In April 2008, Montana-born film producer Tammi Sims was imprisoned by the Nigerian military. Sweet Crude, the documentary she produced with director Sandy Cioffi, depicts the human and environmental consequences of oil extraction in Niger Delta. And their harrowing experience, along with the film's story, gets to the heart of why oil politics is such a dangerous deal.
The film crew's initial trip sounds so innocuous: They went to document the building of a library in a remote Nigerian village. The crew, however, encounters young, college-educated men from an insurgency group called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The film shows how MEND is demonized by the American press as terrorists, but Cioffi and Sims tell a different story about local people who have a very strong stake in the region's politics. In the film, Cioffi provides an on-camera interview with an unmasked MEND spokesman who articulately describing the struggle. Cioffi brings up numerous questions including: What happens if, as predicted, the U.S. gets 25 percent of its oil from the Niger Delta by 2015? The film actually looks at the impact on the people and a place where oil is worth killing for.
It's a volatile topic, hence the imprisonment. Sims, originally from Joplin, Mont., Cioffi and their Nigerian colleague Joel Bisina made news and were, finally, released with the help of Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus and Gov. Schweitzer. But the story in Nigeria continues.
Sweet Crude screens during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival at the Wilma Theatre Sat., Feb. 20, at 10 AM.
Against the backdrop of majestic, snow-capped mountains in Peru, a farmer named Feliciano says in his native Quechuan language, "I don't want my son to be the same as me." Mi Chacra (meaning, "my land"), a film by Bozeman-based filmmaker Jason Burlage, tells the story of the conflict between farmers who love the land and way of life in the country, but who see a brighter future for their children in the city. The images are incredibly stunning. Additionally, Burlage not only takes the viewer into the world of Feliciano and his inner-conflicts, but also weaves in a history lesson about the Incas, the Spanish conquests and the haciendas, and how all that history led to the way indigenous Peruvians live today.
One of the most interesting parts of the film is that Feliciano also works as a porter on the Incan Trail, so the film delves into the impact tourism has had on the ancient ruin of Machu Picchu and the trail that leads to it. And, something we can relate to in Montana: the crisis of farmers who work hard but don't always see much reward—who often wonder if their children would be better off not following in their footsteps.
Don't miss it: Mi Chacra screens at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival at 5:30 p.m. tonight, Friday, Feb. 19, at the Wilma Theatre.
The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival announced its winners late last night. The Best Feature Award went to Lixin Fan's film Last Train Home about the consequences of a migrant family in China whose parents live and work in the city to make higher wages while the children stay in the country. But it's, of course, a reflection of the larger economic and political changes happening China.
Josh Fox, director of Gasland, was awarded the Artistic Vision Award for his first-person look into the effects of natural gas extraction, called fracking.
The Big Sky Award went to Joseph Aguirres' Next Year Country, about three farming families in Montana, the drought they endure and the sort of desperation that leads them to hiring a rainmaker from California.
Sweetgrass, directed by Lucien Castaing Talors and Ilisa Barbash, got a lot of buzz during the festival. It's style was surprising: unsentimental, no narration, no scripting, entirely immersed in the sometimes slow, stark feel of the story, which tells of the last sheep ranchers to summer their herd in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. It won for Artistic Excellence.
Danza Del Viejo Inmigrante (The Old Immigrants Dance) by Charlene Music received the Best Short Award for its elegance and unpretentious scenes portraying elderly Latinos forging spirited new lives in the U.S. And Kelly Anderson's Never Enough got the Artistic Excellence award in the short category for a film that dealt sensitively with people who have hoarding disorders.
The Mini Doc Award went to Paramita Nath for Found, a six-minute film by about Toronto poet Souvankham Thammavongsa, whose parents lived in a Lao refugee camp in Thailand. And Tony Donoghue's animated piece, A Film About My Parish: 6 Farms, got the Artistic Excellence award in that category.
