Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reflecting on Wide Open Spaces

It may seem odd, or even deliberately ironic, to name a series of short films "Wide Open Spaces" -- after all, these pieces (ranging from four minutes to just under half an hour in length) are by design tightly focused on their subject, precise rather than sprawling, lyrical rather than exhaustive.

And yet, the programming lives up to the name in ways ranging from the obvious (the sweeping shots of snowy Montana landscapes in "Painting John" (1); the desert ghost-town-as-character in "Boomtown" (2) to the subtle (the linguistic challenge of "History is Unwritten" (3); the eerie fourth-dimensional scope of "Back to Land" (4).)

When I first flipped through the program, I thought to myself, "oh, nature films" and was puzzled by the inclusion of material like "Smoke Songs" (5) and "Painting John." But I quickly realized that this series is about something subtley different and in some ways - and yes, I feel like a traitor for saying this - even more important. It is about human interaction with the landscape in all its iterations.

Freed from the expectation of a genre, I saw the relevance of films like "Painting John," "Smoke Songs," and "Pot Country" (6), as well as more traditional nature-film concepts like "Among Giants" (7), "The Lookout" (8), and "A Salton Soul" (9), and those films that fell oddly in the middle, being only themselves, like "Guanape Sur" (10) and "Still" (11).

Sitting in the Wilma, I found myself falling in love again and again. With a dead whale. With the conflicted citizens of Humboldt County. With life as a fire lookout on a mountain top. With the visual elements that cropped up again and again, the dogs and trees and clocks and precipitation, and also with all the faces.

(1) Audrey Hall, 11 min. A portrait artist sets out to capture the face of an elderly, isolated rancher in the dead of a Montana winter.

(2) Torben Bernhard & Travis Low, 12 min. Footage of the ghost town of Frisco, Utah, combined with audio recordings from the 1960s of the last surviving former Frisco residents.

(3) Aaron Jones, 4 min. A vision of a forest, narrated in the Lushootseed language.

(4) Tijana Petrović, 4 min. A blue whale washes ashore dead after being hit by a boat, and draws onlookers.

(5) Briar March, 20 min. Three Dine siblings make up the punk band Blackfire, combining cultural and political activism with driving beats.

(6) Kate McLean & Mario Furloni, 27 min. A look at the history of the marijuana industry in Humboldt county, and the challenges of possible legalization.

(7) Chris Cresci, Ben Mullinkosson & Sam Price-Waldman, 14 min. A profile of Farmer, an Earth First tree-sitter.

(8) Brian Bolster, 16 min. A season at a fire lookout station on a northwestern Montana mountaintop.

(9) Mike Agnew, Greg Balkin, Tim Kressin, 13 min. Elderly June Eisley reflects on her life at the Salton Sea, in the face of her own mortality and the gradual destruction of the Sea by increasing urban water demands.

(10) Janos Richter, 23 min. Once a decade, Peruvians mine guano from an island of nesting birds.

(11) Lou Karsen, 9 min. Traditional Yakama hunter Glen Pinkham discusses and demonstrates the hunting rights and methods of his people.

Essay by BSDFF Promo Team writer Carrie Laben

Christopher Nagata on the Tradition and Transformation of Sushi

With a step-mother who was raised on traditional Japanese cuisine, I learned the joys of sushi relatively young for a kid in Montana. And when we really wanted the best, we'd make the three hour drive from Bozeman to Sushi Hana. I recently got to chat with Christopher Nagata, owner of Sushi Hana and sponsor of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about his life as a sushi chef and the sacrifices he’s making to keep his business ecologically sound while going through as much as 400 pounds of rice and 100 pounds of fish a day.

BSDFF: Can you give me a quick history of how sushi came about?

CHRISTOPHER D. NAGATA: You might find conflicting stories, but sushi happened because in the 17th century China introduced rice to Japan. Rice starts to ferment very quickly, and they figured out that if they covered the fresh fish they caught off the coast with fermented rice they could preserve it much longer. So at first rice was a preservative and then became a source of nutrition. It wasn't until the late 1800s that something like what we call modern sushi was seen. It kept evolving of course. What we consider sushi here in the states is much different.

BSDFF: How did you start rolling sushi?

CN: I've been a sushi chef for 25 years. I'm half Japanese, raised in Japan until I was 9, then moved to this country. My mom's American, my dad's Japanese. They moved back to the states to start restaurants in Northern California. I learned from sushi masters my dad had brought over from Japan. I learned from people that had learned the old way in the steps you would learn them. The fact is, you just can't do that the same way anymore. I grew up most of my life in restaurants. I went to high school and college thinking I would do anything other than restaurants, but all my life I find myself drawn back to it.

