The Montana CINE International Film Festival, which kicks off Sunday, Oct. 16, bills itself as an event for documentaries and feature films that "focus on issues and topics which create dialogue and understanding of the world around us." This is of course maddeningly vague, and the CINE organizers don't help themselves much with an explanation that includes topics ranging from indigenous cultures to conservation to outdoor recreation.
Don't mistakes this for criticism. There are some quality docs on the CINE schedule, which runs through October 23. It's been five months since the International Wildlife Film Festival and we've still got five months to go before the next Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, so CINE arrives perfectly timed to sate both the die-hard and casual film fest crowd, and at a time of the year when it's once again okay to spend your weekends and weeknights indoors.
The obvious risk of a documentary featuring 20 insanely earnest and hard-working young farmers in Georgia is that it had better be really good, or else you'll end up free-falling into Christopher Guest mockumentary territory. Even the title sounds like a spoof on the subject! And since I'm friends with many farmers here in town, one of whom I am related to by marriage, I really wanted to like this film. It does not disappoint.
Grow! is a no-frills documentary that succeeds entirely because of its subjects. Filmed on 12 small farms scattered throughout Georgia and produced without a narrator or even much of a soundtrack, the film relies on its 20 farmers, almost all of whom are in their early to late twenties, to explain what it is that they do and why they have chosen to forego other career paths for a life in the fields. If you know any of the Garden City Harvest folks or have recently conversed with your favorite farmer at the Saturday markets, Grow! will strike a chord. If not, the articulate and thoughtful farmers here will win you over. As one guy says with a smile while hosing down a hog in the mid-summer heat: "There's no health insurance but there's lots of fun!"
Grow! shows Monday, Oct. 17, and Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 12:30 PM; Friday, Oct. 21, at 9:30 AM; and Saturday, Oct. 23, at 10 AM.
Cultures of Resistance
For IWFF, I reviewed a film about horse slaughtering facilities made by an obviously passionate activist who lacked the filmmaking expertise to craft an effective documentary. The same can be said for Cultures of Resistance, which explores creative ways of peaceful protest throughout the world but does so without any coherent narrative.
The film feels like an unedited video diary, jumping quickly to eight or nine hotspots on three continents without giving us time to understand not only what is happening, but why it's happening. One minute we're in Brazil, then Liberia, then Iran, and then back to Brazil. It's a documentary that will leave you dizzy.
Cultures of Resistance shows Monday, Oct. 17, at 7 PM; Thursday, Oct. 20, at 5 PM; and Saturday, Oct. 22, at 7 PM.
Desert of Forbidden Art
You may have heard of Uzbekistan, the central Asian nation and former Soviet province. But I'll wager that you've never heard of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of 1.2 million people located within Uzbekistan. It's in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, where you'll find the Nukus Museum of Art, one of the world's largest repositories of ancient and modern Russian and Asian art. You will not be surprised to learn there is a pretty good story behind the creation of this museum.
Desert of Forbidden Art chronicles the strange and subversive life of Russian painter and archeologist Igor Savitsky, who managed to fend off the Bolsheviks long enough during the early days of the Soviet Union to amass an enormous collection of art and cultural artifacts before they could be destroyed. Though there is much to be enjoyed here, the documentary doesn't quite do justice to the subject. The details of Savitsky's life are fascinating, but there are too many redundant interviews with the people who knew him. At 80 minutes, the film is 20 minutes too long.
Desert of Forbidden Art shows Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 5 PM and Sunday, Oct. 23, at noon.
Fans of Anchorman won't need more than 30 seconds to recognize the narrator of Carbon Nation. It's Bill Kurtis, he of the booming, deadpan, made-for-television voice that was pitch perfect in the Will Ferrell comedy. And it's a lovely addition to Carbon Nation, a film that unfortunately lacks the same gravitas as its narrator.
That's not to say all is lost in the documentary, which explores a host of alternative energy solutions to combat climate change. The filmmakers nab some pretty good interviews with Obama's Special Advisor for Green Jobs Van Jones, former CIA chief James Woolsey and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the film feels too ambitious in scope and fails to cover much in the way of new territory. The most effective section of the film, looking at how the military is adapting to climate change, could have been its own documentary.
Carbon Nation shows Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 PM and Saturday, Oct. 22, at noon.
I watched the first few moments of the horribly titled Spoil—which delves into efforts along the British Columbia coast to stop a planned oil tanker route—and quickly noticed the correlation to a National Geographic cover story from last summer on the area's pristine wilderness and extremely rare "spirit bear." The connection is a not a coincidence. Spoil documents the effective campaign undertaken by the International League of Conservation Photographers and the Gitga'at First Nation people of British Columbia to showcase the region before tankers are allowed to navigate the rocky waters of Hartley Bay en route to tar sand oil loading facilities.
Despite an incongruous soundtrack, Spoil is as fine a piece of advocacy filmmaking as you will see this year. Integrating a history of the region and its wildlife with the vignettes of the photographers who have made it their mission to protect this place, the film is beautiful and powerful. The search for the "spirit bear," a white-furred (not albino) black bear, of which less than 400 are thought to exist, is compelling, and the payoff, as documented by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen (on film and in the magazine), is even better.
Spoil shows Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 9:30 AM and 7 PM; Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 9:30 AM; and Friday, Oct. 21, at 12:30 PM.
The CINE fest runs Sun., Oct. 16, through Sun., Oct. 23, at the Roxy Theater. For a film schedule go to wildlifefilms.org/festivals/mtcine.