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The filmmaking worlds of Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley interact once again, as MAPS Media Institute has announced that it will again host an educational program of the 17th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (BSDFF).

A block of short films (categorized by BSDFF as those under 40 minutes in length) will screen at MAPS headquarters in Hamilton on Monday, Feb. 17. Two of the films were produced by Montana students who participated in MAPS Media Lab workshops.

Filmmakers in the Schools is a long-running program of BSDFF that brings visiting filmmakers from all over the world into Montana schools to screen their films and interact directly with students.

“One of the most popular features of BSDFF is the presence of so many world-class filmmakers for the public to engage with,” says Julia Sherman, the festival’s education coordinator. “Filmmakers in the Schools takes that one step further by bringing those filmmakers right into the classroom. It’s an incredible learning opportunity for students, and has also become hugely popular with filmmakers.”

This will be the fourth time MAPS has hosted BSDFF screenings. As an educational non-profit that offers free-of-charge classes in media arts (including filmmaking) to Montana students, MAPS is uniquely qualified as a screening host. And this year, for the second time in a row, two of those groups of presenting filmmakers will be MAPS students themselves. Looking Forward From Yesterday and In This Together, We Are One are both projects of the MAPS Media Lab—the institute’s statewide educational outreach program—and both are official selections at BSDFF 2020.

“Hosting our own students as visiting filmmakers is an incredibly gratifying, full-circle experience,” says MAPS Executive Director Clare Ann Harff. “It gives us the opportunity to celebrate everyone’s hard-earned success together, and to inspire our next group of students to reach similar heights.”

Both of the MAPS entries to BSDFF 2020 are powerful narratives about Native American youth reconnecting with critical aspects of their cultures. Looking Forward From Yesterday was produced by students of Harlem High School, near the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. It’s a combination of stunning landscape shots, found historical footage, and interviews with tribal elders that weaves together to tell a tale of pain, of loss, and ultimately of hope.

In This Together, We Are One was filmed and directed by 7th-grade students at Poplar Middle School on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. It documents a new program on the reservation that teaches students about the complex, symbiotic relationship between Plains Indians (Fort Peck is home to bands of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes) and the American bison. Another gorgeous piece of filmmaking, it culminates with the successful hunt of a reservation bison, with a particular focus on the spiritual connection between hunter and hunted.

“We are so proud of both groups of kids, and so honored to be a part of this process,” says filmmaker Dru Carr, director of the MAPS Media Lab. “What they were able to do in a short period of time is astounding. We look forward to celebrating their achievements together, and to bring a selection of extraordinary films and filmmakers to the Bitterroot Valley.”

All of the films shown through the Filmmakers in the Schools program are appropriate for students and their families, and everyone is welcome to attend the screenings and interact with all the filmmakers. “We encourage everyone in the Bitterroot to join us,” says Harff. “It’s a unique opportunity to experience powerful stories from right here in Montana and from all over the world, and to engage with the amazing storytellers behind the films.”

Filmmakers in the Schools screening happens at the MAPS Media Institute, 515 Madison St. in Hamilton, 4:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17. The event is free of charge for everyone. For more information about BSDFF, including screening schedules and ticket information, visit bigskyfilmfest.org. For more information about MAPS Media Institute, please visit mapsmediainstitute.com.