Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another Great Day at the Movies

Saturday marked another great day at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival! Check out these photos from Roll Out Cowboy, A Force of Nature, and other wonderful Saturday screenings.







Chris Sand

Chris Sand





Ellen Ratner



Standing Room Only at Roll Out Cowboy

Photos by BSDFF photographers Patrick Record and Tom Seiler. Click here for more great photos from Saturday, Feb. 18.

Vito, Sponsored by Open Aid Alliance

For the past 25 years, the mission of Open Aid Alliance has been to prevent the transmission of HIV while advocating for and supporting individuals currently living with HIV/AIDS. This year, OAA is sponsoring the film Vito, a film by Jeffrey Schwartz about Vito Russo, gay activist and critic of LGBT representation in the media.

BSDFF: Can you give our readers a summary of what the film, Vito, is about?

OPEN AID ALLIANCE: The film documents the valiant life of Vito Russo, an activist for the LGBT movement and later, he fought for recognition of the AIDS epidemic and acknowledgment from then President, Ronald Reagan.

BSDFF: How did you first hear about the film, and why did this particular film interest Open Aid Alliance?

OAA: The BSDFF approached us about Vito and we thought it was a great way to support the festival and help bring a great film to Missoula. When I think about Vito’s work with ACT UP, the gorilla activist group, and the way they fought for access to AZT and other early AIDS drugs I’m definitely inspired and thankful for people like him.

BSDFF: What are some of the ways Open Aid Alliance continues to promote awareness and prevention of aids, while supporting individuals currently living with HIV/Aids?

OAA: Keeping HIV/AIDS in view is one of our most important goals; maybe it’s a result of the media, but for some reason (HIV/AIDS) seems like forgotten news to a lot of people. It’s too easy to assume that everybody knows everything there is to know about HIV at this point. 50,000 people are newly infected with HIV each year in the United States; this clearly demonstrates the continued need for ongoing prevention and outreach. Open Aid Alliance focuses efforts on our testing program; it’s the only way to know whether you have the virus or not. We can’t make someone be safe, but we can help them be safer.

BSDFF: If—and why—do you think Missoula is a unique place to host a film festival like this, and how do you see this benefiting the local community?

OAA: I think the film festival is an incredible asset to Missoula. We’re so lucky to host an event like this. It’s important because we can become isolated; the film festival brings new people, new ideas and new worlds to us on the screen.

BSDFF: When viewers leave the theater after watching “Vito,” what are ways we can become active with AIDS awareness and support in the Missoula community?

There are so many things I could suggest. Here are a few I think could be most important: We need the community’s support. Federal dollars for HIV prevention are being redirected to areas of high incidence. In a sparsely populated state like Montana the impact is huge. Our funding for youth education and women’s groups has been cut completely. We’re committed to free testing for everyone, but our funding for those tests has been cut. Participate in our events, host a pantry drive and collect toilet paper and household cleaning supplies for our clients, volunteer and help us be more visible in the community and join our Board of Directors. In more general terms, realize that HIV is in Montana and in Missoula. Realize that you may know someone living with HIV but you don’t know it yet.

Vito will show on Sunday, February 19, 10:00 AM, in Wilma 1.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Carl Corder

We Go Together Like… Grunge Music and Ice Cream?

David Markey’s tour documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke depicts legends of punk and grunge—including Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and the Ramones—at a delicate moment. Sonic Youth had just signed to a major label and were about to reach a national audience after ten years of underground buzz. Nirvana were unknowns on the verge of superstardom, when they would render the term “alternative” music meaningless. In its one hundred grainy, goofy minutes, 1991unwittingly heralded the arrival of grunge in the American mainstream.

Enter: ice cream. Going into their seventeenth year, it’s safe to say that the Big Dipper is a Missoula institution, the prime destination for gourmet frozen treats. But Charlie Beaton started the Big Dipper during the height of the nineties’ alternative-music mania, and they still retain some of the do-it-yourself spirit of that age. I spoke with Beaton about the Big Dipper’s choice to sponsor 1991 at the BSDFF and his not-so-secret punk rock roots.

