The digital video revolution continues to roll on, constantly replenishing the modern-day cinephile's horn of plenty even in remote outposts like western Montanawitness the stellar lineup of the Montana CINE Film Festival at the Roxy Theater. It's Missoula's other film festival (okay, maybe its other, other film festival, after the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the International Wildlife Film Festival). Despite living in the shadow of its more prominent brethren, Montana CINE, with 48 films slated to run Oct. 22 through Oct. 28, is a force to be reckoned with.
CINE films explore cultures, nature, people and the environment, a deliberately wide net cast by Janet Rose and the folks at the International Wildlife Media Center and Film Festival, the stewards of CINE. With a mix of long features and shorts, both documentary and narrative fiction, CINE delivers the goods for nature- and people-lovers alike. CINE's scope is evident in films like The Tree Thief, a short animated film from one of Iran's leading female animators (who knew?), Finland, a feature doc from the acclaimed "Wild Scandinavia" series (chance of an Andy Smetanka sighting: 92 percent), From Place to Place, an intimate look at three game-changing foster-care kids from Missoula's own Porch Productions, Vegucated, a feature documenting the gastronomical journey of three New York carnivores as they go vegan for six weeks, and Billion Dollar Fish, a profile of the endangered Beluga Sturgeon and its ultra-valuable cargo.
Here's a handful of feature films to keep an eye on:
In a parallel universe in which 9/11 never happened, this would likely be one of those fairy-tale biographies: a 10-year-old black girl, raised in the heart of the Jim Crow south, boldly affirms that she'll someday work in the White House, then parlays a combination of intelligence, hard work and opportunity to become only the second female U.S. Secretary of State.
But 9/11 did happen, of course, and so did an eight-year reign of George W. Bush. Of all the polarizing figures to come out of Bush's administrations, Condoleeza Rice is arguably the most perplexing. American Faust takes a head-on look at Rice's upbringing, education and professional and political careers, and as its title suggests, this is not an even-handed study in which Rice's supporters and detractors get equal time. Sure, there are a few attta-girls from the likes of both Bushes, Rice's stepmother and even Oprah, but the lion's share of commentary comes from people who believe, more or less, that Rice made a deal with the devil.
Some of her critics are obvious and hardly objectivein addition to lawyers from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, the filmmakers dug up Rice's former fiancée, a Denver Broncos wide receiver whom she abandoned when the nation's capital beckoned. But damning testimony also comes from the likes of former mentors, professors, acquaintances and colleagues, as well as three of Rice's biographersa diversity of voices that essentially inoculates the film against accusations of mere ax-grinding.
Screens Sat., Oct. 27, at 5:30 PM.
Another look at a complex personality, Bidder 70 is the hugely compelling portrait of Tim DeChristopher, who in 2008 performed one of the most ingenious acts in the history of civil disobedience. Then a University of Utah student and (as now) supremely committed climate-change activist, DeChristopher passed himself off as a legitimate buyer at a controversial Bureau of Land Management land auction, submitting winning bids on a number of wilderness parcels slated for oil and gas leases. Even though the incoming Obama administration would shortly thereafter cancel the Bush-initiated auctions, the feds, being sticklers for law abiding, still threw the book at DeChristopher.
Bidder 70 is fantastically constructed, built around extensive time with DeChristopher in the months leading up to and during his trial. For environmentalists, he's a hero in the almost-too-good-to-be-true mold: young, articulate, impassioned and charismaticthe fresh face of a movement too often defined by a well-meaning but frankly uninspiring mix of hippie idealists and wonky stiffs. But the most compelling aspect of DeChristopher's personality just may be an acute sense of self-awareness, as we see him first struggle to place his actions in context with those of civil-disobedience luminaries like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and then see him deliver a post-trial oratory on the courthouse steps that soars with Gandhi-esque conviction and King-like inspiration. That kind of lightning in a bottle makes Bidder 70 a provoking and unsettling film, well-deserving of its Best in Festival award.
Screens Thu., Oct. 25, at 7 PM with a 6:30 PM reception beforehand, and Sun., Oct. 28, at 5:30 PM.
One of three CINE films devoted to horses, Horse Tribe is the uneven but ultimately engaging story of an Idaho Nez Perce tribe's effort to reconnect its people to the horse culture they lost after Chief Joseph's heartbreaking surrender to the U.S. Army in 1877.
After a slow and somewhat discombobulated beginning, Horse Tribe kicks into gear with a well-wrought dive into the historical bond between the Nez Perce and their horses, and a gradually cohering portrait of Rudy Shebala, the Navajo man who assumed the task of breathing new life into that bond. Though Horse Tribe raises issues it doesn't always answer, such as the tension generated by Shebala's Navajo origins among some Nez Perce elders, this is a great story about hope and sadness, and a genuinely touching portrayal of a fascinating man.
Screens Tue., Oct. 23, at 10:30 AM, Thu., Oct 25, at 10:30 AM, and Sat., Oct. 27, at 7 PM followed by a panel discussion.
Words of Witness
The larger digital revolution is, of course, inherently relevant to revolutions of all stripes, as the world witnessed through the social media explosion during the Arab Spring. Words of Witness tells the story of a 22-year old budding journalist named Heba Afify as she navigates the hazards of rapidly shifting political, societal and familial identities in post-Mubarak Egypt.
The film is an astounding combination of twin coming-of-age stories, Afify's extremely personal one and Egypt's magnificently political one. We see Heba boasting proudly to her sister ("Did you see the story I wrote? It's the bomb!"), chafing under the apprehensive hand of her mother ("My mother needs to understand that the rules that were broken during the revolution will remain broken"), and openly worrying that the specters of Mubarak and the national army will derail everything she and her countrymates have risked everything for ("It scares me to think the revolution might not be complete").
We also see chaotic scenes of Tahrir Square in which Egyptian citizens square off in fearful clashes against the army and heated arguments with each other, of the state security building when a charged-up mob breaches its doors and frantically searches for detained loved ones and political files, and of the newsroom where Heba disregards the advice of an elder journalist to remain uninvolved with the movement. It's all fascinating stuff, at once a primer on the Egyptian revolution and a surprisingly intimate look at a young woman caught in the middle of a maelstrom.
Screens Mon., Oct. 22, at 7 PM and Sat., Oct. 27, at 7 PM.
Visit the CINE film page for a full schedule of all 48 films.