"Kingdoms of Fire, Ice and Fairy Tales" takes viewers from the Arctic Circle to Yellowstone's geologic features.
The International Wildlife Film Festival is expanding its habitat this year, with movies streaming online and at outdoor screens around town for a full month.
Between April 17 and May 15, the 44th annual festival will present 65 films from around the world that cover animals near (grizzly bears in Yellowstone) to far (Australian wildlife in the aftermath of the fires) and subjects such as viral spread from animals to humans, or the sustainability programs we aren’t taking full advantage of.
The theme, “Rising from the Depths,” and the hybrid format reflect a “rejuvenation” and “a new chapter for everybody,” said Carrie Richer, artistic director.
Last year, the festival, one of the oldest of its type in the country, went to a virtual-only model, the first large event of its kind in Missoula to do so. They adapted successfully and reached audiences from around and outside the United States during the early phases of COVID.
Those provided IWFF with tried-and-true formats that viewers are comfortable with.
So the festival will present at those two venues, although not inside the theater yet.
Besides those dedicated screening areas, they’re setting up some pop-up installations, where people can drop in as they like. On Earth Day (April 22), they’re celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Wildlife Biology Department, where the festival started, at the University of Montana. After sunset (approximately 8:30 p.m.), they’ll screen “Lichen” on the side of the Forestry Building.
The festival’s closing installation is at Caras Park on May 14, where a five-hour selection of scenes from the film “Whales” will play on the roof of the pavilion. It will be like a surround-sound experience, she said, where you can lay down or walk under it and “be immersed in this whale ocean scene right along the Clark Fork.”
The streaming films will be released in batches — 20-plus the first week and more each following Friday. They’re using Eventive, the same platform from Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, and will record some talks with filmmakers.
The films themselves cover the gamut, with critters, issues, the environment and science. “Entangled,” a feature about North American right whales at risk of netting from lobster boats, won several awards at festivals already. “River’s End” tackles water-use issues in California. “Youth v. Gov,” by director Christi Cooper of Bozeman, covers a lawsuit young people filed against the federal government over its actions in creating climate change. “Shaba” takes viewers to an elephant rehabilitation center in Kenya, courtesy of director Ami Vitale, a National Geographic photographer based in Missoula. “The Beast of Our Time” centers on grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park in a changing climate. It's narrated by Jeff Bridges, with appearances by author Terry Tempest Williams and conservationist and bear expert Doug Peacock.
Richer also drew attention to “2040,” by director Damon Gameau, who uses the film to address his young daughter with ideas about what the planet could be like if humans acted soon.
“If we looked at all the working innovative, sustainable solutions that are already established somewhere here on this planet, if we leaned really hard, what would our world look like in 2040?” she said.
Screening on Earth Day weekend, it brings an optimistic message that can be rare in environmental films, she said.
Here are the some key dates. Head to wildlifefilms.org to peruse the lineup or buy tickets starting April 1. They run from $10-$100 for full passes, individual screenings or multi-movie punch cards.
Saturday, April 17 — The festival opens with the WildWalk tribute.
Thursday, April 22 — An Earth Day celebration with the UM Wildlife Biology Department’s 85th anniversary party and a pop-up screening of “Lichen” at the Forestry Building.
Thursday, May 8 — A family friendly screening of “Kingdoms of Fire, Ice, and Fairy Tales,” at Ogren Park with a costume contest and prizes.
Friday, May 14 — Festival-closing pop-up installation at Caras Park with “Whales.”