BSDFF: What were you up to in 1991?

Charlie Beaton: Well, I went to the movie [1991: The Year Punk Broke] at the Crystal Theatre when it came out. I was playing in a band called The Banned and I played in BTO—we actually just started playing again. So from the late eighties all the way through the nineties I was playing in bands and booking shows in Missoula. That’s sort of my era for college is the early nineties. There was a lot of great music at the time, and I went to all those shows—I saw Nirvana play and the Ramones. All those bands who are in the movie, I've seen.

BSDFF: You started The Big Dipper in 1995, the same year that Sonic Youth headlined Lollapalooza. Do you think there’s a connection between your punk background and your ice cream ventures?

CB: Having been in a punk band and setting up concerts, which was all DIY, part of opening Big Dipper was an extension of that—it's an artistic thing, it's creative. We didn't have a lot of money, so we gave away stickers, we gave out fliers. I ran the business the same way I promoted my band.

BSDFF: What inspired you to sponsor this film in particular?

CB: I love documentaries and I love music documentaries particularly, so when we got the opportunity to choose a film to sponsor, this one seemed perfect. And I thought it was cool that I had seen it when it came out. I bet you get a lot of the same people who saw it at the Crystal back then to come and see it. It’s been out of print so a lot of people haven't been able to see it since then.

BSDFF: What exciting things are coming up for the Big Dipper?

CB: We’re working with Posh Chocolat on caramel sauces and syrups. We’ve got some cool landscaping projects that people are going to like in the seating area. Also we help sponsor Total Fest, which is in August this year, and we always have live bands play. I'm pretty excited about that.

David Markey’s 1991: The Year Punk Broke is playing Sunday, February 19 at 9:15 at the Wilma, with live music by The Skurfs following the film.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Alice Bolin

Plympton’s Dogma

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is thrilled to welcome internationally-renowned independent animator/illustrator Bill Plympton as a 2012 visiting artist. Twice nominated for both Academy awards and the Cannes Palme D'Or, Mr. Plympton has won or been nominated for far too many prizes to count throughout his near five-decade-long career.

A prolific artist, Mr. Plympton is the only person known to have illustrated every frame of a feature-length animation. He says of his 12 hour plus days spent drawing in his New York City studio, "it's very satisfying, my hand never gets tired."

Mr. Plympton became famous for rejecting a million-dollar offer to animate for Disney and remains the genius independent, “making films the way I like to make them without bending to the Hollywood machine.” He's here at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival to show us how being an independent animator can be done.

The UM Media Arts department will sponsor a screening of many of Mr. Plympton's short films including such favorites as How To Kiss, 25 Ways To Quit Smoking, and Santa: The Fascist Years, this Sunday, Feb. 19th at 7:30 pm at the Wilma, and Mr. Plympton promises to unveil what he calls “Plympton's Dogma,” a three step formula for success as an independent animator. He will be drawing at the theater, sharing his secrets of good design and how to sell it. Every audience member will go home with a free signed Plympton sketch to keep!

Alexia Anastasio's award-winning documentary about the life and career of Mr. Plympton, Adventures in Plymptoons, will screen this Monday, Feb. 20th 3:30 pm at the Crystal Theater with Mr. Plympton again in attendance. Adventures in Plymptoons sheds light on Mr. Plympton’s work and its reception via interviews with friends, collaborators, family, and critics. Mr. Plympton will also screen previously unseen clips from his newest feature, Cheatin, and a television pilot, Tiffany. His established films will be available for purchase at both events. Don’t miss this chance to meet a legend in animation!

