POLSON — The 2021 Flathead Lake International Cinemafest (FLIC) wrapped up its live weekend on Sunday night, January 31st, followed by encore screenings through Thursday, February 4th. (See information about the FLIC Virtual Festival running online now at the end of this piece.) Now in its ninth year, FLIC has gained worldwide recognition as entries continue to come in from the far reaches of the globe. This year’s film entries -- including narrative shorts and features, documentaries and animated films – hailed from 20 countries, including Australia, the U.K., Finland, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Portugal, Spain, Russian Federation, India, and the USA -- and include eight Montana-grown films.
As anticipated by festival organizers, COVID had a significant impact on audience and filmmaker attendance this year. Only a dozen or so filmmakers traveled to attend FLIC 2021. That’s about one-third prior years’ filmmaker attendance. However, the lower numbers did not quell the excitement of filmmakers or the FLIC audience. Exemplifying that spirit, Eleanor Wells shared the following review after the festival weekend:
“Such an amazing festival! The team did a great job with ensuring COVID precautions were taken and I’m honestly just so grateful there was an in-person festival. Getting to see great movies in a theater and meet other filmmakers and community members was wonderful! Thank you David and Jessica for putting this all together!”
David and Jessica King, who co-produce FLIC, were unsure what to expect this year, with all the uncertainties surrounding COVID. If they went ahead with the festival, would anyone come? David offered, “If we were going to host a live event, it needed to be done with an abundance of caution. Theater owners Becky and Gary Dupuis, whose new Showboat Stadium 6 in Polson was open before FLIC weekend, were already employing strict CinemaSafe guidelines, which put us at ease. In fact, as we learned about all the safety and cleaning protocols the Showboat was employing, it was evident to us that a movie theater like this is likely one of the cleanest and safest public spaces a person could enter,” offered King. “They literally disinfect each occupied seat following each screening. Handrails are also wiped down. Masks are worn in the lobby, and even popcorn salt shakers are disinfected after each use.”
With that level of cleanliness, the Kings and other festival organizers elected to go ahead and host the live side of FLIC 2021. And the result was a unique film festival experience that gave all in attendance great opportunities to connect with films and other film lovers and filmmakers.
Ukrainian Director Sergii Chebotarenko, whose film PULSE garnered the FLIC 2021 Best Picture Feature Award, traveled for three days each way to attend the festival. FLIC’s David W. King shared, “Sergii was a force of nature! His enthusiasm was contagious and everyone in attendance immensely enjoyed him. Funny side story: When a fellow Ukrainian man named Andrii Kondratenko in Seattle learned Sergii was attending the festival, he traveled to Montana just to meet Sergii, a perfect stranger. The two men became fast friends and attended many screenings together as they talked of common interests.”
“That’s what FLIC is all about!” exclaimed King. “We love it when filmmakers and audience members from far and wide connect around this little cinema campfire in rural Montana. Often, lifelong friendships take root at FLIC. It makes all the work of putting on a film festival well worthwhile.”
On Sunday afternoon, awards were presented in numerous categories. And some of the attending filmmakers were present to receive their awards, which added to the fun and celebration.
Big winners included PULSE, which received the Best Picture Feature Award mentioned above. PULSE tells the story of a young Ukrainian field athlete named Oksana who has a big dream – to take part in the Olympics. After a horrific car accident, Oksana almost loses her eyesight. It seems that she will have to forget not only about qualifying for the Olympics, but also about leading a normal life. However, Oksana refuses to give up and seeks to prove that not even this obstacle is too insurmountable for her to achieve her dreams. PULSE Director Sergii Chebotarenko earned the well-deserved Best Director award, which is particularly significant because PULSE is Sergii’s feature film directorial debut, following a career directing high profile commercials.
The Girl Who Wore Freedom received the Best Picture Documentary Feature Award and the FLIC Audience Award. Writer, Director, Executive Producer Christian Taylor was in attendance and lit up the festival with her generous spirit and good will. Her son Hunter accompanied Christian on their trip from Wheaton, Illinois. In the film The Girl Who Wore Freedom, eyewitnesses to history recount their unique relationships with the Allied forces, who liberated Normandy on June 6, 1944. The journey from occupation to liberation, to acceptance and forgiveness to gratitude and pride, is explored through interviews with French survivors and American veterans in this powerful, personal film that tells stories handed down over two generations. Christian and Hunter Taylor participated in audience Q&As following the screenings of their film.
FLIC co-producer Jessica King shared, “In unique ways that don’t have to do with attendance figures, we all had so much fun this year. We are so grateful for the enthusiasm of all the filmmakers and attendees. It’s encouraging to hear how much people enjoyed films and then to see them have the opportunity to interact with filmmakers…it’s so rewarding for us as festival producers.”
King continued, “Filmmakers and attendees thanked us repeatedly for pushing through to host the in-person festival. We feel privileged to participate in this festival, and even more so this year. We were also very excited to celebrate the hard work the Dupuis and Becky’s parents Howard and Ayron Pickerill put in to renovating the Showboat. All in all, it was a memorable and very special festival – for all the right reasons. We’re already looking forward to 2022. We have ‘the little festival that could’ right here in Polson, Montana, thanks to the efforts and sponsorship of this wonderful community.”
For those who were unable to attend the festival in person, most of the FLIC 2021 films can be viewed online at the FLIC 2021 Virtual Festival, which runs from February 5th through March 4th. For details, the FLIC program, photos, and other information, visit FLICPolson.com.