Filming home 

Festival taps Montana-made talent

When writer Alesha Noice and filmmaker G.R. Claveria finished their 2006 mockumentary, A Study in the Orientation of Ham Sum (The Erotic Samurai), Noice—who is from Montana—wanted to screen it locally for family and friends. So, she searched around for Montana film festivals where she could submit her This is Spinal Tap-styled film.

“And then I realized there wasn’t one,” she says in a recent phone interview from Hollywood, Calif., where she now resides. “I mean, there’s the environmental festival, there’s the wildlife festival and there’s the documentary festival, [but] there wasn’t a festival for an independent feature narrative.”

Noice explained the situation to Claveria, lamenting that Montana audiences were missing out on a crucial part of independent filmmaking.

“And he said, ‘I wonder how tough it would be to make one?’ He really felt like between the two of us—I know Montana, he knows filmmaking—maybe we could get something together,” says Noice. “So that was really the beginning of everything.”

This year is the second of what Noice hopes will be an annual showing of the Montana Independent Film Festival. Last year, the event quietly debuted at the Wilma Theatre with little press or hype. Noice admits that unlike Hollywood, where she and Claveria currently host two festivals—Mockfest, in its third year, and this year’s inaugural Shockfest—Missoula’s PR points were a mystery to her and she didn’t get the word out like she should have.

But this year provides a chance for redemption. Whereas the debut event included only one Montana-made film—a short by Tobin Addington called Dancing Ground—this year’s festival features at least 10 films either made by Montanans or filmed in Montana. The festival’s online application for submissions may sling around terms like “edgy,” “experimental” and “pushing the envelope,” but Noice says the event’s goal is to show high-quality films that are as Montana-oriented as possible.

Noice points to this year’s opening night feature, Pretty Ugly People by Tate Taylor, as an example of the festival’s mission. In one of the first scenes, for instance, Melissa McCarthy’s (“Gilmore Girls”) character is seen shopping at the Orange Street Food Farm while several other characters arrive at the Missoula International Airport only to be met by a hick played by William Sanderson (“Deadwood”). And even if Allison Janney (“West Wing” and  Juno) didn’t set foot in or around Montana for the filming, she does play a bit role on an airplane during which point she mentions “a ticket to Missoula.” The film is about a group of old high school friends who end up on a wilderness trip to hell (near Holland Lake) after coming together at the behest of a dying friend’s wish. Or so it seems.

“It asks those questions about how people change over time,” says Noice, “how they didn’t become the people they thought they would, and how we haven’t become the people we thought we would be. It’s funny, but it asks a lot of serious questions.”

Noice says that narrative comedies are a difficult genre to get people to take seriously in film festivals.

“People like something serious and poignant—for some reason that seems more legitimate to them,” she says. “But I think—and my partner would agree with me—it takes a genius to do great comedy. It really takes a keen mind for timing.”

On the scarier side of the lineup, Saturday night includes a horror extravaganza featuring two Montana-made films: Dead Noon, about a posse of the undead resurrected from the Old West, and Paper Dolls, about Sasquatch creatures in Glacier National Park.

Noice warns that so far the Montana Independent Film Festival doesn’t have a rating system.

“You shouldn’t show up to the horror block without thinking that you’re quite possibly going to see something a little disturbing,” she says.

Other films, like Richard Bates Jr.’s Excision, are horrifying in a more psychological way—an obsessive lead character, for instance, wishes to perform surgery on her sister. Noice says it’s important to have a place for such films.

“When you have a studio film you don’t want to push the envelope too much because you don’t want to risk alienating an audience,” she says. “Well, independent filmmakers a lot of times don’t have an audience, especially when they’re first making a film. All they have is their imaginations so it can take them to some really wild places.”

That said, Noice says she hopes to get a variety of films each year so that families and horror-connoisseurs alike can enjoy the festival. Most of all, she wants to make it an event that fits into Montana’s lifestyle instead of trying to force a Hollywood-style format.

“Montana’s so not like that, people want to know you…They’ll support you to the ends of the earth but they want to know, ‘Do you get me?,’” she says. “I think people need to know that I was born in Circle, Mont. I’m from here. I just travel a lot now.”

Noice would like to see the number of Montana-made entries quadruple next year. And as for those filmmakers who aren’t familiar with Montana, Noice hopes to bring them here and tell them to take a hike. Last year, Claveria took filmmakers up the “M,” and they plan on making that a tradition.

“On some level we want things big,” she says. “But we also want to keep them small in attitude. We want the filmmaker [sitting] with the audience and to be in the lobby afterwards chatting with people.”

The Montana Independent Film Festival runs Friday, Sept. 19, to Sunday, Sept. 21, at the Wilma Theatre. Screenings begin Friday at 7 PM, and 1 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $12 opening night and for the 5 PM closing night awards ceremony. $8 all other screenings/$30 all-access passes.
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