Lions and tigers and bears, good-bye? 

Film Festival Doldrums

The latest species threatened to turn up endangered may not be one with wings, fins or hooves, but rather one of Missoula’s most popular events. The International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF), the world’s longest-running—and arguably, most prestigious—wildlife film competition is caught in the jaws of a financial squeeze that imperils the future of its 2001 film season.

A major grant from the Murdoch Foundation, which in past years has provided the IWFF with the lion’s share of its operating budget, has fallen through, according to IWFF treasurer Gordon Campbell. Without the estimated $40,000 grant this year—last spring’s film festival budget amounted to $186,000—Campbell says that IWFF staff and volunteers will be pounding the pavement for funding to keep the movie reels spinning.

“With not-for-profits, it’s always a tough thing to do to keep the wheels turning and keep the funding steady,” says Campbell. “You put out a few grant requests and sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t.”

The IWFF was founded by bear biologist Dr. Charles Jonkel as the world’s first juried wildlife film festival. Since its inception in 1978, the festival has blossomed from its modest beginnings of 24 film entries its first year to 254 films from 20 different countries in 2000, attracting renowned international wildlife biologists, filmmakers and videographers whose credentials include work for the BBC, National Geographic and PBS. In recent years, the festival has branched out to include educational programs, a wildlife video-making course for children, classroom educational packets distributed to teachers, and a traveling film festival that tours the country.

“We all honestly believe that this is a temporary situation and there will definitely be a festival this year,” says IWFF Executive Director Randy Ammon, about the 24th annual event, scheduled for April 14-21, 2001. Ammon says that although the 2000 festival was an overwhelming success, this latest financial pinch comes at a time when the IWFF has recently hired a new executive director and festival director, and is working to establish itself as a year-round organization.

The IWFF has earned an international reputation for its emphasis on capturing images of wildlife in their native habitat. “People in the wildlife community value that, because they know that when they come to Missoula, Montana for this festival they get the real story, the pure story, not some commercialized Hollywood makeover,” Campbell says.

A fundraiser for the IWFF will be held Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8:30 p.m. at the Union Club in Missoula and will feature a silent auction and live music. Award-winning wildlife videos from past years can also be rented at Crystal Video, with proceeds going to support IWFF.

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