Visit Mr. Plymptons website to learn more:

-Plymptoons, or, the Slightly-Non-Fiction-Ish-Somewhat-Doc-Like-How-To-Films Of Bill Plympton Sunday February 19th 7:30 pm the Wilma

-Adventures in Plymptoons! Monday February 20th 3:30 PM at the Crystal Theater 515 S. Higgins Avenue

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Cecile Berberat

A Short Doc About BSDFF Opening Night, Sponsored by HBO

Thank you to HBO Documentary Films, generous sponsor of our free opening night screening of Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present!

HBO Documentary Films Sponsors Opening Night.

Documentary by BSDFF Promo Team filmmaker Marshall Granger.

Ear Candy Music Sponsors Sound it Out

John Fullman really likes vinyl. He’s been collecting records since he was 10 years old, and 14 years ago when he opened Ear Candy Music on South Higgins, his favorite hobby became his full-time job. Specializing in both CDs and vinyl, Ear Candy Music is a haven for local enthusiasts who still care about the physical aspects of music collecting that digital mediums have largely displaced. The artwork, the packaging and presentation, and the superior sound quality are the usual values of vinyl-heads, but “there’s also the whole aspect of ‘digging,’” Fullman says. “The hunt for that elusive title, the record that sometimes takes years and years to find.” The idea that a song might take more than a few minutes of Googling to track down may be disconcerting to some, but in a record store like Ear Candy Music, we’re reminded that our favorite albums are more than lumps of data ready for consumption—they’re unique human artifacts.

It makes sense, then, that Ear Candy Music is sponsoring this year’s screening of Jeanie Finlay’s Sound it Out, a portrait of the last surviving record store in her hometown of Teesside, England. The film, screening Sunday. Feb. 19 at the Wilma, is Finlay’s fourth entry in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Her 2007 entry, Teenland, was Finlay’s debut screening in a festival setting. “They’ve always supported my work as a filmmaker,” she says. “I like the intimacy of this festival—I met Mike on my lift from the airport on my very first year, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Part of this year’s Big Sky Mix Tape, Sound it Out is a film about music and what music means to people. It’s also a film about men. It’s also a film about collecting. But, as is so often the case with great documentaries, it’s a bit reductive to qualify it by stating what it’s “about.” “I look at the small things to tell a larger story,” Finlay says.

Sound it Out screens at the Wilma Theatre on Sunday, February 19th, at 5:15 PM. More information is available at And remember to support your local record store, Ear Candy Music!

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Peter Schumacher

We Are All Poets

Mark Gibbons is many things: the author of six books of poetry, an editor, a teacher, a life-long Montanan, and now, in conjunction with the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center, a sponsor helping to bring Katja Esson’s Poetry of Resilience to the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

Poetry of Resilience is a document of survival, told through the words of poets who have endured genocide, revolution, and the most terrifying facets of war. After the screening, Mark will read along with other noted Montana poets including Sheryl Noethe (the state poet laureate) and Casey Charles. Betsy Mulligan-Dague, Executive Director of the Center, will introduce the film and join the poets in a question-and-answer session.

A conversation with Mark is a poem in itself, and his wisdom on poetry is perhaps best summed up by a quote that I spotted on his LinkedIn profile: “We are all poets, but most of us don’t write.”

On his philosophy of poetry:

GIBBONS: I arrived at that - I used to say that about my dad. He was a poet and he never wrote... when I teach, out of each kid, even if they don’t write at all, you will get at least one good poem. A poet is someone who expresses emotional life in language, and we all do that. People have survived using the written word throughout history - that’s where some of our best literature comes from.... The local poets who are reading, maybe they haven’t survived the Holocaust, but they’ve survived something. The fact is that all poets who have who have ever put pen to paper have at some point written their way through something - we’ve all survived. We learn to survive by talking.

On Poetry of Resilience itself:

GIBBONS: I think it’s an incredible film - I watch a lot of film, and I love the way that the director places language on the screen. The use of Li-Young Lee to narrate, illustrate, and bookend the whole thing, he’s more like us, an outsider, and he’s also a hell of a poet. I look forward to seeing how people respond to it.

