Just a year ago, Missoula’s renowned International Wildlife Film Festival appeared to be on the verge of extinction. Long-standing debts had forced the organization behind the festival to shut its offices for part of the year, and entry films for last year’s festival arrived in front of locked doors.
Under the deft touch of new Executive Director Janet Rose, however, the festival has not only turned its financial fortunes around, it is now attempting to transform a defunct Missoula landmark into a multi-pronged entity that would establish the Garden City as the global capital of all things captured wild on film.
Reflecting her background and beliefs as a media disciple, Rose ushered in a new name–the International Wildlife Media Center and Film Festival–as well as a new era for the organization. A former television journalist in New York City who was drawn to Missoula in part as a participant in earlier festivals, Rose is determined to create a film center that offers its resources to like-minded filmmakers, students and viewers worldwide. And she would like to make it happen at the venerable Roxy Theater, the Higgins Street venue that has seen its seats go from cheap (in early ’90s) to burned (fire of ’94) to just plain empty.
In addition to serving as a year-round showcase and library for the films of the festival, the media center would also provide a haven for group presentations and programs of all sorts. Already, Rose has received inquiries from local conservation, educational and historical groups as well as from the Art Museum of Missoula.
Because of the group’s non-profit status, Rose and the board of directors are looking to buy the venue outright rather than taking out a mortgage. “It’s other people’s money, so we have to be extra responsible with it,” Rose says. “We just don’t know what kind of revenue we can generate until we get in there.”
To that end, the IWMC/IWFF has announced a “Global Community Campaign” in the hope of raising $400,000 by September 2002. If they can reach that goal, Rose says, the transformation of the Roxy will begin. Rose says that while the group and the estate in charge of the theater are close to reaching an agreement on the purchase price, a few stumbling blocks remain. “We just need the bank and the estate to give us a little time to work these things out,” she says.
Though clearly the motivating force of the resurgent organization, Rose is quick to deflect praise for her work. “A lot of people came on board, or came back in a big way, to help us out,” she says. “And that has made all the difference. There is nothing like this community.”