On April 19—26, Missoula’s International Wildlife Film Festival will draw wildlife filmmakers and fans from around the Northwest and the world. After heavy fundraising efforts, the festival has finally found a permanent home at the Roxy Theater on South Higgins. The festival is not only a time for screening wildlife films, but an opportunity for the world’s wildlife filmmakers to exchange ideas and concerns through daily workshops. The Independent sat down for a talk with the executive director of the International Wildlife Film Festival/Media Center Janet Rose to discuss the event.
Indy: I know that the Roxy was in a state of disarray during last year’s festival. Are things more under control this year?
Janet Rose: The first year [under my direction] was ‘Can you pull it together in three months with no money?’ ‘Well, okay.’ The second was last year when we were trying to figure out if we could do the Roxy and that was all when we were moving from Fort Missoula to the Roxy right before the festival. So this is the first year that we really feel like we’re on solid ground. This year, all of the workshops, seminars and panel discussions will be at the Roxy, even though all the films are at the Wilma, because it has the capacity.
Indy: I thought the whole point of buying the Roxy was to have the film festival there.
JR: The Roxy, with its three theaters, can accommodate three different seminars or workshops at the same time while the Wilma can accommodate 1,000 people watching films. If we did the films here [at the Roxy], then there’d be no place for the panel discussions that make up the other part of the festival.
Indy: What, if anything, will make this year’s festival different from those in years past?
JR: This year, we’re going to have a panel session on the global impacts of war and the economy and what effect that will have on film and television commissions. So, we’ll have people like Mark Johnson from the Montana Foreign Affairs Council and other political people participating, including a federal prosecutor who specializes in wildlife trade issues and poaching issues. We try to really look at policy, conservation, the whole spectrum of things related to wildlife and the environment, not just film.
Indy: Is the festival not usually so political or is this a trend?
JR: Probably, it’s increasing a little bit because [politics] has an impact on the films that we see. They’re no longer just what we call ‘blue chip films’ that look great but don’t have any kind of message. A lot of people are concerned about where the industry is going…And all of that is impacted by what is going on in the world, so we try to have a pulse on what’s happening in society at the time and make that a component of the festival. Look at television, for example. Last year, after 9/11, National Geographic produced more films on Afghanistan, so they may cut back on some of the natural history and wildlife films and put more of their resources and airtime toward political issues.
Indy: How many wildlife films were entered in this year’s festival, and how many of those will actually be screened at the Wilma?
JR: Two hundred and sixty-seven were entered. Forty-four will be screened at the Wilma.
Indy: What are the criteria for the winning films?
JR: The main criteria are scientific accuracy, ethical filmmaking practices and treatment of wildlife and creative use of the medium.
Indy: Who are this year’s final judges?
JR: This year, we have the head of natural history for the Discovery Channel, the vice president of DDE, which is a big distributor of wildlife films, an independent filmmaker from New York City, a film professor at the University of Idaho who’s also a filmmaker, and a supervising producer with National Geographic.
Indy: Who comes to the IWFF?
JR: Our understanding is that the festival and the films attract about 10,000 people to downtown Missoula throughout the week. They may come from Montana or the region or they may come from around the world. We have someone coming from Kuwait, Germany, England, Africa, from around the U.S., Australia, New Zealand. So really, almost every continent is represented.
Indy: How many volunteers go into putting the IWFF on?
JR: From start to finish, it’s about 100 volunteers.
Indy: Are the volunteers mainly students?
JR: Yes. Both from UM, MSU-Bozeman’s film school and a number of high school students, too, from Frenchtown, Hellgate—all over the region. We also have people who come from overseas just to volunteer for the festival.
Indy: Aside from the bragging rights of putting Missoula on the map as the host city, how does the IWFF benefit the city?
JR: I think it’s a tremendous economic boon to the city because you have approximately 300 people who come from outside of Missoula to stay in hotels, to eat, to buy drinks and other items. They spend money and a lot of them come back year after year, so you have a high return rate.
Indy: What do you hope people who come to the festival from out of town take away from both it and from the city of Missoula?
JR: That this is a magical festival in one of the most beautiful environments in the world. It’s a place where people can come together and celebrate wildlife and feel good about the beauty, the awe and excitement that wildlife and wild places represent.