Poetry of Resilience will be shown on Sunday, February 19th at 7:00 pm at the Crystal, along with Language of the Unheard.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Carrie Laben

HBO Opening Night a Huge Success!


On Friday, Feb. 17, HBO Documentary Films generously sponsored a superb opening night for Big Sky. Matthew Akers' new film, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present - recent winner of the Berlin International Film Festival's Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary 2012 - played to huge crowds at the Wilma.



Following the screening, BSDFF Film Festival Director Mike Steinberg hosted a Q&A with the film's director, Matthew Akers.


Intrigued audience members posed questions and learned about the process of making the acclaimed documentary.


Following the screening, filmmakers and festival pass holders attended an intimate HBO Kickoff Party at The Loft, enjoying delicious food, drink, and music by Burlesco.







Festival attendees mingled with filmmakers and discussed the night's spectacular opening film.


The opening night festivities proved to be an excellent kickoff to ten days of amazing documentary films at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival!


Photos by BSDFF Promo Team member Dan Doran. Click here for more photos from BSDFF opening night.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Missoula’s Own Rapping Cowboy

Back by popular demand, Roll Out Cowboy, Elizabeth Lawrence's wildly successful feature-length documentary about rapping cowboy Chris “Sandman” Sand, will screen for its second year in a row this Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18, at the Crystal Theater. Nominated for last year's Big Sky Award, Roll Out Cowboy went on to take countless prizes and Jury Selections, including Best Documentary at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, Flint Film Festival, and Arizona Underground Film Festival. The movie crossed Europe in screenings last year and is now back to Western Montana to entertain Big Sky audiences.

Chris Sand made his start performing at open mic nights in Missoula’s very own Top Hat and The Rhino in the early 1990s. He went on to release ten full-length CDs of his solo music and collaborations. Lawrence’s documentary follows Mr. Sand’s traveling musical antics from North Dakota to Washington and back again in the 2000s. Described as Woody Guthrie meets L.L. Cool J, Mr. Sand’s performance style is both hysterical and sincere.

The Sandman credits the making of Roll Out Cowboy with helping him move onto a new chapter in this life. For example, Chris met his wife, Hanna, on set the last day of filming. These two have recently welcomed their first baby girl and relocated the whole family to Missoula’s lower rattlesnake neighborhood full-time. After suffering a vocal chord injury this past year, The Sandman is taking time out from touring to recuperate and be with his family. Asked how he feels about Roll Out Cowboy’s encore appearance at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, the Sandman says, “it’s extremely thrilling, a big honor.” The film’s screening will be followed by a special musical performance by the Sandman himself! Keep your eyes peeled for a cowboy rapping around Missoula, and also for the Roll Out Cowboy DVD release in the near future. For more information, visit the Sandman’s blog at

Roll Out Cowboy screens at the Crystal Theater, 515 S. Higgins Avenue, Saturday February 18th at 4:45 pm. Sandman CDs will be available.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team member Cecile Berberat

Thursday, February 16, 2012

OPENING NIGHT Free Movie Friday

The 9th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival kicks off tomorrow night - Friday, February 17 - at the Wilma Theatre with a free 6:30 pm screening of Matthew Akers’ film Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present sponsored by HBO Documentary Films.

Controversial performance artist Marina Abramović has been challenging traditional notions of Art for nearly half a century with her groundbreaking work. Akers’ film chronicles her three-month performance at the MoMA, in which she sat silently in a chair every day from open to close while visitors flocked from around the world to sit with her and share in the experience of her mountainous discipline. But if this sounds too avant-garde for you, fear not. Abramović’s life story—from her communist upbringing to her foot-journey across the Great Wall of China—transcends the art world. Ultimately, the story Akers tells is one that explores the difficulties and possibilities of finding meaning in a chaotic and noisy world.

