Five films were lauded Friday night as the 15th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival headed into its closing weekend.
Festival juries of filmmakers and industry professionals selected a winner in each of four categories, and had the option to award an Artistic Vision prize in each category as well. Winners received a $500 cash prize, and winners in the Short and Mini-Doc categories automatically qualified for consideration next year for an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar in the documentary shorts competition.
David Byars’ “No Man’s Land” received the Big Sky Award, presented to one film that artistically honors the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West. The 82-minute “No Man’s Land” tells the story of those inside the armed militant seizure of headquarters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oren in January 2016 and attempts to uncover what it is that draws individuals to the edge of revolution.
The Big Sky Award was adjudicated by Theo Lipfert, Michele Ohayon and Drew Xanthopoulos.
“Community Patrol,” produced by Andrew James, took top honors in the Mini-Doc competition for films 15 minutes and under. In 13 minutes it follows the intimate story of a minister in Detroit and shows a community that comes together in order to push back against a drug house in an inspiring display of collective action.
Sean Mullan’s “Inhale” received a Mini-Doc Artistic Vision Award for its portrayal of a man who, through horses, feels an irrepressible duty to move in harmony with his pain. The jury presented the award for the film’s “beautiful and subdued cinematography and the completeness of its poignant story of grief and perseverance.”
“We cannot wait to see what (Mullan) does next,” the mini-doc jury of Kirby Dick, Julie Keck and Joshua Nelson said in a statement.
“Koka, The Butcher,” produced by Bence Mate of Germany and Egypt claimed the short competition, for films between 15 and 40 minutes in length. The 38-minute film revolves around Koka, a respected figure in Cairo’s pigeon fighting world who devotes his time to training and caring for hundreds of pigeons in his self-built wooden tower. Under immense pressure from his conservative community to quit his passion, Koka is faced with the possibility that his pigeon fighting days may be coming to an end.
The short competition jury was made up of Nancy Collet, Jannat Gargi and Amy Hobby.
“My Country No More,” produced by Rita Baghdadi and Jeremiah Hammerling of the United States, won the feature competition, for films more than 40 minutes in length. The 71-minute “My Country No More” follows the rise and fall of the new America oil boom, painting an intimate portrait of a rural community in crisis, forced to confront the meaning of progress as they fight for a disappearing way of life.
Jurors for the feature competition were Lisa Hasko, Milton Tabbot and Carmen Vicencio.
Thirty-five of the more than 180 films in the festival were in competition.
“The quality of filmmaking and craft of storytelling in this year’s competition films is really impressive, and we’re very excited about the quality of our jury as well,” Festival Director Rachel Gregg said in a released statement. “To bring these competition films to the engaged audiences at Big Sky is truly an honor, and we’re grateful to our juries for making the tough final decisions.”
The festival continues through Sunday at various locations in Missoula.