LAST OF THE ELEPHANT MEN, directed by Daniel Ferguson and Arnaud Bouquet
LAST OF THE ELEPHANT MEN, directed by Daniel Ferguson and Arnaud Bouquet

Before a boisterous crowd packed into The Loft in downtown Missoula last week, the juries of the 2016 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival revealed their selections in the festival’s four competition categories.

Winners include LAST OF THE ELEPHANT MEN, directed by Daniel Ferguson and Arnaud Bouquet, FOLLOWING KINA, directed by Sonia Goldenberg, HUNTING IN WARTIME, directed by Samantha Farinella and ZONE BLANCHE, directed by Gaëlle Cintré.

Feature Competition – films over 40 minutes in length
Winner: LAST OF THE ELEPHANT MEN, directed by Daniel Ferguson and Arnaud Bouquet – For centuries, the Bunong indigenous people of Eastern Cambodia lived with elephants, depending on them for every aspect of life. Now with the forest around them threatened by logging and mining companies, both the Bunong and the elephant face a desperate struggle to survive.

Jury Statement: We were struck by the film’s sensitive exploration of the mythic relationship between elephants and people among the Bunong people of Cambodia. The film is beautifully and patiently shot. By capturing the interdependency between the Bunong and their elephants, it turns these amazing animals into characters in their own right.

Artistic Vision Award, Feature: FOLLOWING KINA, directed by Sonia Goldenberg – When Kina Malpartida won her title as the first Peruvian World Boxing Champion, the country was struck by a female boxing fever. Inspired by her, two young women fight against all odds to sustain a dream and become the next champion. Without any official support, they are driven by passion and perseverance to succeed in a totally male-dominated sport.

Jury Statement: We were highly impressed with the manner in which the film takes viewers into the real world of women’s boxing in Peru, culminating in the insightful depiction of the rural and urban backdrops to two women, Alicia and Anita, both of whom hope to follow in the footsteps of Kina Malpardita.

Big Sky Award – Presented to one film that artistically honors the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West.

Winner: HUNTING IN WARTIME, directed by Samantha Farinella – Profiles of Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska who saw combat during the Vietnam War. The veterans talk about surviving trauma, relating to Vietnamese civilians, readjusting to civilian life, and serving a government that systematically oppresses native people. Their stories give an important human face to the combat soldier and show the lasting affects of war on individuals, families and communities.

Short Competition – films between 15 and 40 minutes in length
Winner: DAGUAVA DELTA, directed by Rainer Komers – Far from the centre of the Latvian city of Riga, the suburbs Bolderāja and Daugavgriva are a kind of social island or biotope – a blend of apartment and detached family houses, backyards, shipyards, docks, yacht club, sea academy, historic fortress and barracks. Here, where the Daugava River flows into the Bay of Riga, anglers crowd the sunny mole during the spawning season of sprat, while veterans in the local pub are in memorial of their fallen fathers on Victory Day.

Artistic Vision Award, Short Competition: ZONE BLANCHE, directed by Gaëlle Cintré – Four women who are electro-hypersensitive -a rare condition where people find themselves acutely intolerant to electromagnetic fields, including cell phone signals and WiFi- are driven deep into the Alps in search for remote shelters. Because of their extreme condition, their way of life, between a primitive existence and post-apocalyptic science-fiction, has never been photographed. Until now.

Jury Statement: Working within the constraints of being unable to record with any electronic digital media, Zone Blanche creates a rich portrait of women who must live outside of society because of their sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. Utilizing the poetic language of avant-garde cinema, the film draws on the documentary impulse to give the audience access to the experiences of people who don’t have the option to tell their stories in contemporary digital media.

Mini-Doc Competition – films 15 minutes and under
Winner: MINING, POEMS, OR ODES, directed by Callum Rice – Robert, an ex-shipyard welder from Scotland, reflects on how his life experience’s have influenced his new found compulsion to write. His retrospective poetry revels a man who is trying to achieve a state of contentment through words and philosophy.

Artistic Vision Award. Mini-Doc Competition: A CEREBRAL GAME, directed by Reid Davenport – A filmmaker with cerebral palsy ponders his changing identity through the lens of baseball.

Jury Statement: The jury is pleased to present an Artistic Vision Award to A Cerebral Game, a film we feel especially demonstrates the core virtues of perseverance and passion that are essential to the art of filmmaking itself, and perhaps especially to the documentary genre. It’s quite an accomplishment to make a great documentary of any length – but this filmmaker has emerged against all odds. In this case, the filmmaker narrates his own story while creating a visual landscape that is at once disorienting and nostalgic – and the result is so raw and compelling it’s impossible to turn away. We open on shaky ground and come to discover, thanks to this director’s honesty and fearlessness, that we are watching the results of his inability to hold the camera steady – and that that ability is not what makes great filmmaking. He has the talent and fortitude to move forward and work on his dream and the resulting film is truly moving and inspiring.

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