BSDFF: How is sushi here different from sushi in Japan?

CN: Just like any cuisine introduced from one country to another, the taste pallet and the combinations of foods and ingredients put in inherently changes. It happens with all kinds of cuisine. French food is going to be different in France than it is here, even in the best or most authentic sounding French restaurant.

In Japan, you're not going to see any of the varieties you would at my restaurant, for example. We have a whole section of house speciality Maki rolls, there are different ingredients including fish, poultry, vegetables, and we combine them in a particular way that isn't traditional.

BSDFF: And I'm sure what you can access in terms of the fish market here in Montana is much different than in Japan.

CN: Yeah, it is. But it's not necessarily the availability of things. If you're willing to spend the money you can get just about anything you want. But you have to consider how much you can charge, what people will pay for it. We keep it right for the people we cater to so we can turn our fish over every day. That way we don't have any leftovers and we're not throwing things away. And we're being as conscious as possible about where we're getting our food.

BSDFF: What do you do to be conscientious about where you're getting your fish?

CN: Mostly it's keeping up to date on what species of fish aren't thriving and choosing not to use them. For example: Tuna. The panoply of tuna is very different. The larger the tuna species, the more fat content it has; the smaller, the leaner. So Blue Fin are highly prized because it's a larger species and therefore has more flavor. Flavor comes from fat, and that's what a lot of people want. But, unfortunately, that species is overfished because of its popularity. Right now it's riding on the borderline of being threatened. They haven't put any regulations on it, but still that tells me I shouldn't use that fish. I choose to use a smaller species of tuna that reproduces quicker, reaches maturity quicker, and isn't threatened. The flavor is still great, and the look of it is magnificent.

People ask me all the time, "why don't you serve this fish or that fish" and they assume it's because I can't get ahold of it. But that's not true. I'm trying to do my best to use fish that aren't going to sacrifice the environment the way other fish would. But it's getting to the point where fish is in such demand all over the world that it's going to be hard for me to do this sort of business for a long, long time. I don't see it, for me, going on generations and generations.

BSDFF: I applaud you for watching out for the fish. So after we've seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi and we're craving a roll, what should we order when we come into Sushi Hana?

CN: What really sums up everything we've been talking about today is The Bodega Sunset. It mixes traditional ingredients and modern techniques in rolling and accompaniments like the wasabi sauce that comes with it.

BSDFF: Why was it important to you sponsor Jiro Dreams of Sushi?

CN: It was really a no-brainer for me because of my passion for sushi and food in general. I've been to Japan every other year to visit family. I know a little bit about this gentleman and I'm a humble admirer of his work, the tradition, and the lost art of sushi. Here in the US we have to do things a little different and I've had to change the things I learned as an apprentice in order to fit the demand of making sushi. Jiro has stuck to tradition, which requires apprenticeships, and teaching his son in the traditional manner. I really admire that. I admire his precision and the time he puts into it, and he's really keeping it an art form. I also feel like I'm an artist and food is one of my canvases.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi plays Sunday, February 26 at 4:00 pm in Wilma 1.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Mackenzie Cole

Patriot Guard Riders at Big Sky

In Patriot Guard Riders, filmmaker Ellen Frick takes us alongside the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR), a club of leather clad vets on motorcycles, as they roll down small town American streets, flags streaming. We watch as they line up in front of members of the Westboro Baptist Church and drown out lyrics like, “No toes left for their toe tags” in a thunder of revving engines. Frick uses this clash to look at the legacy of American wars. We talked about the PGR and what it was like strapping on leathers and rolling with the gang.

BSDFF– How long have you been making documentaries and how'd you get into it?

ELLEN FRICK– I've been working on documentaries only about 10 or 11 years. I had another career before that of civil engineering. I actually got sick, I got breast cancer and did that sort of cliche of, “oh is this what I want to do with my life?” I was really working with clients to circumvent environmental regulations because that's what the people who paid the bills wanted. I decided I wanted to write non-fiction. Then I came to making documentaries instead of writing.

BSDFF– That's really admirable. I saw that your production company, Wall Fly Films, is devoted to social issues. Why was this an important directive for you?

EF–For me, the only thing that matters in terms of putting all this work and money in is to tackle some of the issues of today and inspire people to think about things they haven't thought about before. In this case it's military funerals.

