March, April and May are the months in which South by Southwest, Tribeca Film Fest, Beverly Hills Film Festival and Festival de Cannes get a lot of play. Red carpets, stars, cleavage, over-the-top accommodations, huge production budgets. Are these elements important or interesting? More relevant? Or do these movies, these production companies and these festivals simply have the money to put themselves in front of us, into our consciousness? In April I choose, instead, to attend screenings and festivals of movies we all should see, but which don’t have the budgets to reach out to reporters and therefore don’t receive the eyeballs that the more glitzy fests enjoy.
This week I’m at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. Dear readers, are any of you here, too?
The films here are all documentaries: no Angelina, no Brad. However, the stars are every bit as beautiful and the experiences are as wonderful as the best fictional narratives. This week in “The Moor” by Jan Haft I was introduced to the black grouse, a fabulous creature with a green tiara. I saw rails, snipes (you thought that Lewis Carroll invented the snipe?), plovers and cranes. I watched adders being born, wildly gorgeous carnivorous plants eating grasshoppers and red ants stealing the grasshopper corpses from the plants. I learned that—including due to planting of biofuel crops—moorland in Scandinavia has been desiccated by 90%, second only to Indonesia in destruction of this delicate ecosystem.
Andrew Graham-Brown’s “Elephant: Life After Death” was fascinating, too, in a disgusting yet fun way. This film follows the return of a five-ton deceased elephant to the ecosystem. The jolly band of scientists who set up dozens of remote control cameras to watch who will come to gorge on the corpse is a riot of nerds. One entomologist dips his hand in a mass of heated, slimy maggots and grins to the camera: he’s in insect heaven. The carnivore researcher and the big cat specialist have a laugh about spotted hyena penises and the audience giggles, too.
Missoula is a university town. Many buildings have an early 1900s feel and you’re set at the foot of five mountain ranges, so there are lots of opportunities for touristing between screenings. Across the street from the center of the festival I found an Asian fusion restaurant, Silk Road, where I used my Trippon coupon for tapas. Big Dipper—walking distance from the festival—has the only cardamom homemade ice cream I’ve ever had.
The festival runs from April 27 to May 5. You still have time to get here. Fly in to the Missoula International Airport and catch a cab to the Roxy Theater. Your life will be enriched.