known as "Happy Valley." We also went to California, Idaho, New York, and Washington DC during our journey, but we kept coming back to Utah. There were edited movies in other places, and there are certainly similar attitudes in other places, but, as I've said a lot when talking about the film, we focused on Mormons in Utah because it took that culture to create edited movies.

BS: What do the subjects think of your film? Have they seen it?

JL: Unfortunately, we haven't yet been able to show the film to many of our subjects. We have contacted Daniel Thompson, who kind of emerges as the main character in the second half of the film about showing it to him. Hopefully that will happen this week. Ray Lines and Allan Erb, the main guys behind CleanFlicks, don't watch R-rated movies, so we plan on getting them a toned-down version as soon as we have time to create it.

BS: Do you feel as if you shot the film objectively?

JL: When telling a story there is no such thing as complete objectivity, but we really made an honest effort to tell it like it was. Which was hard because you start to form relationships with your subjects when you spend two years filming them, you become friends and you feel bad including footage that you know may hurt them, but we always approached Cleanflix with strict journalistic integrity, and I hope they will all appreciate that as much as Robert did.

BS: Did many of your subjects comply immediately or did they resist your interviews?

JL: It was really hard to get some of these interviews and even harder to find out the truth behind what they were telling us. A lot of these guys were operating illegally and we were trying to figure out how the whole operation worked. Sometimes I am a little sad that we present the information so matter-of-factly because, until the film came out, we were literally the only people that knew most of this stuff. In the end, we made the choice to keep ourselves out of the film, and I am glad that we did.

BS: Why documentary?

JL: I love being transported to a part of the world that I have never been to. And I mostly appreciate a filmmaker who is willing to stay back behind the camera and let the subjects speak for themselves. Cleanflix shines a light on a very specific segment of the culture and I think there is a lot to be gleaned from that. The more specific it is, the more universal it becomes.

You can find more information and view the Cleanflix teaser trailer at

*images take from

Tuesday's Flicks

Three extraordinary programs featuring everything from pilots to Mormons to Montana highlight day five of the festival, presented at the historic Wilma Theatre in downtown Missoula.

The Sun Ship Game directed by Robert Drew Director in attendance
World Premiere
85minutes 5.45pm

Drew, the founder and creator of the modern documentary movement - Cinema Verite, as it became known - began his career in the early 1960s and has since produced and directed films including seminal work such as PRIMARY (1960) CRISIS (1963) and ON THE ROAD WITH DUKE ELLINGTON (1974).

THE SUN SHIP GAME (1969) is about George Moffat and Gleb Derujinsky, master glider pilots in competition for the 1969 U.S. National Soaring Championship in Marfa, Texas. Suppressed for over 40 years due to copyright issues, the presentation of THE SUN SHIP GAME, marks the World Premier public screenings of a lost masterpiece.


Cleanflix directed by Joshua Ligairi and Andrew James Director in attendance

US Premiere and Feature Competition nominee



This film that hits close to home geographically deals with Utah Mormons and their "sanitization" of violence, sex, profanity and nudity in DVD's. Outraged bythe unauthorized editing of their work, prominent filmmakers began to speak out, thrusting the two groups into an intense legal, theoretical, and moral battle that would last six years before coming to a shocking conclusion. CLEANFLIX explores the ethical questions raised by the marketing of morality by taking audiences behind the scenes of the sanitized movie industry and shedding light on the Mormon culture that spawned it.


*Fire in the Garden and *Next Year Country

Big Sky Award Competition nominees and World Premieres

directed by Montanans Zach Kienitz/Alex Thomas and Joseph Aguirre
15 minutes and 56 minutes
Directors for both films in attendance

Also relevant to the area is Fire in the Garden, directed by Montana natives who examine thought-provoking questions and issues of the American West. Intelligently shot and narrated, this short (15 minutes) is having its world premiere at Big Sky Film Fest.

Next Year Country (56 minutes) looks at three Montana families who hire a rainmaker to bring water to their drought-stricken farms. As their way of life disappears, they somehow remain optimistic. By way of interviews and beautifully shot landscapes, their heartfelt story is conveyed. Also a world premiere.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Buzz

Here's a few of the movies people have been buzzing about.

Monday: There Once Was an Island, The DOC Challenge, and Gasland
Tuesday: Panorama Ephemera and Cleanflix
Wednesday: Shorts Program "Some Dreamers," Sweetgrass and Pinned
Thursday: Wounded Knee and Art and Copy
Friday: Full Signal and One Fast Move or I'm Gone
Saturday: Smile Till It Hurts, Tapped and Special When Lit
Sunday: Racing Dreams and Severe Clear and the AWARDS SCREENING

Festival Video #1

The 2010 festival life. from Big Sky Documentary Film Fest on Vimeo.