Independent films, made in Montana ghost towns, Paradise Valley vistas and Israeli cities, will take over the Roxy Theater for the third Montana Film Festival.
The dark comedy "Lemon," directed by Janicza Bravo, examines an unlikable loser with both sympathy and cringe humor. In Kristen Carthew's "The Sun at Midnight," a First Nations teenager ventures into the wilderness of Canada's Northern Territories with an older hunter. "Beach Rats" trains its lens on a young man conflicted with his sexuality. Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud's "In Between (Bar Bahar)," examines the lives of three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv.
The selections were culled from around 100 to 120 submissions from around the U.S. and some from outside the country, a small increase over last year.
The Roxy Theater started the festival in 2015. The first year leaned hard on the Montana angle, with an inaugural run of independent Montana-made movies and retrospectives of past Hollywood ventures into Big Sky Country, paired with films from the art-house circuit.
For the second year, coming in the midst of a divisive presidential campaign, they brought under-represented demographics to majority-white Missoula, said Andrew Rizzo, who programmed the festival with Aaron Roos, Marshall Granger and Jeri Rafter. They arranged a retrospective on black director Charles Burnett and movies like "A Stray," which followed a Somali immigrant on the streets on Minneapolis.
This year, female directors emerged as a trend.
"It's not our theme, but our guiding principle was to have equal gender representation in the films," Rizzo said. They ended up with about a 50-50 divide between male and female directors.
The festival bookends are the Montana premieres. It opens Thursday with "The Ballad of Lefty Brown," starring Bill Pullman, and closes out Sunday with the Smith brothers' "Walking Out," which premiered at Sundance.
Overall, the programming team said they considered whether movies would play well to the Missoula audience, unique as it is, where more people will turn out to a locally targeted niche movie than something that's creating buzz in New York or Los Angeles, Rizzo said.
The slogan this year is "Take the Time. Watch Cinema," which fits in with the nonprofit theater's approach to building a community around watching movies.
Businesses sponsored screenings of five feature-length movies so they could be offered free of charge: "The Sun at Midnight," "Lemon," "Bad Lucky Goat," "No Light and No Land Anywhere" and "Super Dark Times."
Roxy members can reserve passes in advance. If you sign up for an annual Roxy membership for $25, you'll get an all-access pass to the festival screenings, events and parties. Among other perks, regular screenings at the Roxy are only $5 with a membership.
Montana writer-director siblings brothers Andrew and Alex Smith are returning with their follow-up to "Winter in the Blood."
"Walking Out," based a short story by David Quammen, is a father-son survival tale. A teenager from the city (Josh Wiggins) visits his father (Josh Bomer) in Montana to go on a winter hunting trip. After an encounter with a grizzly bear, the two struggle to get back off the mountain.
The film has received positive reviews for the cinematography and the acting, both of which required some commitment to shoot on location in the Paradise Valley during wintertime. You can read an interview about the shoot at http://bit.ly/2xG0t2s.
The Austin-American Statesman said, "Bomer and Wiggins are extraordinarily good and the well-crafted screenplay creates a palpable tension that hangs for the last twenty minutes or so of the picture. This is independent filmmaking at its best."
"Walking Out" premiered at Sundance Film Festival, just like the Smiths first feature, "The Slaughter Rule," starring a pre-fame Ryan Gosling.
Tickets for the "Walking Out" premiere might be hard to come by, but the film will open for a regular run at the Roxy on Oct. 13.
Sunday, Oct. 8, 6 p.m., followed by a Q&A with actor Josh Wiggins and writer/director Andrew Smith.
'The Ballad of Lefty Brown'
Bill Pullman has a part in "Walking Out," and coincidentally he's also the lead role in "The Ballad of Lefty Brown." Lefty, a classic Western sidekick, goes to seek justice after the killing of his longtime partner.
Pullman, director Jared Moshe and company shot the period film in southwest Montana at Harrison, Nevada City, Virginia City, and Bannack State Park in 2016. (To read an interview on the making of the film, go to bit.ly/2yoKB1E)
Thursday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 8, 3 p.m.
Harry Dean Stanton's swan song
"Lucky," a small independent film about a 90-year-old chain-smoking atheist, appeared to have the feel of career summing-up in early reviews.
"Everything Harry Dean Stanton has done in his career, and his life, has brought him to his moment of triumph in 'Lucky,' an unassumingly wonderful little film about nothing in particular and everything that's important," Joe Leydon wrote for Variety.
Stanton's passing on Sept. 15 at age 91 renders that summation especially poignant.
The movie was directed by John Carroll Lynch, who played the husband of Frances McDormand's chief of police in the original film version of "Fargo." (Beyond that, he's had a number of creepy roles, including a suspect in the David Fincher's serial killer movie, "Zodiac," and John Wayne Gacy in "American Horror Story.")
The film co-stars David Lynch, who cast Stanton in "Wild at Heart" and several episodes of "Twin Peaks: The Return." He wasn't the only idiosyncratic director who found a muse in the character actor. Stanton's first big lead role was in German director Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas," in which he portrayed a wandering amnesiac. Later in his career, he played a polygamist cult leader in HBO's series "Big Love."
According to the festival's capsule descriptions, in "Lucky," Stanton's aging protagonist has "out-lived and out-smoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self exploration, leading towards that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment."
Friday, Oct. 6, 4 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 8, 1 p.m.
Table read of a new script
Actor Brick Patrick, a Butte native working in Los Angeles, will give a table read of a new script with John Budge. "Guttermuckers" follows "a couple of ragtag roofers experience a series of misadventures on their quest to start a roofing company," according to the festival website.
Saturday, Oct. 7, 8 p.m.