Every year, filmmakers from across the world apply to have their films screened at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. This year, four filmmakers under 30 from the festival’s home city made the cut. Corridor talked with each of them about their movies, how they got started in documentary filmmaking, and the direction of their careers.
The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival begins Feb. 6 in Missoula, and will screen films at several locations through Feb. 16. For a full schedule and more information, visit bigskyfilmfest.org.
Rachel Stevens, 29
Movies: “20/Nothing,” 2014, 6 min.
“For All,” 2015, 12 min.
When Rachel Stevens first moved to Missoula from Jackson, Wyoming, she volunteered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
The documentary filmmaker, who’s now finishing up her degree at the University of Montana’s Media Arts program, thought it would be 10 years before she got one of her movies into the festival.
Last year, a mockumentary about Montgomery Distillery screened at the festival.
This year, she has two, full-fledged documentaries in the lineup.
Stevens says that “20/Nothing,” and “For All” are “both really about acceptance, one on a personal level and one on a community level.”
“20/Nothing” is an experimental film about Evan Smith, a Missoula man who’s had a prosthetic eye since he was young.
Smith describes the accident that took his eye, other people’s reactions to it, and how he feels it’s a part of what makes him an individual.
To help give a sense of his perspective, the film employs split-screen cinematography.
“We wanted to do an experimental film, and we wanted to convey that something was off with your vision without being too literal, like having a blank screen on the left,” she said. “We wanted to put the viewer in an uncomfortable, beautiful place.”
Stevens and a small crew, including Sarah Meismer, Caitlin Hofmeister and Josef Metesh, produced the film during the 2014 International Documentary Challenge, and it won the American Documentary POV Award. The awards were given by POV, an independent film showcase that is featured on PBS. As part of the award, “20/Nothing” is featured on the PBS/POV website.
Her next project, “For All,” is about the efforts to build the first all-abilities playground in Missoula.
The effort was spearheaded by Jenny Montgomery, whose son has cerebral palsy.
Stevens spent nine months filming their progress in getting the playground built.
She said it was an “undertaking.”
“There’s so many amazing kids and people that are involved in this,” she said.
Marshall Granger, 23
Movie: “To Live Deliberately,” 2014, 11 min.
Ice-climbing films often take the form of winter-sports porn, with drone photography and bass-heavy soundtracks.
University of Montana undergraduate Marshall Granger forged a more impressionist route for his documentary short, “To Live Deliberately.”
He creates a snapshot into the world view of Justin Willis, a young competitive climber who spent a month and a half living in his van at Hyalite Canyon so he could focus exclusively on climbing.
Granger was interested in capturing Willis as he rises in the climbing world while focusing on the meditative aspects of the sport.
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There are on-camera interviews with Willis discussing the role climbing played in his life - bonding with his father, who is an experienced climber - and how the activity offered an escape during his high school years.
He also discusses the mental fortitude and subsequent rewards of the ice climbing.
“In the moment, you hate suffering but you kind of learn to love suffering,” Willis says on camera.
Granger began pursuing documentary filmmaking in college.
“I realized it was the most manageable” form of filmmaking, he said.
“It has less limitations when you’re young and don’t have a lot of money,” he said.
Granger is also producing short portraits of musicians for his “Montana Songwriters” series, which is collected on a Vimeo channel, http://vimeo.com/channels/842556.
Aidan Avery, 21
Movies: “Abdulai,” 2014, Ghana, 15 min. “The House of Tom of Finland,” 2014, 8 min.
Lane Brown, 22
Movies: “Abdulai,” 2014, Ghana, 15 min.
Aidan Avery and Lane Brown, two young filmmakers and Hellgate High School graduates, traveled to Ghana in 2013 to document life in a small village of 300-some residents.
The two had both visited the village as part of the school’s service trips, and decided to return after they were struck by the happiness they found among the village’s residents.
They successfully raised funds on Kickstarter, and spent two weeks in the country. They traveled with another Hellgate service group, but were working separately and independently of the school programs.
It wasn’t until they reached the editing room that the two decided to focus on Abdulai, a village patriarch who explains daily life with his large family, farm work and compound.
“We didn’t even go into the production process realizing it was going to be about one specific person,” Avery said.
Viewers had difficulty connecting with the film when they cross-cut between characters, so they decided on Abdulai, who Avery described as the most charismatic and well-spoken.
After consulting with a Los Angeles documentary filmmaker, they decided to leave much of their footage and interviews unused. While painful, it was the right decision for the film.
After graduating from Hellgate, Avery studied film at the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago. He left the program after a year and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a freelance film editor for several years.
Last month, he enrolled at Seattle University, where he’s exploring other interests that can feed back into a career in filmmaking.
Brown, meanwhile, enrolled at the University of Montana to pursue a BFA in media arts.
The Hellgate grad began shooting films when attended a filmmaking camp at the Roxy Theater in middle school.
He began pursuing filmmaking in earnest in college.
He’s working on fictional narrative films that pull in his experiences as a one-time English major.
While he enjoyed making a film in the cultural arena, his greatest interest is in outdoor filmmaking, and he’d like to stay in the Northwest after graduation.