Missoula's newest documentary film festival makes its debut this evening, but don't look for it at the Wilma, or even the Roxy. And it won't be playing at either Carmike. You're not going to find this screening at any movie theater, for that matter. If you want to see the films of Missoula Spaces, you'll need to take a stroll over to the south side of the Higgins Avenue Bridge around twilight, make like a troll and dip down to the banks of the Clark Fork, where you'll find these movies projected onto a freshly painted pylon.
And the venue isn't even what makes this inaugural festival most intriguing.
Because if we're being honest about it, you know the worst part of most documentary film fest screenings—especially a program of shorts—is that a handful are going to be subpar, or in some unfortunate cases, achingly unwatchable. We expect a similar quality ratio from Missoula Spaces—a local film festival in its inaugural year—only the beauty here is than any lemon will be over in less than minute. And even the ones you love will, like the Nicolas Cage movie, be gone in 60 seconds.
Here, all the shorts are extra short, and while this isn't the first film festival of its kind, the one-minute feature is still a rarity in the increasingly crowded world of documentaries. Some credit Josh Ippel and Charlie Roderick—the duo of artists behind Hideous Beast—for reinvigorating the genre with their Mini Movie Fests. Local artist Amy Stout, who returned to her adopted home less than five months ago and has spearheaded Missoula Spaces, also credits Hideous Beast, especially for their willingness to share a how-to manual for other mini film fest organizers like herself. She says she also was inspired by a one-minute film festival in Red Lodge, where she lived before returning to Missoula.
But Stout is quick to point out that the one-minute film is as old as the film technology itself. Around the same time Thomas Edison was tinkering away with the filming process, French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere were creating motion pictures using 55-foot rolls of film. When hand-cranked through a projector, the resulting movie was about 50 seconds long. "This is a way of capturing what the Lumiere brothers were doing," says Stout.
Stout's call for submissions is broad, requiring only that the film be less than a minute and attempt to answer the question: "How do you use Missoula spaces in the course of your daily life?" Entries shot with camera phones are encouraged. "We want one-minute films of everyday things," says Stout. "I'm not a documentary filmmaker, but I'm interested in being a curator. I'm curious to see what they say about us and our community as both social and cultural producers."
Video snapshots may be the best description of what you can expect to see under the Higgins bridge this evening. The five or so finished products I viewed are hardly polished pieces of art, but rather delightfully amateurish glimpses of Missoulians at work and play. The lack of context is of course glaring, and when dozens of the films are screened in succession it's bound to leave the mind semi-exhausted from the constant shifts. By the time you really grasp the subject and setting, the credits are already rolling. Think of it as calisthenics for the brain.
Some of the videos are staged, like the man reading a one-minute poem to the faceless voice at the other end of a fast food drive-through order station. Or the woman who takes 60 seconds to explain why the Russell Street pedestrian underpass is one of her favorite Montana places. Others are more slice of life; there's the bizarrely docile confrontation between doe and dog in the backyard. In another, two kids spray each other with silly foam in front of the house. Yes, it's a home movie, but remember, it'll be over before that surge of annoyance can become anything more than slight irritation.
"There's crazy variety," explains Stout. "Some of it is fantastically artistic, and some are just everyday things that turn into something extraordinary." Will her first foray into film festivals become an annual one?
Stout is non-committal: "I'll see how it goes and then take it from there."
The choice of venue, nestled against land owned by the Boone & Crockett Club near the Missoulian building, is a deliberate one. "It brings it down to a human space," says Stout. "I wanted to separate it from anything commercial."
Missoula Spaces: A Festival of One-Minute Films kicks off under the Higgins bridge tonight, Thursday, July 14, at 9 PM. Free.