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International Wildlife Film Festival: Animal docs made with ethics in mind

The goal of the International Wildlife Film Festival is to expand viewers’ world view with documentaries that strive to keep true to the original sentiment, and reflect science and productions that are ethically made.

CORY WALSH: The 46th annual International Wildlife Film Festival [April 22-27, 2023] is returning with 60 films over seven days, followed by an online option. The goal is the same as it was when it started: Expanding viewers’ world view with documentaries, based in solid science, and guests on hand to continue the conversation.

“We also help people learn to watch film in a more inquisitive, less passive way,” said festival director Carrie Richer. “Bringing filmmakers, experts and guests to the screenings is one way to have an expanded dialogue that’s not possible via streaming at home.” Richer said they strive to keep true to that original sentiment, and reflect science and productions that are ethically made.

The entries, which numbered around 300, are vetted by around 30 anonymous judges, including field researchers, biologists, Indigenous panelists, filmmakers and festival alumni to weigh in on the research and craft. A preliminary jury looks at the larger picture, analyzing the science, whether research is new and how it is presented.

They also critique the movies on their cinematic merits and how the stories are told. Films need to “check both those boxes,” she said. For instance, a thoroughly researched documentary might be too dry to connect with viewers. “We don’t want to preach to the choir, we want to reach everyone,” she said.

Regarding whether movies are made ethically, Richer said that a certain modern technology has been put to questionable use. “I probably take two or three films out a year because it looks like drone camera work that just absolutely is chasing and harassing the animals,” she said. While that’s subjective, she said it’s often obvious. Other no-nos are films that miss an obvious Indigenous throughline, or don’t mention climate change when it appears to be a necessary component of the story.

While streaming has inundated viewers with options, the platforms are low on context or cues to the making of the movies. The festival tries to spend as much of its budget as possible on bringing filmmakers and guests to Missoula for Q&As and talks.

“Those conversations are all about finding out how the film was made, who made the film, what choices they made, what perspective they have. And it really helps the audience learn to question and talk about the media that they see,” she said. SOURCE…


IWFF 2023 Trailer from Russ Curry on Vimeo.

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