Since Monday of this week I have been here in beautiful Missoula, MT for the 39th annual International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF) – the longest running event of it’s kind on the planet! For the past two years I have had films that I produced screening at the festival – Bluebird Man in 2014 and our Eyes on Conservation film about the Greater Sage Grouse in 2015 – and this year I was honored to be one of three festival judges at the event.

A lot of folks have asked me since I got here what it means to be a festival judge for IWFF, so I’ll attempt to answer that question here. Each year the Executive Director of IWFF, Mike Steinberg (you can listen to his interview on the EOC podcast here!) selects three industry professionals to review a portion of the films screening at the festival. Festival judges are sent links to film selections ahead of time, so by the time I arrived here in Missoula I had already watched, rated, and taken notes on all the eligible films.

Once all three of us arrived at the festival, we got together for our jury deliberation. Our task was to select the winners in four categories – Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Short Film, and Best of Festival. We shared notes and discussed the merits of each of the films in competition for these awards. Some of the decisions were easy, with all three of us in complete agreement, while other categories were more difficult, requiring extended conversations before a consensus was reached.

Ultimately we did come to a consensus on the films that deserved to win each of these four important awards, and I must say that it was a pleasure to participate in this process with fellow festival judges Dawn Smallman (Festival Director at Portland EcoFilm Festival) and Dana Grant (Film Competition Coordinator for Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival). The three of us definitely have different perspectives on the wildlife film industry, and I learned a lot from my conversations with both Dawn and Dana.


I also had the pleasure of hosting one of the filmmaker panel discussions that took place at the festival this week. We had four amazing filmmakers sitting on our panel – Jon Betz and Taggart Seigel who made the film Seed: The Untold Story, Roshan Patel who made the film Red Wolf Revival, and Eric Bendick who made The Forgotten Coast. Our discussion focused on the storytelling process, and how conservation and advocacy goals influence our storytelling. I will be airing parts of the discussion that took place as an episode of the Eyes on Conservation podcast, so be sure to check that out when it drops next Wednesday!

Overall my experience here at IWFF this year has been extremely positive. I’ve met amazing filmmakers from all across the globe, watched some truly spectacular films, and explored many new avenues for collaboration along the way. Attending film festivals, conferences and other industry events focused on filmmaking has probably never been as important as it is today. Networking face to face with other filmmakers, as well as folks who work for film festivals, television networks and distribution companies is really critical in our highly competitive world of filmmaking.

I’ve experienced firsthand how important these face to face connections can prove to be – I had the opportunity at last year’s IWFF to meet the founder of Green Planet Films, Suzanne Harle. Suzanne and I had a wonderful conversation about distribution strategies for natural history films, and this led to our film Bluebird Man being picked up for educational distribution by Green Planet Films. Additionally, the connections that I’ve made over the past few years with other filmmakers have been invaluable, as I now have a group of colleagues working in the industry who are excited about sharing advice and even helping out on shoots!

Of course it isn’t easy to get your film into a top-tier film festival like IWFF, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attend the festival as a guest or a volunteer! Volunteering is a particularly good way to get involved in an event like this, and I would definitely encourage aspiring wildlife filmmakers to explore this option at IWFF as well as other similar events.

My time here in Missoula will be coming to an end very soon, but not before the big announcement of this year’s award winning films! The awards ceremony will be taking place at 5pm tonight, and we’ll be sharing the announcement of the award winning films on the Wild Lens facebook page so keep your eye out for this! Many thanks to Mike Steinberg and all the other wonderful people from IWFF for including Wild Lens in this year’s festival!

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