The Big Sky Festival Film staff awarded Four Programmers Choice Awards:
Excellence in Cinematography: Michael Angus' Salt and Robert Drew's The Sun Ship Game
Excellence in Editing: Rainer Komers Milltown, Montana
Natural Facts Award: Briar March's There Once Was An Island, which gives props to the film for its artistic rendering of climate change and its effect of human life.
You get another chance to watch these award-winning films if you slacked on them the first time. Awards screenings are:
Friday, February 19 at 7:30:
Danza Del Viejo Inmigrante
Found A Film About My Parish 6 Farms
Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers*
Anonymous Rebellion (High school filmmaker Mike Worman's film, which is re-screening due to technical difficulties.)
Saturday February 20 at 7:30:
Next Year Country
Sunday February 21 at 8:00:
Last Train Home
This week the Indy looks at Plum Creek Timber Co.'s ability to protest the zoning regulations that could come out of the Seeley Lake Regional Plan. The Missoula County Commissioners are currently considering the plan, which the Seeley Lake Community Council drafted over the last three-and-a-half years.
Last night, the Wilma Theatre was packed, from ground floor to balcony, for the screening of Sweetgrass, a film about summer sheepherding in the Beartooth Mountains. In attendance: about 15 ranchers from Big Timber who were featured in or associated with the film. Very cool.
If you haven't been paying attention, here are some of the other highlights of the festival so far. Even if you missed these screenings, there's a good chance you can find the films online or at Crystal Video in the near future:
The Last One, directed by Neal Hutchenson, features Popcorn Sutton, a moonshiner in Appalachia who’s making his last batch of bootleg whiskey. The set up of barrels and soldered pipes, and the physics of how the moonshine process works, proves fascinating. The soundtrack consists of locals playing banjo, fiddle and guitar. Mostly though, it's Sutton who drives the story along with his deadpan look, old-timey beard and the things he says like: "This is the last damn liquor I’m gonna make. I guess them revenue officers will be glad of that cause they won’t have to watch me no damn more. They’ve been watchin’ me all my life.”
Last October, the Indy ran a feature story on the growing conservative movement in the Bitterroot Valley and the rise of the citizen group Celebrating Conservatism. We've since revisited the group's members in a number of briefs, tracking their first attempts at influencing county and state policy.
National mainstream media outlets finally weighed in on the emergence of these mixed-bag groups of disgruntled Tea Partiers, Christian Patriots and militia movements holdovers yesterday. Lee Banville at the Christian Science Monitor's Patchwork Nation blog wrote on Celebrating Conservatism's sister group in Ronan, Calling All Conservatives. New York Times writer David Barstow used the Tea Party Patriots of Sandpoint, Idaho, as a window into the rise of similar groups across the nation. Both stories hit on the same trends we found at Celebrating Conservatism, most notably the designation of far-right speaker and former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack as the new rock star of the conservative circuit. Mack spoke at two Celebrating Conservatism meetings in Hamilton in 2009—once in July and again in November. Our coverage continues tomorrow, with a brief on the latest proposed constitutional initiative from Celebrating Conservatism's ranks.
Missoula lawmakers today moved one step closer to making it a crime for motorists suspected of driving under the influence to refuse a law enforcement officer’s request to submit to alcohol or drug testing.
Former members of the Montana Wilderness Association circulated an op-ed to local papers yesterday, asking Sen. Jon Tester to change his proposed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. "It is with a heavy heart that we are compelled to oppose the organization that we once served as council members and officers," reads the column, which appears in its entirety below.
The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival at the Wilma Theatre is in full swing, and tonight features a couple of the most anticipated films.
Sweetgrass, directed by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, shows sheepherders in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth mountains, featuring sweeping landscape cinematography and an unsentimental story. It screens at 7:30 p.m.
Former Montana Gov. Marc F. Racicot will join Plum Creek Timber Co.'s board of directors effective March 1.
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