Wildlife Film Fest goes online, outside for a month


“Kingdoms of Fire, Ice and Fairy Tales” takes viewers from the Arctic Circle to Yellowstone’s geologic features.

Cory Walsh

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.

“The festival is always one of those events that makes everybody start coming out of doors, and feel like it’s finally going into spring-summer outdoor time,” she said. “So we just wanted to lean really hard” into that.

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.

Since then its home base, the Roxy Theater, developed socially distanced outdoor offerings at its Movie Garden behind the building on Higgins Avenue and at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field with the PaddleHeads.

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.

“We’re responding a little more to where we feel like the community is and where our audiences are. And I think we want to err on the side of caution. So everything will be masked and socially distanced,” she said.

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 awards ceremony will be held downtown April 30. First you can see a clip from Emmy-winner “Epic Yellowstone, A Winter Hunt,” of a bobcat stalking prey, projected on the side of the First Montana Bank building. Then they’ll announce the award winners with projections and capture them on a drone video, which the awarded filmmakers can share on social media.

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.

“Corona: The Pandemic and the Pangolin,” examines how viruses can make the leap from animals to humans. It features contributions from Montana author David Quammen.

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.

Festival highlights

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 — The first outdoor screenings start at the Roxy Garden. They continue on Thursdays and Fridays through Friday, May 7.

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.

Friday, April 30 — Watch “Epic Yellowstone, A Winter Hunt,” on the First Montana Bank Building downtown, plus the awards ceremony.

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.”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.