When a film festival dedicated to horses and related issues opens on Friday, it will feature a full day of events on Native Americans and the role of horses in their culture.

"Horses have been so integral to Native American culture and history," said Janet Rose, founder of the Equus International Equine Film Festival.

"I thought that would be a very important focus, and then it just kind of evolved and grew from there. It really evolved and blossomed," she said.

The festival, which takes place on the University of Montana campus this Friday through Sunday, is co-sponsored by the Native American Studies Department, and will have screenings and talks at the Payne Family Native American Center.

Some 200 high school and college students from the Flathead Indian Reservation are coming to town for the events.

The festival will convene at 10 a.m. Friday with remarks from Vernon Finley, chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and then delve into presentations and screenings.

They include "The Role of the Horse in Native American Life, Culture and History," a talk by University of Idaho doctoral student Rudy Shebala, and a screening of "Horse Tribe," a film about Navajo horseman Shebala's role bringing horses back to the Nez Perce in Idaho.

An award-winning young Navajo filmmaker, Christopher Nataanii Cegielski, a Sundance Native Lab and Time Warner producing fellow, will participate in a panel, "Emerging Voices in Native American Filmmaking."

His movie "Bloodlines," which was selected at the Berlin International Film Festival, will be screened at that talk, which starts at 11 a.m.

Rounding out the afternoon are well-received, feature-length documentaries: "Dakota 38" (2 p.m.) "Indian Relay," (3:30 p.m.) and "We Are A Horse Nation" (4 p.m.) The afternoon events are held at both the UC Theater and the Payne Center. For tickets and locations, go to equusinternationalfilmfestival.com.

The events were coordinated between festival organizers and Cheryl A. Vanderburg, tribal relations specialist for the U.S. Forest Service.

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The first Equus festival was held in Missoula in 2011. Rose, who served as head of the International Wildlife Film Festival from 2000 to 2013, said it was a small event to raise awareness about horse abandonment and rescue.

"A lot of people get rid of horses because it's a terrible mismatch between the horse and the person," she said. Both parties need to have the right temperament, experience and fit to get along.

There is also the issue of horse slaughter, on which Rose stays neutral and only promotes awareness of adoption.

More and more issues rose to prominence, along with more films, since 2011, and so Rose decided to revive the festival.

The other screenings and talks will touch on a wide swatch of issues, including therapeutic riding. Rose said young people with mental and physical disabilities and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder have been helped by the interaction with horses.

Para-equestrian Margaret “Gigi” McIntosh will be in attendance for a Saturday screening of "Fork in the Road," a short documentary about a crash that left her almost completely paralyzed and her efforts to learn to ride again and compete in the Paralympics.

"It's people like this and films like this that transcend the whole horse theme. They inspire people to achieve what's important to them," Rose said.

Rose plans to bring the festival back again next year, perhaps with a different focus and theme.

Overall, she hopes the festival raises awareness of horses and their particular temperament and role in human lives, a relationship that stretches throughout history.

Events take place at both the Payne Center and the UC Theater on campus. Be sure to double-check the venue at equusinternationalfilmfestival.com.

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