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'Cradle of Champions'

"Cradle of Champions" won best feature at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this year. Director Bartle B. Bull's debut is a verite look at the New York Daily News Golden Gloves boxing tournament.

The winners of the competitions at the 14th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival were announced on Friday night.

"Year after year, our competitions get stronger and stronger, which is remarkable because the films have been incredible since year one," said Doug Hawes-Davis, the festival's founder and director of programming. "This year's competition finalists are stronger than ever."

"Cradle of Champions," director Bartle B. Bull's film about New York's Daily News Golden Gloves amateur boxing championship, won the Feature Award. (See related story.)

Festival director Rachel Gregg said that win was "no surprise to us."

Each of the four competitions is juried by visiting industry professionals. The feature jury comprised Nadine Ajaka of The Atlantic and filmmakers Anne Devereaux and Bryan Glick.

In each category, the jury deliver one additional Artistic Vision Award by unanimous vote. The feature jury selected "Let There Be Light," Canadian director Mila Aung-Thwin's film about the worldwide efforts to develop fusion energy. The film has its world premiere at the festival as part of a retrospective on EyeSteelFilm, the Montreal-based collective Aung-Thwin co-founded.

In a statement, the jury said they chose it "in recognition of the film's artistic merit and educational value," citing "its cinematic eye, innovative animation, and engaging (passionate) investigation into the future of fusion (clean energy)."

The Big Sky Award, a category dedicated to films about the American West, went to "100 Years: One Woman's Fight for Justice." Director Melinda Janko provides an overview of the late Blackfeet activist Elouise Cobell's historic lawsuit against the federal government over royalties owed to Indian tribes.

The Big Sky jury comprises Sean O'Brien, University of Montana's director of English/Film Studies, Tenzin Phuntsog, a Montana State University film professor, and Bryan Bello, a UM film studies professor.

The jury gave an Artistic Vision Award to "Oyate," in which director Dan Grimus followed two families over the course of one summer on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The jury cited "its cinematic eye, observational gaze and the ability to capture the beauty in the everyday."

The festival has two awards for shorter documentaries. In an indicator of the festival's growing stature, the winners in these categories automatically qualify for consideration for Academy Awards.

The Mini-Doc Award for films under 15 minutes went to "The Fourth Kingdom," by director Alex Lora. The filmmakers describe it as a movie about "the kingdom of plastics, a redemption center in New York for immigrants and underdogs where the American Dream becomes possible indeed."

The Mini-Doc jury comprises filmmaker Daniel Junge ("Being Evel," "Saving Face,"), Gianna Savoie of the Ocean Media Institute, and cinematographer Mark Vargo, who has credits in documentary and Hollywood film projects.

The Short Award category is reserved for films between 15 and 39 minutes long. The winner is "Kayayo: The Living Shopping Baskets," Mari Bakke Riise's look at the Ghanaian girls who earn money by carrying baskets for shoppers on their heads.

The jury was Daniel Cross of EyeSteel, filmmaker Deia Schlosberg, who made national headlines when she was arrested while covering the Standing Rock pipeline protests, and Joy Dietrich, a film instructor at MSU.

They issued an Artist Vision Award to Eugene Richards' "The Rain Will Follow," which "beautifully marries internal and external landscape imagery in a way that infuses the whole film with a third complete and powerful through line."

Some of the award-winners will screen again on Sunday by popular demand, Gregg said. (See the box for times and locations.)

Overall, the festival, which kicked off last Friday, has been a success, Gregg said. As of Thursday, they've had attendance of 12,000 people for the 200-plus movies on offer. The final weekend is usually the busiest, so they are projecting total attendance in excess of 20,000.

There were initial concerns after the loss of a key venue. At the beginning of February, roof of the Silver Theater collapsed under heavy snow and ice, rendering it a total loss. Organizers had to move about 40 percent of the schedule to alternate spaces. She said they've heard positive comments from filmmakers on venues that they had never used before, such as the MCT Center for the Performing Arts and the Public House.

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