The 13th Annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (BSDFF) kicks off in Missoula on Friday, February 19th and runs through Sunday, February 28th. This year’s theme revolves around “impact.” Executive Director of the Big Sky Film Institute, Gita Saedi Kiely, describes this topic as a lens to examine “the impact of the stories we tell, the impact we have on the planet and the impact we can have on society.”

Big Sky Doc Film Fest logoOver 200 independent films will be showcased during the 10-day festival, and the University of Montana serves as more than just a sponsor for the event. Dean of the UM School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, is one of 12 members of the festival jury. “It’s my first time judging the Big Sky,” Abramson said. “I’m going to try to watch as a regular person, and then look at what makes them compelling and their journalistic sensibility.”

The jury will chose the winning films based on four different categories: Best Feature, Best Short, Best Mini, and the Big Sky Award, which specifically deals with films about the American West. Abramson’s thirty years as a reporter and editor at National Public Radio will help him evaluate the sense of balance and fairness in the films, “to make sure they back up what they say,” he said.

Abramson will also be leading a workshop for high school journalism students on Friday, February 26th. He plans to talk to the students about interviewing skills, including the importance of using their questions as a story arc for the interview. “A lot of kids that age are afraid to talk to important people,” Abramson said. He hopes this workshop will give these budding journalists more confidence.

UM will also be hosting a series of workshops in the University Center as part of the festival’s DocShop conference. In keeping with the theme of “impact,” DocShop will focus on FILMS FOR CHANGE and explore the power of documentaries and media activism to serve as catalysts for positive change. All of the workshops will be free to students and faculty at UM, as well those from MSU.

Keep following the blog on the UM School of Journalism’s website for more updates on their involvement at the festival.

To view the complete schedule of events, film trailers and other additional information, visit

the 2016 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival’s website.

By Jana Wiegand

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