Lake County Leader
by CAROLYN HIDY
The warmth and heartfelt thanks that flowed from movie makers and watchers at Flathead Lake International Cinemafest (FLIC) last weekend in Polson confirmed this 10th anniversary event to be a resounding success. The world came to Polson, from as far away as Los Angeles, New York and China, and as close by as Lake County and Kalispell.
Topics ranged from the tragic — the torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China (“Finding Courage”) — to the whimsical, such as the hilarious animation “Hors Piste,” which festival director David King described as having “a high mountain rescue meets Inspector Clouseau kind of feel.”
The selection even included a 2021 Academy Award nominee, “Feeling Through.”
FLIC was one of the few in-person festivals on the circuit this year, as it was last year. Many festivals have gone virtual, streaming online during Covid. But the newly renovated theater and community spirit drew dozens of film lovers into the Showboat Stadium 6 on Main Street.
For some filmmakers, it was their first chance to view their work on the big screen, and getting to see the real-time reactions of the live audience provided a personal reward they cannot get online.
Five Montana films brought the talent and beauty of Big Sky Country to the big screen. “Mission Mountain” tells the story of Polson’s Amy O’Hoyt and her parents learning to run a ranch from square one, growing sustainable beef. The film brought home two awards, Best Montana Film and Best Documentary Short.
Two youthful local film crews proved that today’s kids are miles ahead of their predecessors in their ability to tackle the technology and create professional films. “Finding Yawu’nik’” was made by Polson Middle School students at a media camp last summer. They found that the Flathead Lake Monster was one thing to a biologist, another to a local with personal history, and even another to a Tribal elder, who told of the “monster” giving rise to all the peoples of the land.
“Winter 1941” was created by a crew of friends in Kalispell who were 17 and 18 years old. Kids were also featured in “Living Water,” as they learned to trace pollution sources in the Little Bighorn River on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana.
During the pandemic, fewer feature narrative films have been released, so there was not an award for Best Picture-Long Narrative category this year. But one feature, “Ranch Water,” the story of sisters gathered as they bid goodbye to their family ranch that’s been sold, was a big hit, and actress Sam Bilinkas took the Best Actor award.
Possibly the biggest splash was made by “Open Field,” the hard-hitting, goosebump-inducing story of women’s tackle football and star quarterback Sami Grisafe, who led the Chicago Force team to two national championships, and Team America to a world championship. Grisafe and director/producer Kathy Kuras were on hand to receive both Best Documentary Feature and the coveted Audience Award, rising to the top of a crowded field of nominees. Grisafe brought boundless, powerful energy as she and Kuras conversed with audience members after each showing. Grisafe, also a musician and actress, sang karaoke at The Shoe on Saturday night, and rocked her version of “The Star Spangled Banner” as a last-minute gift to the festival audience.
Encore screenings of most FLIC films will play in the theater throughout the week.
2022 FLIC awards
Impact Award: Greater Polson Community Foundation (accepted by Toni Whealon).
Best Montana Film: “Mission Mountain”
Best Animation: “On/Off”
Best Cinematography: David Darg, “The Angler”
Best Actress: Sam Bilinkas, “Ranch Water”
Best Actor: Dustin Gooch, “Landlocked”
Best Documentary Short: “Mission Mountain”
Best Documentary Feature: “Open Field”
Best Director: Doug Roland, “Feeling Through”
Best Picture Short: “Feeling Through”
Audience Award: “Open Field;” Honorable mentions: “Mission Mountain,” “The Angler” and “Your Friend Ranger Doug”