‘Live, from Missoula, Montana!’ was the salutation at the 23rd annual International Wildlife Film Festival, which was streamed live to more than 200,000 over four days. The webcast, which was promoted on the Apple website, brought panel sessions and other activities to a global audience. ‘We got e-mail from China, Russia, the Middle East . . . With high bit-rate film clips, the response could have been even better,’ said web producer/CEO of 1010 TV, James Greer.
Nearly 200 delegates from more than 10 countries attended IWFF 2000,
which ran from April 15 to 22. This year’s agenda accented nuts, bolts and bits with sessions on storytelling, editing, sound production, pitching/dealmaking, and new media, from the Web to HDTV. There were also two sessions on conservation content, television ratings, gatekeepers, etc. which generated passionate discussion and momentum for the ‘Filmmakers for Conservation’ initiative, started at Jackson Hole in ’99. ‘The consensus is that now is the time to organize. We’re preparing to present an agenda at Wildscreen this fall,’ said moderator and indie producer, Tim Stott.
A record 254 films from 20 countries were entered in the competitions, but this year’s Best of Festival was Hokkaido, Garden of the Gods (49 min.), produced by Patrick Morris and the BBC. Hokkaido also copped ‘best of’ for: narration, soundmix, photography, music and long-form TV. Morris also accepted a wheelbarrow-full of awards on behalf of absent BBC entrants. Return of the Wolf, filmed by Bob Landis for National Geographic, received Best of Festival by choice of the delegates.
Several dozen award-winners were viewed by more than 10,000 at Missoula’s classic Wilma Theater during morning, lunch, matinee, dinner and evening screen times. Even the daytime shows are well-attended. ‘The mornings target young students and the afternoons are for high schoolers. Later in the day we program for a mixed family audience,’ said festival director Jen Thomas.
Though larger than ever, IWFF works hard to remain filmmaker-friendly. ‘All filmmakers receive the judges comments in order to help improve their work. We strive for a positive environment, not only to reward great work, but to nurture new talent,’ said Amy Heltzer, who has served as IWFF’s executive director for ten years. Under Heltzer, IWFF has grown from a seasonal, university-based volunteer event to a staffed non-profit organization with a year-round educational program, rental library and traveling festival. ‘We use the Banff model on the road and provide our own equipment and personnel,’ she said.
After ten years of steady growth under Heltzer, incoming director Randy Ammon takes the helm in May 2000. Ammon, a long-time festival volunteer and cable television administrator, plans to grow while staying the thematic course. ‘Promoting scientific accuracy, educational value and excellence in wildlife filmmaking, the primary goals of our founder, Dr. Charles Jonkel, will remain central. But we also plan to expand the use of new media, like the Internet, to get the message out,’ he said.