BSDFF– How did you settle on the PGR?

EF– I read about the Westboro Baptist Church, the "I hate fags" groups, coming to the military funerals because, as they said in their Supreme Court argument, that was the highest pulpit in the land. I heard about the bikers going too and started looking into it and of course the story got much deeper than that when I learned about who the bikers are and why they're there.

You know I actually just called them up and asked if I could come on a "mission." I went by myself without any crew or camera. I just rode on the back of somebody's bike and was part of the flag line to see what that felt like.

BSDFF - In the movie we see the Patriot Guard Riders going on several "missions," both to be on hand at funerals but also to honor returning soldiers. What do you feel is the most important action that they take?

EF– You've heard the quote, "from the greatest evil comes the greatest good" and I'm most impressed that after this war ends they're going to carry on honoring veterans. There's nobody who has been going to veterans' funerals all this time. Especially the homeless vets. It touches my heart that somebody is paying attention, even if it's these weird guys, these leather clad bikers. We have plenty of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan vets and somebody is paying attention.

BSDFF– A lot of people come back from the war and feel lost. We need to be doing more to be taking care of the people who go through war for our country.

EF– And doing it in this informal, noninstituitional sort of way really struck me.

BSDFF– It seems hard for anyone to identify with the Westboro Baptist Church, but is there any part of their message worth paying attention to?

EF– Honestly, no. I think of them as an "I told you so Ministry." Even if people believed what they said about the Bible, it's too late. Only one family is going to get into the gates of heaven and it's their family. Thank goodness people can't join their church.

BSDFF– What do you hope people take away from the film?

EF– A new understanding of war. That these statistics in the paper are real people, with real families. Getting people to go to military funerals is my first goal. Hey, maybe we wouldn't have war if everybody could see what this is like. I know that's altruistic, and, of course, it's not altogether true. There's plenty of Generals going to military funerals. But if the general public experienced what I've experienced the last couple of years just standing there at a nineteen year old kid's funeral in the high school they graduated from the year before… Some kids go back to their high school to say to hi their teachers, but not when they're dead.

Patriot Guard Riders plays Sunday, February 26 at 2:00 pm in Wilma 1.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Mackenzie Cole

Cold Hard Cash Plays Big Sky

Check out this rockin performance by Johnny Cash tribute band Cold Hard Cash. They played Wednesday night before The Winding Stream.

Cold Hard Cash from Big Sky Film Fest on Vimeo.

Video by BSDFF Promo Team filmmaker Jeri Rafter.

Friday in Photos! Big Sky Kicks Off the Weekend in Style

Friday brought the fun, with screenings of "Ordinary Skier" and "I Am A Sex Addict," the visiting artist reception at the Brink Gallery, and an after party at Zoo City Apparel.






















Photos by BSDFF Promo Team photographer Carmine Leighton. Click here for more photos from Friday night at the festival.

Big Sky Presents the Films of Agi Orsi

When I began surfing at 13, I was just psyched to catch whitewater and get tumbled by Oahu’s mellow south shore waves. But as the years passed, surfing became a passion and addiction. Now, landlocked, I can only dream of the waves that are breaking without me. At this point, surf films are the only things getting me through.

Luckily, this year Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is showing Riding Giantsa film about big wave surfing. Agi Orsi, the producer, will be screening a number of her films, including Dogtown and Z Boys and No Room for Rock Stars, on Saturday, February 25.

We sat down to gush about movies and waves.


BSDFF: So, what do you do as a producer?

Agi Orsi: As a documentary producer, which is different than a feature producer, I get the coffee. I get the financing. I choose the crew. A lot of times I have an idea and then I develop it and put it all together. Its fun being a producer because you can multi-task… it’s never boring.

BSDFF: You are known as one of the foremost producers of adventure films. What is it about these topics that interest you?

AO: Well, I like adventure; I am drawn to those kinds of sports. I like outdoor activities and in a way, it is kind of like producing. You start with a goal, and you don’t know what is going to happen. You might not reach that goal, but something else happens. At least that is the way that I came to Dogtown and Z Boys. Initially, I was talking to Vans about financing a snowboarding documentary that I had developed. But then I met Stacy Peralta [director and famous skateboarder] so I called Vans and ask them if they wanted to finance this film about Dogtown. I had done some adventure documentaries before that, but that was the film that got people to return my phone calls.

BSDFF: And it made such a huge splash at the Sundance Film Festival.

AO: We were surprised by that; we were just making the film. We didn’t know what would happen.

