POLSON — They like to let people know that theirs is the most beautiful film festival in the world.
Filmmakers from places as far away as Iran have taken notice of Polson’s Flathead Lake International Cinemafest (FLIC) that celebrates its sixth anniversary next weekend.
“We have filmmakers who come here and tell (us) it’s the best-run film festival that they’ve ever been involved with,” said David W. King, who co-chairs the festival with founder Frank Tyro. “That’s really encouraging considering the fact that we’re a small town.”
This year’s film festival has been recognized as one of the top 15 winter film festivals in the United States by the Audience Awards.
This year it will run from Friday, Jan. 26, to Sunday, Jan. 28. It features 68 films from 15 countries.
That’s almost twice as many films that the festival showed in its first year.
But, even more importantly, King said the quality of the films continues to get better each year.
This year, organizers had to turn down 40 entries.
“A lot of those were really hard to say no to,” King said. “We only have so much capacity if we’re going to run it on a two-and-a-half-day schedule. The next step might be to make it a little bit longer.”
The festival, which showcases independent films at the Showboat Cinema on Polson’s Main Street, not only draws filmmakers from far and wide but also an appreciative audience that continues to grow each year.
The audience comes to see the variety of interesting films, and its members also have a chance to hear from the people who produce the films. This year, about 20 filmmakers are expected to attend the festival.
Showboat Cinema owner Becky Dupuis said while the focus at many larger film festivals is on getting a film noticed and sold, the filmmakers who come to Polson are looking for something different.
“It’s a little more of a kinder, gentler film festival,” Dupuis said. “It’s not as intimidating. A lot of them have never had a film in a festival before. I think the audience is less critical and more accepting. The audience is just interested in seeing something different and having that opportunity to actually talk to the filmmaker.”
“We’ve had some world premiers here, some really beautiful films,” Tyro said. “People are used to going to a theater and seeing a Hollywood shoot-them-up action film. This is quite a bit different.”
King likens the Polson film festival to the early days of Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
“They had to have their first years too,” he said. “They weren’t very big when they started. We’re in our sixth year now and we’re gaining credibility. Slowly, people from all over the world are hearing about us, including Iran. We’re not sure why but we’ve received quite a few films from filmmakers in Iran.”
This year’s festival includes an entire bloc devoted to their entries.
King said this festival includes many films that are very well done.
The Canadian film “4 Dancers’ Dreams” was one of his favorites. The film follows four young dancers in their final year of dance school.
“I love aspiration films that show people trying to achieve something,” King said. “It’s just beautifully shot. There is a lot of beautiful dance footage in it.”
The filmmaker, Nancy J. Lilley, will attend the festival.
Tyro is the co-director of the film “Walking Bear Comes Home: The Life and Work of Chuck Jonkel.” Tyro worked with the famous bear researcher for almost 30 years in his work in the Arctic studying polar bears. Jonkel died in April 2016.
The documentary examines the life, work and legacy of the legendary biologist who spent much of his life in Montana. It includes archival footage of Jonkel’s early polar bear research, and interviews with the researcher, his family and friends.
Tyro worked with Great Bear Foundation executive director Shannon Donahue to produce the 56-minute film.
The festival also includes a live presentation called Cinematic Labyrinths presented by The Kissinger Twins, Dawid Marcinkowski and Katarzyna Kifert. The two will travel from Europe to demonstrate their live, interactive, non-linear storytelling showcase that puts the audience in the driver’s seat.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever had anything like it,” Tyro said.
In another first, all the films have been converted by Polson’s Jim Ereaux to the format used in theaters like the Showboat.
“The beauty of that is all the films will be presented in the way the filmmakers had envisioned,” King said. “We aren’t messing with their chosen format. If anything, we’re improving the quality.”
The film festival couldn’t happen without the help from many different members of the community.
King spends several months every year going through all the entries and helping to decide which ones will make the cut.
“I love movies. I love films,” King said. “And I love the collaboration with the people in the community that makes this possible. I think I’ve made some lifelong friends through it all.”
“I love the opportunity to be able to bring something different to our community,” Dupuis said. “We certainly couldn’t do this by ourselves. … We’re in the business of hosting parties and this is a big one. It’s really nice to be given the opportunity to be that host.”
Tyro is encouraged by the variety of differing viewpoints that the films offer to audiences in Polson.
“Bringing all these different viewpoints to Polson and to the reservation are, I think, a really important part of the whole festival,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s been successful.”
To learn more about the festival and a schedule for the films, including encore showings, people can visit flicpolson.com.