If you looked at a list of Daniel Junge's movies and were surprised they sprang from the same director, he says it'd be "the greatest compliment that could be given to me."

He shared an Oscar for "Saving Face," about the female victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, in 2012. Two of his latest movies are about the Lego company and its worldwide fan community ("Beyond the Brick") and Butte-born daredevil Evel Knievel ("Being Evel").

The only similarity he sees is a respect for three-act story-telling structure and balanced viewpoints.

"Even though I go in with a perspective, there's at least a guise of complete objectivity in the films, and people watch them hopefully coming to their own perspectives, but probably influenced by me."

The breadth of his filmography is one reason he was selected for a career retrospective at this year's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, according to coordinator Michael Workman. Another reason is the notable amount of work he's produced: the 10 films in the retrospective span only 14 years.


The Mountain West is familiar terrain for the 47-year-old Colorado resident. He was born in Sheridan, Wyoming, and raised in Laramie and Cheyenne.

His father was a historian for the state, which Junge said "generated an interest in people's stories." He said it made him unafraid to ask questions to people from all walks of life. While his father took an observational tact, he said there's a "fallacy that documentary filmmaking is simply observing."

"I (am) usually going into a film with, not necessarily an agenda, but a perspective on a story I'd like to tell. And hopefully real life affords me the ability to tell that story. Of course, I have to be reactive if it proves otherwise. But I do think I go in with more of a perspective than my father would as a historian," he said.

The film school graduate earned notices with his debut feature. For 2002's "Chiefs," which looked at the lives of basketball players at Wyoming Indian High School, he won the grand jury prize at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Junge continued with a run of films that tackled social justice topics far from home. "They Killed Sister Dorothy" examines the murder of an American nun in Brazil. "Iron Ladies of Liberia" provided a glimpse into the presidency of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. "Saving Face" looked at the victims of acid attacks seeking justice in Pakistan.

"Iron Ladies" and "Saving Face" were collaborations, like many of Junge's films.

"If I'm working in an underrepresented community, it's become invaluable to me to work with people," he said, whether as co-directors, producers or cinematographers. They help ensure authenticity, but he also enjoys it.

"It's allowed me to spread myself thinner. I wouldn't have been able to do as many films as I have in the last decade had I not been doing collaborations like that. Sometimes it allows me to be lazy," he said.

For 2014's "Fight Church," he worked with a co-director, Bryan Storkel, to peer into the growing community of Christian mixed martial arts ministries.

Going into the project, he had misgivings about Christian cage-fighting but "we tried to walk it right down the center."

They provide lengthy interviews with both fighter-pastors and detractors who say that MMA categorically violates Christian doctrine. They're cage-side for the bloody, no-holds-barred fights and sermons delivered the morning after.

After the film premiered, he's heard both criticism and praise from either side of the debate.

"I am surprised when people feel that that film is either unabashedly against the idea of Christian cage-fighters or for them, but I do get both of those extreme viewpoints from people who watch the film," he said.


As a documentarian, Junge said he's "always surprised that people want their story told."

In "They Killed Sister Dorothy," he met "some pretty vile characters" who gave him "unfettered access."

"When they believe wholeheartedly in their perspective, they usually want to be heard," he said.

He said documentary filmmaking is a "mutual seduction."

"People want to be shown in a good light so they're trying to seduce you and you're trying to seduce them because you want all the most captivating material from them to tell their story," he said.

"It's always kind of a tap dance. I think you have to be honest with subjects and say, 'Look, I intend to treat you respectfully, I intend to portray your point of view in the way that you are giving it me, but at the end of the day, you might not like the film, and I have final say,' " he said.


Junge's next projects took a turn toward pop culture. "Beyond the Brick" (2014) is a global-traveling examination of the Lego company and its rabid fan base, and "Being Evel" (2015) is a "warts-and-all" portrait of the daredevil.

The shift in subject matter was a conscious one. For one, he was "a little burnt out" after 10 years of films on human rights abuses and social justice issues.

"Also, I wanted to prove my flexibility as a filmmaker, and I wanted to prove to myself that the accolades that I've received are not simply by virtue of the powerful subject matter that I was capturing," he said.

Like "Being Evel" producer and Knievel's occupational heir, Johnny Knoxville, Junge's a childhood fan of the daredevil during his prime, including the failed Snake River jump.

"It is still a fan film and I still am a fan," he said. Besides the rich archive of period footage, Junge made two trips to Butte to interview Knievel's family and friends.

He brings a similarly balanced approach to the movie, and doesn't gloss over Evel's dark side, including drinking, womanizing and violence.

"The film is about trying to reconcile the amazing stuff that he did for us and gave to us and still is giving us, and his less-than-savory personal life," he said.

He's working on a series of documentaries with the producers of "The Walking Dead" for AMC. The episodes will illuminate lesser-known stories behind famous comics, and air with the next season of "Dead."

He's been producing more, including a documentary on the war photographer Chris Hondros, who was killed in Libya, and a half-animated film in Swaziland, Africa.

"It's a group of orphans trying to overcome the trauma in their lives by telling a collective story in animation," he said.

Junge, who said it's an honor to be the subject of a retrospective, will give some Q&As, a master workshop and more while he's in Missoula.

He'll discuss working in the world of branded content, overlapping techniques from independent film, and making a living as a filmmaker.

"That you have a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and I do think that helps you as a filmmaker. We documentary filmmakers tend to be pretty precious about every shot and every edit in our films and I think that working in the commercial world has made me a little less precious and understand that sometimes things can work in different ways that I thought they could work," he said.

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