After the hectic pace and hype of Sundance, it was a treat to go for the first time to the Big Sky Film Festival in Missoula. In fact, it was my first time in Montana — and I’ll be back. I was a juror in the documentary feature category along with the delightful Skylar Browing (Arts Editor of The Missoula Independent) and Deborah Barkow (filmmaker and editor). The winner of the feature competition was Jimmy Rosenberg: The Father, The Son, The Talent by Jeroen Berkvens — an elegant and richly layered film about a guitarist who should be known better in the U.S. A special jury award for artistic vision was given to When Clouds Clear by Anne Slick and Danielle Bernstein (lovely cinematography!). For full festival results, see the festival’s website.

The Wilma, home of the Big Sky Film Festival in Missoula, Montana

The Wilma Theater is the home of the Big Sky Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.

The festival’s artistic director is Doug Hawes-Davis (Libby Montana, POV 2007), and in just five years the team there has built Big Sky into a festival with a deservedly good reputation. The home is the wonderful historic Wilma Theatre — a lovely specimen in downtown Missoula with a main house that holds an audience of 1100 and a smaller second theatre for special programming — this year, they’ll feature a retrospective of the great work by Hart and Dana Perry.

The program (over 160 films) had a nice mix of premieres, highlights from the festival circuit, shorts and films of particular appeal to local audiences. The opening film was the lovely (if perhaps a teeny bit long) The Gates by Antonio Ferrara and Albert Maysles — a fascinating and beautiful portrait of Jeanne-Claude and Christo’s struggle and triumph to produce their exquisite installation in Central Park. Audiences lined up to see recent festival favorites from Up the Yangtze to Kurt Cobain: About a Son, a great set of shorts sponsored by the International Documentary Challenge, and premieres including La Americana by Nicholas Bruckman and Conviction by Mike West and Bill Ward. The audiences were particularly enthusiastic for some of the local programs with lines down the block for Montana films The Little Red Truck by Rob Whitehair and Class C by Justin Lake and Shasta Grenier.

It was a great, easygoing festival experience and Missoula’s a lovely town — a wonderful mix of rural America and college town. So mark your calendar for February 2009, and treat yourself to a few days of taking in some excellent films in a great place. And when you go, be sure to take a hike in the Rattlesnake — you’ll be awed by the wilderness!

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Simon served as chief operating officer of American Documentary for six years before assuming the role of executive director in Fall 2006. Since joining AmDoc in 1999, he has played a key role in helping to set strategic direction for the organization and implementing new initiatives, including the Diverse Voices Project, POV's co-production initiative in support of emerging filmmakers; POV's Borders, PBS' Webby Award-winning online series; and True Lives, a second-run series for independent documentaries on public television. In addition, he worked to secure pioneering partnerships with both Netflix and Docurama to expand the distribution opportunities for POV filmmakers and enhance branding for POV Previously, Simon was associate director at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, a nonprofit literary arts and education organization and publisher, where he is now a member of the board of directors. He has also served as a board member and treasurer for Elders Share the Arts and East Harlem Block Schools, and as an informal advisor and funding panel member for other organizations including the New York City Center for Arts Education, the Association for Independent Video and Filmmakers and New York State Council on the Arts. Simon attended the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Columbia University Business School's Institute for Not-for-Profit Management.