BSDFF: So what have you been up to since then?

AO: I just finished No Room for Rock Stars, which is all about the Vans Warped Tour. It started when Vans marketing approached me and asked if I was busy. And you’re supposed to always be busy. So I said “Sure, I’m busy. But what do you have in mind?” And they asked if I wanted to produce the Vans Warped Tour documentary. It will play here, and then we are opening it on Thursday night, March 1, in 50 theaters across the country.

BSDFF: So what is your next project?

AO: Well, now I am starting a documentary on Eddie Aikau. You must know who he is, being from Hawaii…

BSDFF: Wow, Eddie Aikau! Yes. [Note: Eddie Aikau was a famous big-wave surfer, waterman and island-hero from Hawaii] When is it coming out? I’d like to see it.

AO: I think it should be done around July. We are doing the editing right now. There is a lot of footage, a lot to work with. We are doing the story about Eddie’s life, so we interviewed his family members. They were totally cooperative - they gave us a lot of archival film and photographs. We also interviewed professional surfers like Shaun Tomson and Jeff Hakman; we’ve got a lot of good people. I think it will be a great film.

BSDFF: It seems like with documentary films, there are so many different threads of stories that you can follow. How do you decide which story you want to tell?

AO: You need to be familiar with the subject before hand. The interesting thing about documentary is that you really don’t know what is going to be said. You might think you know the story, but then someone you are interviewing could come up with something new that you want to follow.

BSDFF: That’s got to be an exciting process, right? Because you don’t really know what will come out of it.

AO: Yes, absolutely.

BSDFF: So what do you think is the role of film festivals in documentary film?

AO: I think they are more and more important. Documentaries aren’t getting the theatrical release because the market has changed. We don’t have the DVD release that we used to have: where the theater release was really marketing for the DVD. I think that the way to have any revenue now is with iTunes. Because theatrical release is so expensive, festivals are the way to get out there, a way to get your film known and liked. Festivals are more and more important, and it seems like there are more festivals.

BSDFF: One last question, I read that you are a snowboarder… would you like to go snowboarding on Sunday?

AO: I fly out on Sunday, but maybe I could change my flight… I would love to.

Riding Giants plays in the Wilma 2 on Saturday, February 25 @ 1:00 pm; Dogtown and Z Boys plays in the Wilma 2 on Saturday, February 25 @ 3:15 pm; No Room for Rock Stars plays in the Wilma 1 on Saturday, February 25 at 5:15 pm.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Laurel Nakanishi

Visionary Insight at Big Sky

“Visionary Insight: Behind the Scenes of the Film ‘Winter in the Blood’” is the story behind a larger story. It’s a film that takes a look at the people who helped bring to life the adaption of one of the greatest novels ever written by an American Indian about American Indians.

The 37-minute “Visionary” documentary provides a space for the filmmakers – no matter how small or large their role – to express thoughts about being on set for the adaptation of Blackfeet author James Welch’s Winter in the Blood, a book award-winning author, poet and playwright Sherman Alexie describes as “thee” novel of Native American literature.

“It’s the first real shot of Native American realism, naturalism, that was based on everyday life, not mythology,” says Alexie onscreen. “It’s the first novel I read where I completely identified with the main character. I read it when I was 19 and I thought, ‘I’m Virgil. I’m Virgil.’ So, now to see Virgil walking around the streets of Montana… I started crying when I got here. This is so important.”

Chaske Spencer, the hunky wolf pack leader in the blockbuster Twilight Saga vampire series, plays the lead role of Virgil First Raise.

Here’s the IMBD plot summary: It begins when First Raise’s wife leaves him. “Virgil sets out to find her -- beginning a hi-line odyssey of inebriated encounters, sexual skirmishes, and improbable cloak-and-dagger intrigues with the mysterious 'Airplane Man.' Virgil's quest also brings him face-to-face with childhood memories and visions of his beloved, lost brother Mose -- some glorious, some tragic. Only when Virgil seeks the counsel of an old, blind man named Yellow Calf, does he grasp the truth of his origins and begin to thaw the ice in his veins.”

“Visionary Insight” shows Saturday, February 25 at 5:15 pm in the Wilma 1 Theatre. Rector and University of Montana School of Media Arts students Mike Matthews, Mat Miller, Jeri Rafter, Caitlin Hofmeister, Zach Smith and Travis Coleman -- as well as recent Media Arts alums Patrick Cook and Dani Lacy -- will attend the screening and answer questions afterward.

