'Havana Libre'

"Havana Libre" is the opening night film for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Friday, Feb. 19. It takes viewers to Cuba, where a group of surfers are fighting to get recognition for their sport.

The 18th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (Feb. 19-28) is an all-virtual affair.

While the festival organizers will greatly miss the excitement and energy of bringing hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of filmgoers into the heart of Missoula, there is some upside to the new format. For instance, the 87 short and feature nonfiction films curated by the programming team will be accessible to pretty much anyone with a phone, tablet or computer. (In fact, for the first time in the festival's history, a person could watch every film in the lineup — and yes, this is a challenge).

The online platform is very user-friendly. It allows viewers to browse film selections and trailers at their leisure, and to pre-order films they’re interested in so they can guarantee themselves a virtual seat. Details on how to sign up and purchase single-screening tickets, five-film bundles and festival passes can be found at bigskyfilmfest.org.

Note: All short films will be available to view for the duration of the festival. Feature films generally have a four-day window in which they can be viewed. When a viewer unlocks a film, they have 48 hours to begin watching. Once viewing has begun, there is a 24-hour window in which to finish watching. Almost all films have a Q&A with the filmmakers — included in the price of the ticket — and a number of those Q&As will be live, so viewers can participate.


Opening night: “Havana Libre” — Following decades of cultural prohibitions, a group of Cubans rise up and demand legitimacy for their beloved sport of surfing. In this inspiring story, they train to compete on the world stage with boards they built from scratch, reconcile with the country’s tumultuous history, and attempt to overcome borders that have been blocked their entire lives. Screening window opens at 5 p.m. World premiere. Feature Competition.


Live Q&A with director Corey McLean, and producers Tyler Dunham and Nick Weissman. 8 p.m.

Nick Davis is the media director for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.