IWFF survives near death experience

Missoula's International Wildlife Film Festival regroups for its 24th incarnation.
May 10, 2001

A not-so-funny thing happened to the International Wildlife Film Festival en route to its silver anniversary – it slipped deeply into debt and almost drowned. Festival founder, bear biologist Dr. ‘Chuck’ Jonkel, and IWFF executive director, Janet Rose, realized that to skip a year would likely mean the festival’s death, so they rallied old and new supporters in time to ensure the 24th annual installment of this unique festival. Says Rose, ‘Much of the board really put themselves into action and went out to drum up financial support from the film and conservation world.’ She also explains that they started the International Wildlife Media Center through which they’ll offer films, workshops and special programs to students and adults year-round, instead of focusing all efforts on the one week of the festival.

While total entries were down slightly, the festival retained its global reach. Says Jonkel, ‘We had a good mix of entries from around the world, both from independents and the big boys, like National Geographic and the BBC.’

The Great Dance: A Hunter’s Story captured 14 awards in total – including Best Narration, Script, Use of Music and Best of Category: Human Dimensions – and demonstrated the cinematic quality achievable with low budget DV acquisition, even when projected on the big screen in the restored Wilma Theater. A 20-minute epilogue featuring the reaction of the bushmen and neighbors to The Great Dance, none of whom have televisions, premiered on awards night. Despite its tour de force reception at IWFF 2001 and Wildscreen 2000, The Great Dance still has some work to do. Says British scriptwriter Jeremy Evans, ‘As challenging as it was to make, physically and financially, getting it onto screens is proving to be the toughest challenge of all, despite the overwhelming response of audiences to it. Its length, the fact that animals are killed, and the possible difficulty that Western viewers might have identifying with the protagonists seem to stack against it.’

Another ‘human dimensions’ film, A Man Called Mother Bear (winner of the best newcomer and several merit awards, including storytelling, photography and animal behavior), is at least assured national broadcast in France. First-time producer Catharine Garanger undertook this film with the support of France 3, which will broadcast it initially, but plans to pursue broader distribution in the U.S., Europe, and Russia. The film concerns the experiences of a Russian biologist raising bear cubs orphaned when their mother is killed by hunters. ‘I want children to see this film so they can appreciate how sensitive and emotional wild animals are. If they do, they will want to protect them,’ she says.

Falklands Flying Devils, produced by David Allen, Mark Smith and Jane Watson, for National Geographic’s ‘Explorer’, paints a lively, often humorous portrait of the rare striated caracara, proving that birds can be as charming as fuzzy critters when artfully presented. Flying Devils won 10 awards, including Best Television Program (National Geo Explorer), Best Editing, and Animal Behavior, as well as placing second overall.

Proactive and investigative documentary production were big on the agenda, as filmmakers grappled with how to finance and produce films with controversial and/or complex themes that might turn off channel-surfers. Producer Doug Hawes-Davis, whose Killing Coyotes starkly portrays an annual coyote killing festival, explained how non-profit status enables High Plains Films to retain editorial control despite underwriting by corporations and advocacy groups alike. ‘We need to be independent in order to get the access necessary to document controversial subjects, like the coyote hunt. We try to present just the facts, and the images, and let viewers draw their own conclusions.’

While being webcast to a global audience of thousands (by 1010TV), Filmmakers for Conservation (FFC) officially launched as an international organization of filmmakers and others engaged in the production of natural history, environmental and human dimensional films. According to FFC president pro temp Caroline Underwood, a code of ethics for filmmakers is one of several initiatives underway. She invited the more than 200 people who signed up at Jackson Hole, IWFF 2000 and Wild Screen 2000 to become involved via the FFC’s website at

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.