“BSDFF is a lot about entertainment, but is also about educating ourselves on ideas that matter.” – Saedi Kiely
Gita Saedi Kiely recently took over as the director of an 11 year running legacy and the biggest film event in Montana: the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Every February at the Wilma Theater in Missoula, crowds excitedly await entrance to the non-fiction film festival. “I am constantly surprised how much I love sitting in a theater and being a deep member of the audience. Taking films home with us is a great permanent experience that keeps us young and vital,” says Saedi Kiely.
Saedi Kiely moved from Chicago to Missoula the year the festival began, in 2004. Her first experience with the BSDFF was representing the film series she produced for Kartemquin Films’, called The New Americans. This series documents the aspirations of a group of immigrants and refugees. She has also worked for BSDFF as the director of DocShop, which “offers documentary filmmakers opportunities for networking, discussion, and professional development.” Last month, Saedi Kiely took over as the festival’s executive director.
Q: Tell us more about the start of BSDFF.
A: I feel like I’ve been reaping the benefits of the festival that Doug Hawes-Davis founded. I remember when he had this idea. He pulled it off by himself that first year at the Roxy Theater. Every year with every director it’s gotten bigger and better. It has continued to improve upon itself. I was at a big European doc fest recently, and even people there knew about it! It has a broad reach and reputation and is significant for giving people exposure for their great work. Also important as a filmmaking culture and community, is to keep educating ourselves because technology and the rules of the game are constantly changing. The festival helps with that education and brings together filmmakers, industry, community and young emerging filmmakers.
Q: What of your future filmmaking plans?
A: I will taper down on my own production work, but I plan to keep working on Mossadegh & Me. This independent film is a story covering the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It’s about a generation in Iran that came of age in a time of democracy. My father is Iranian and of the same generation.
Q: This year the festival included more than 130 films. Films competed for Best Feature, Best Short, the Big Sky Award and the Best Mini-Doc. What were some of your favorites? A: There were a lot of crowd pleasers. Amongst them are Where God Likes To Be, Rent a Family, Inc. about a Japanese family man for hire. Adrift [winner of the Artistic Vision Award] and Eugene [Mini-Doc Award] were really fantastic and special films.
Q: An engaged community is paramount to the success and growth of a documentary film festival. Tell us about the community surrounding Big Sky.
A: I’m a Chicago transplant, but I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid — I think Missoula is pretty awesome. This festival is unique and exciting because Missoula fosters a progressive thoughtfulness that you don’t find in towns our size unless they’re university towns. It makes for an attractive community, which is small enough that visitors get a special experience that they don’t get at other festivals. Also, the festival wouldn’t happen without the help of the amazing volunteers that we rely on. Missoulians are a really engaged bunch. While BSDFF is a lot about entertainment, it is also about educating ourselves on ideas that matter.
Q: What are you looking forward to as the new executive director?
A: Within the festival, I have been filmmaker, friend and curator. Now I am excited to be a visionary for this festival. It is an exciting and scary task, but there is a huge amount of commitment and support from the community. I am starting from a really good place.
Find out more about the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival here, including DocShop, film archives, and upcoming film events.
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