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“Word has gotten out,” says David King, co-chair and producer of the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest, of the annual film festival on the south end of Northwest Montana’s largest lake.

What started six years ago as an effort to brighten the gloomy days of winter with film has blossomed into an event gaining accolades across the industry, King said. This year’s festival runs from Jan. 26 to 28 at Showboat Cinemas in downtown Polson and features 68 films in a variety of genres from around the world.

“We’re gaining traction and credibility within the film industry on a global scale,” King said.

In 2013, a group of local film fans decided to organize a festival to add a shot of culture to the long, cold winters. While some film festivals have specific focuses — like the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival or the International Wildlife Film Festival, both in Missoula — the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest, or “FLIC,” knows no boundaries.

“There’s something for everyone,” said Frank Tyro, one of the festival’s founders and a filmmaker. “We have everything from 2-minute short films to 2-hour long features. This is a great opportunity for people to see all sorts of different films.”

The festival’s program illuminates Tyro’s assertion. “A Month” is a 26-minute narrative short about a blind woman living with her four sisters who take care of the woman at their individual homes one month at a time. “Dirty Freedom” is a documentary about 21 women who take on the challenge of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. “Elephants in the Coffee” is about the struggle between Indian coffee growers and endangered elephants that live nearby.

This year’s festival also features more than a dozen films from Iran. King said the festival’s board received more than two-dozen submissions from Iran, proof that the Polson film festival has established itself within the global film community.

“It was surprising, but word has apparently gotten out in the Iranian film community that the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest is a great festival,” he said. “There are some truly beautiful films coming out of Iran right now.”

Tyro’s submission to the festival is called “Waking Bear Comes Home: The Life and Work of Chuck Jonkel.” Tyro, who retired from Salish Kootenai College after teaching film production and photography, made numerous trips with Jonkel, a renowned and respected bear researcher, to Churchill, Manitoba to see polar bears. Tyro always wanted to make a film about Jonkel and finally got to work on it a few years ago in coordination with the Great Bear Foundation and Caribou Crossing. The film premiered last year at the International Wildlife Film Festival, just months after Jonkel’s death.

“I always wanted to do a film about Jonkel because he led an amazing life,” Tyro said.

Another highlight of the event will be Cinematic Labyrinths, a live and interactive movie where the audience decides what happens next. Two Polish filmmakers, Dawid Marcinkowski and Katarzyna Kifert, are presenting the film, and will be available for questions from the audience. King said one of the highlights of the festival is that attendees get to meet and speak with the filmmakers themselves.

After six years, King said he is proud of what the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest has become.

“We feel like we’re on the verge of something really big, and we’re just having a blast,” he said.

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