The growing popularity of the documentary film genre – with fans and filmmakers alike – is itself a well-documented phenomenon, one that’s blossomed over the last decade.
Major movie studios have realized that there’s a buck to be made in documentaries, as their budgets are typically far below those of feature films, and the sheer number of filmmakers has exploded as the technology to make them has become more accessible.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
The bad news for filmmakers is that there are still very few festivals to exhibit the films, which means the competition is fierce.
The good news for audiences is that the competition is fierce.
The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, which opens next month, is only one of 13 such events in the United States.
And you can bet that the makers of the 130 films that will appear on the big screen at the Wilma Theatre count themselves fortunate to have made the cut from a staggering 1,000 entries.
Here’s another big number: 10,000. That’s the number of people the festival expects to attract to its screenings and other events from Feb. 12-21.
What started out as a small up-and-coming festival seven years ago is now an enormous attraction, with major corporate sponsorship, a regionwide audience and national acclaim.
Earlier this week, the BSDFF released its catalogue of official entries, and as usual, the unusual rules.
Orgasms and Milltown, for starters.
The film that will surely draw a packed audience is “Milltown, Montana,” a breathless, dialogue-free portrait of the timber town we all know.
Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and directed by Rainer Komers, “Milltown, Montana” is a half-hour look at the scenery we take for granted, but also the scarred earth of a dam’s removal and a century of mining waste.
The film, in the BSDFF’s “Big Sky” competition category, has already won festival prizes in Europe, and is a dark but beautiful look at corporate greed and the damage left in its wake.
As is “Orgasm Inc.,” which may appear by the name to be exploitative, but is itself a searing look at the pharmaceutical industry.
In it, filmmaker Liz Canner, an employee of a major drug company, takes an insider’s look at her employer, which is trying to develop a drug for female sexual dysfunction (a Viagra for women, essentially).
In it, Canner suspects the company is taking advantage of women and endangering their health in the quest for its “orgasm pill.” What is, she asks, the price of pleasure?
New this year to the festival is “Indigenous Visions: Film by Native America Filmmakers,” a host of documentaries concerning Native issues.
The nine titles include “A Century of Genocide in the Americas: The Residential School Experience,” documenting sexual abuse in government-run Native schools, and “Real Injun,” a look at how American Indians are treated in movies and the culture at large.
Each year, the festival looks back on the life’s work of one influential filmmaker, and this year the subculture-dweller Doug Pray is the honoree.
Pray gained fame in 1996 with his film “Hype!,” a documentary about the explosion of the Seattle grunge scene. Since then, he has focused on such subjects as trucker subculture, graffiti, surfing and DJs. His latest film, “Art & Copy,” looks at the creative side of advertising. Eight of his films will be shows at the retrospective.
And for the third year now, the cable giant HBO is sponsoring a free screening of a yet-to-be-released documentary on the festival’s opening evening.
HBO Documentary Films’ “Sergio” profiles the life and legacy of Sergio Vieira de Mello, a career United Nations leader who was killed in Iraq shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
De Mello had worked in various leadership positions at the U.N., and was U.N. secretary-general to Iraq when he and 20 of his staff were killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in August 2003.
Among special events at the festival, “Man with a Movie Camera” stands out.
The film is an important slice of the Soviet propaganda machine. Using numerous untried techniques – double exposures, stop-motion animation, freeze frames – pioneering director Dziga Vertov’s art-style look at the life of Soviet workers and society aimed to show the steadfastness of the worker under communism and the glories of Bolshevism.
Made in 1929, it is a silent documentary, and was originally meant to be accompanied by Russian music. Why it stands out at the BSDFF is the presence of the three-man electronica-and-junkyard-object band the Alloy Orchestra, which writes music for and performs live accompaniment to classic silent films. The Boston-based band has written scores for 28 full-length features, and tours all over the world.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.