“A lot of these films would never play in Missoula,” says Festival Director Mike Steinberg, and he hopes The Artist is Present will serve as audiences’ “gateway drug,” wetting appetites for the feast of over 100 documentary films that will hit Missoula over the next two weeks. With a slew of rock 'n' roll performance films and other features whose subjects range from sushi to rapping cowboys to the VW Bus, there’s bound to be something for everyone. So come on out tomorrow night for some free nonfiction fun, and learn more about The Artist is Present in the interview with the director below.

BSDFF: What do you hope the audience will take away from your film?

AKERS: That it’s not a film about art, specifically - that it’s really about something larger. It’s really about slowing down in our lives, and thinking about how to be in the present and look at each other and have a genuine human interaction. It seems to me a particularly important message, since we all live in such a crazy over-mediated world right now, communicating through all these different devices without having to be physically present.

BSDFF: How did you meet Marina Abramović?

AKERS: I met her through my producer, who I’ve worked with for a number of years. When he found out that she was going to invite these 36 performance artists up to her house, he asked me if I’d like to shoot it and try to cut a trailer. I said sure and went up there. He’d been telling me how charming Marina is and how much fun she is to be around, her sense of humor, etc. I wasn’t really doubting him, but at the same time I was exhausted from having just spent a year shooting footage of clowns and acrobats for a documentary called Circus. It was difficult to go from that right into another very difficult project—performance art—and the whole thing was a little scary. But I just thought, you know, I’ll go up there for a week and see what happens, and I met her and we immediately hit it off. I told her that I was skeptical of performance art, and she liked that. She’s been faced with that apprehension—that question of “why is this art?”—her whole career.

BSDFF: What were your goals for this project, in the initial stages of filming?

AKERS: To find a way to film something that is by nature ephemeral, and to make a film that is somehow not just documentation or biography, but also communicates the true transformative power of Marina’s work.

BSDFF: How did the element of unpredictability play into the shooting of this film? Obviously, you didn’t know how Marina’s 3-month performance would be received, or if she would even finish it.

AKERS: Well, I knew just from her legacy that there was absolutely zero percent chance of her not completing the performance. I mean, this is a woman who once laid out 72 objects, half of which caused pleasure, and half of which caused pain, and she stood motionless in a gallery for six hours while the audience freely used the objects on her body. Two of the objects on the table were a bullet and a gun, and someone towards the end of the six hours put the bullet in the gun. They put the gun in Marina’s hand and made her hold it up to her head, and cocked it. There was a sort of brawl that ensued and the guy was tackled by some of the other people there, but it didn’t faze Marina.

BSDFF: How many hours of footage did you shoot to make this film?

AKERS: I know I personally shot between 600 and 700 hours. We have many, many films we could still make out of this material. Everything I shot was kind of amazing. You know, one day she tells me she’s meeting Ulay, her ex-lover of 12 years, whom she hasn’t seen in over two decades. And then every week after that she would tell me something equally incredible that I felt like I had to film. Before I knew it 11 months had gone by and I had essentially given up all work for a year just to keep shooting. It was amazing.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team member Peter Schumacher

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Sky Brewing Hosts BSDFF Launch Party

BSDFF Launch Party @ Big Sky Brewing 2012

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival kicked off with a launch party hosted by BSDFF sponsor Big Sky Brewing.

BSDFF Launch Party @ Big Sky Brewing 2012

Like participating in the greatest ever Mr. Rogers factory tour, festival board members and staff explored the cavernous Big Sky Brewing facility.

BSDFF Launch Party @ Big Sky Brewing 2012

We even got a sneak peek at this year's fantastic merchandise.

BSDFF Launch Party @ Big Sky Brewing 2012

The night ended with everyone eagerly anticipating this year's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival - the films, the Doc Shop, the parties, the excitement. We hope to see you there!

BSDFF Launch Party @ Big Sky Brewing 2012

Photos by Michelle Gustafson. Click here for more photos from the launch party.