In an effort to make the Roxy Theatre its permanent home, the International Wildlife Film Festival and Media Center (IWFF/MC) is about halfway to its stated goal, having raised approximately $200,000 of the $400,000 necessary to purchase the now-defunct Missoula theater. Still, the nonprofit group must raise a total of $340,000 by Dec. 31 in order to make that dream a reality.
The International Wildlife Film Festival is the first and longest-running wildlife film festival in the world, and the only one that has strong community involvement in the form of public workshops and the Wild Walk Parade—an annual event that draws thousands of animal-costume clad participants up and down Higgins Avenue.
Now, the IWFF/MC, under the leadership of Executive Director Janet Rose, wants to turn a seven-day event into a year-round wildlife media center. To do this, Rose says, means fundraising another $200,000.
“We don’t want to spend all our resources and energies fundraising to keep the organization going,” Rose says. “We want to be able to use our time for programs, and we also don’t want to charge the public anything more than a nominal amount, either for rental of the space or admission fees.”
Many of the programs Rose refers to are already underway. Over the course of the summer, the IWFF/MC has been hosting a children’s wildlife video workshop, where kids learn about researching, writing, shooting and editing films. The program concludes with the youths actually filming and editing their own wildlife movies. Then, the students and their families get to watch the finished product on one of the Roxy’s large screens.
Another popular summer program at the IWFF/MC is the children’s wildlife songwriting workshop, in which children work with singer/songwriter Ritchie Doyle, a local performance artist. They learn about particular wildlife species, write lyrics and music to compliment what they have learned, and then record their song. Doyle plans on airing some of these tunes on “The Pea Green Boat,” a children’s program on Montana public radio.
“The whole idea is to use multimedia to learn about the environment and nature,” Rose says. “We want to help children and people of all ages better understand the natural world.”
Bill Wilson, a Missoula sales professional and a donor to the IWFF/MC campaign, agrees that it’s important for people, especially children, to gain a more realistic understanding of the wilderness around them.
“There should be a good place for people to get exposed to wildlife in film. Not to be critical of Disney, because that’s fine, but too many young people get exposed to that kind of unreal experience,” he says. “One of the tenets of the Wildlife Film Festival is that the films must be scientifically accurate and socially responsible.”
Rose envisions the future of the IWFF/MC at the Roxy as more than just a home base for her organization. Rather, she sees the Roxy as the perfect location for a multi-purpose Missoula community center.
And the community has responded favorably. Already, the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, Missoula Community School, the Missoula Symphony, local improv groups and several environmental groups have utilized or expressed interest in utilizing the Roxy Theatre’s facilities.
Wilson feels confident that, under Rose’s leadership, the Roxy will be around for years to come.
“To write a check to anyone, you have to have a belief in the people,” Wilson says. “This is a worthy cause in our eyes. It provides a forum for creative and talented people who focus in the wildlife genre, and this is a well-run organization. Janet [Rose has] built a capable board.”
Rose is also passionate about the need for the IWFF/MC to exist. “We don’t take any political or social viewpoints, but I think it’s important that accurate information is out there,” she says. “It’s one thing to see things in the wild, but you often don’t see that much.
When you come here, you can see the most exceptional wildlife films ever made, the majority of which are never seen by the public. And then people learn about the magnificence of their world.”
Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association, says that she is extremely pleased with the IWFF/MC’s progress.
“The Roxy has been dormant for more than two years, so this is rejuvenating a vacant theatre,” says McCarthy. “This adds to the economic viability of our downtown area. So it’s a no-brainer for us to support this endeavor. I personally gave them a check.”
McCarthy notes that the past successes of the IWFF have put Missoula on the map, drawing people here from all over the world.
“They bring 200 delegates in each year,” McCarthy points out. “If you think about the travel expenses for one of those delegates alone, and then multiply that 200 times, that’s a lot of money they’re bringing to the community.”
Rose has worked with the IWFF for 12 years, as an entrant, judge, keynote speaker, and now as executive director. She says that she hopes that the IWFF/MC will be able to raise the remaining $200,000 through a combination of grants, individual donations and fundraising events.
Ultimately, it will be up to the people of Missoula to decide if the IWFF/MC becomes a viable, year-round contributing entity.
“If every resident in Missoula gave two dollars, they would meet their goal,” McCarthy says. “Or, if every person who attended the [Wild Walk] parade in the last five years gave five dollars, they’d meet their goal, and it’s a great goal to have.”