2017 Award Winners

Announcing the 2017 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Award Winners

The festival, which wraps up 10 days of the best in documentary filmmaking from around the world this Sunday (Feb. 26), awards four major prizes, two of which are Oscar-qualifying. A selection of award-winning films will screen on Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Roxy Theater at 10am and 12:30pm.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is just about to wrap 10 days of eye-opening, thought-provoking, and diverse nonfiction filmmaking. With over 200 films in the festival, the following competition films have been given awards in our four categories.

Four BSDFF competitions shine a spotlight on superior works in documentary filmmaking. One prize winner in each category was selected by the festival jury in each of the following categories, and considerations were made for artistic vision. Winners in each category receive a $500 cash prize, and winners of the Short Documentary and Mini-Doc competitions automatically qualify for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar consideration in the Documentary Short category for 2017. 

Says Festival Director Rachel Gregg: "We're extremely proud to have been able to share these incredibly accomplished films with the people of Montana and all our visiting guests. We're thrilled to provide an opportunity for these movies to find an even larger audience thanks to the reach of these prestigious awards. Thanks to our juries for making the hard decisions!"



Presented to one film that artistically honors the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West

Sponsored by First Interstate Bank

Jury: Sean O’Brien (University of Montana), Tenzin Phuntsog (Montana State University), and Bryan Bello (Filmmaker).


Melinda Janko, 2016, USA, 76 minutes / Montana Premiere

100 Years is the David vs. Goliath story of Elouise Cobell’s courageous fight for justice for 300,000 Native Americans whose mineral rich lands were mismanaged by the United States Government.  For 30 years Elouise Cobell fought “the good fight.” This is the compelling true story of how she prevailed and made history.

Big Sky Artistic Vision Award


Dan Grimus , 2016, USA, 73 minutes / World Premiere

OYATE is a film about life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. It follows two families as they go about their daily activities over the course of a single summer. They attend rodeos, shoot clay pigeons, and participate in pow wows. Family members get married, have children, and celebrate the 4th of July. All the while, the difficult, often intractable realities of modern reservation life threaten to encroach upon them.

Jury statement: In recognition of the film’s artistic merit, approach and cinematography, the jury presents Dan Grimus’s OYATE the Artistic Vision Award for its cinematic eye, observational gaze, and ability to capture the beauty in the everyday.



Films 15 minutes and under

Jury members: Daniel Junge (Filmmaker), Gianna Savoie (Ocean Media Institute), and Mark Vargo (Cinematographer).


Alex Lora, Adan Aliaga, 2017, Spain, USA, 14 minutes / World Premiere

The Fourth Kingdom is the kingdom of plastics, a redemption center in NY for immigrants and underdogs where the American Dream becomes possible indeed.



Films between 15 and 40 minutes in length

Jury: Daniel Cross (Filmmaker), Deia Schlosberg (Filmmaker), and Joy Dietrich (MSU)


Mari Bakke Riise, 2016, Norway, 32 minutes / North American Premiere

In the capital of Ghana, 10,000 girls from the ages of 6 work as real life shopping baskets - called Kayayo, carrying heavy loads on their head (from 130 to 220 pounds), earning very little and some end up in prostitution to make ends meet. This documentary is about Bamunu, an 8-year old girl who hasn’t seen her family since she was sent away from home two years ago to work as a Kayayo to support her family.  We follow her incessant longing to get away from the harsh markets, her journey back home and what awaits there.

Shorts Competition Artistic Vision Award


Eugene Richards, 2016, USA — 15 minutes / Northwest Premiere

Though confined to a nursing home, 90-year-old Melvin Wisdahl lives an interior life, filled with images of the war he fought in, the struggles of the early Norwegian settlers of North Dakota, his ghost town of a home, his love of the ever-evolving and threatened land.

Jury Statement: The jury presents an Artistic Vision Award to THE RAIN WILL FOLLOW, which beautifully marries internal and external landscape imagery in a way that infuses the whole film with a third complete and powerful through line.   



Films over 40 minutes in length

Jury: Nadine Ajaka (The Atlantic), Anne Devereaux (Filmmaker), and Bryan Glick (The Film Collaborative)


Bartle B Bull, 2017, USA, 100 minutes / Northwest Premiere

Fighting for your life in the city of dreams. Three extraordinary young people battle to change their lives through the three-month odyssey of the New York Daily News Golden Gloves—the biggest, oldest, most important amateur boxing tournament in the world.

Feature Competition Artistic Vision Award 


Mila Aung-Thwin, 2017, Canada, 100 minutes / World Premiere

LET THERE BE LIGHT follows the story of dedicated scientists working to build a small sun on Earth, which would unleash perpetual, cheap, clean energy for mankind. After decades of failed attempts, a massive push is now underway to crack the holy grail of energy.

Jury Statement - In recognition of the film’s artistic merit and educational value, the jury presents LET THERE BE LIGHT with an Artistic Vision Award for its cinematic eye, innovative animation, and engaging (passionate) investigation into the future of fusion (clean energy).

Feb 25, 2017 | permalink