The making of “Winter in the Blood” brought some American Indian luminaries in film and literature and a fresh-faced cast of nine Longhouse Media interns to Montana, all of which was captured by “Visionary Insight” directors Tracy Rector and Lou Karsen.

Longhouse Media interns arrived in Montana to provide film support to “Winter in the Blood” directors Alex and Andrew Smith. In addition, the interns had the chance to meet and work with renowned author Alexie, and the movie stars Gary Farmer of Powwow Highway fame and Spencer, whose mother is from the Fort Peck Reservation on the Montana Hi-line.

“Visionary” does more than explore the making of a film, but it also captures the splendor of the plains with luminous landscapes and great big skies. “I was so impressed with the work Tracy and Lou had done of the film, having been there, I wasn’t aware of the amount of footage that had been taken,” said UM Media Arts major and intern Travis Coleman. “I was really impressed with how they put it all together.”

Most of the “Winter” interns arrived in north central Montana near Havre the summer of 2011 with a background in film, whether it was through Longhouse Media programs or a university, said Rector, executive director of Longhouse Media. Rector’s Seattle based indigenous media arts company has worked with more than 2,000 students around the country.

Rector said the students had a great professional role model in Spencer. “All of the interns felt really respected by him and were interested in learning from him. That was an absolute highlight for interns to work with him.”

“Confidence is built through experience,” she said. “Having the chance for a hands-on work opportunity on a set and the cultural exchange, brought out the strengths and knowledge of these interns.”

The interns discovered the beauty of the Montana Hi-Line, the region’s people, and learned what it was like to work 16-hour days on a film set blasted by High Plains heat. “It’s so cool to see young Native people working and achieving their goals and they’re learning fast!” said Spencer.

Intern Dallas Pinkham spent about three weeks working with Longhouse Media during the filming of “Winter.” He left with a heightened sense of what he can do with a camera and a good story. It’s likely film will play big role in his life.

“I’d love to become a movie director and hopefully have my own production studio… I hope I can share my stories through media.”

"Visionary Insight: Behind the Scenes of the Film 'Winter in the Blood'" screens Saturday, February 25 at 5:15 pm in Wilma 1.

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Jodi Rave

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ziggy Played Guitar

Nobody does it better and no, I’m not talking about Carly Simon. No musical artist yet has eclipsed David Bowie in genius style, showmanship, and complete world fascination. One glimpse of his costumes, that hair, those legs, and men, women, and children of every nation swoon. Out of fifteen plus addictive albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) remains memorable for Bowie’s groundbreaking use of his androgynous alien persona, Ziggy Stardust.

His clothes and colors are fantastically retro, yet the excellence of his musical tracks endure four decades later. The ultimate concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust inspires pity for a younger generation fed hit singles and empty promotion. The album’s popularity and Bowie’s resulting fame drew a cult following as resistant to Bowie’s many future musical evolutions as folkies were to Dylan’s plugging in. In fact, the same documentarian who captured Dylan’s swagger in Don’t Look Back (1967) also captured the final concert of David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust in London in 1973.

This awesome rock time capsule, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) screens Saturday night at the Wilma and is sponsored by Carlo’s One Night Stand, the vintage and costume specialty store on Missoula’s Hip Strip. Come dressed as Ziggy Stardust or another Bowie-era character and receive half price admission to the show!

Max Gilliam, Carlo’s owner, says his store has everything you could possibly need to outfit yourself as the andro-enigma, including tights, sequins and makeup.

“What I do at Carlo’s is try to have costumes and vintage that’s very representative of the periods. I work hard at that all the time and make it affordable.”

Mr. Gilliam came to Missoula from Santa Barbara in 1977. The G.I. Bill gave him $411 a month and he used to bike around town and stop at rummage sales, finding fabulous pieces for just a quarter. When his stock piled up, Mr. Gilliam would put on his own sales to cover rent and food. Since that time, Carlo’s One Night Stand has had three locations: at the UM, 6th and Higgins and now at 109 South 3rd, right next to the Higgins Street Bridge. Mr. Gilliam says his favorite Bowie tune is "Space Oddity," and he enjoys all types of music except country. “I don’t drink, I’ve already been divorced, and my truck works,” he says in his defense. We hope to see him in some serious vintage of his own this Saturday 2/25 when Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars screens at 9:30 in Wilma 1. Don’t forget to dress as Bowie to receive half price admission!

Article by BSDFF Promo Team writer Cecile Berberat