Sustainable Missoula: Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Missoula’s path to zero waste

Editor’s note: For the next several months, Sustainable Missoula will run a series of articles to build broader understanding of the 0/50/100 sustainability framework: zero waste, 50 percent sustainable trips, and 100 percent clean electricity for Missoula. This article is the second in a series on Zero Waste. Read the first one here.

In 2008, I spent Christmas in the Arctic with my brother and his family who had recently moved to Kotzebue, Alaska, where his wife had a job with the Commissioned Corps. Each evening, after making the most of the four daily hours of rose light riding snowmobiles and cross-country skiing, we would tuck in for a toddy and a dinner of salmon and hydroponic vegetables, all harvested locally.

One such evening, we settled in for a movie and popped in a copy of “Red Gold,” a stunning 2008 documentary feature from Travis Rummel and Ben Knight on the Pebble Mine controversy in Southwest Alaska. Ninety minutes later, I was ready to take up a torch and pitchfork for the fishermen of Bristol Bay, swept up in fury over the environmental injustice and corporate greed that could eternally change one of the most productive watersheds and the largest salmon run in the world.

That was the moment I decided to pledge my future to the power of the medium of film. I wanted to find a soap box to spread awareness and build agency around important issues, and documentary film would be my megaphone.

Ten years later, I’m writing this at my desk while wrapping up final details for the 16th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (BSDFF) in downtown Missoula, where films from around the world will illuminate screens and minds with stories of resistance, resilience and a changing world. Every year, a portion of the festival’s powerful film programming addresses environmental issues on scientific and social levels, connecting audiences to serious challenges facing communities and ecosystems across the globe. With these films, we aim to educate viewers on the gravity and complexity of the human impact on the natural world, and to inspire audiences to action.

This year, notable titles include “After the Fire,” a look at the aftermath of the 2017 fire in the Sonoma Valley; “Dark Eden, a sobering look at the toxicity of the Canada oil sands; “The Pollinators,” which follows the annual migration of beekeepers who warn that bees and our food supply are in peril; and “Right to Harm,” the official closing night film at BSDFF, which exposes the health impact of factory farming and the citizens-turned-activists who band together to demand justice.

BSDFF teamed up with Missoula Federal Credit Union to provide stainless carabiner mugs for festival guests to use at special events across the festival, helping to reduce single-use disposable plastic cups.

Education through film, however, is just one step in a long march to a more sustainable human-environment relationship. And at Big Sky Doc Fest, we want to practice what we preach.

The festival is headed into the fourth year of our Toward Zero Waste initiative (TZW), an effort to significantly reduce the waste produced during the 10-day festival, increase awareness of environmental issues and behavioral solutions in our local community, and provide a model for other film festivals in the industry.

The initiative seeks to achieve the following goals:

  • Reduce our waste stream & promote ZERO by FIFTY by providing recycling & composting collection bins in all venues
  • Design waste out of the event by limiting concession stands and food vendors to edible, recyclable and compostable food serviceware
  • Promote reuse by distributing reusable stainless steel souvenir cups to patrons
  • Support recycled material manufacturing by using recycled & recyclable paper for printed materials
  • Reduce vehicle transportation through walkable festival venues and shuttles
  • Educate our community and inspire action with a selection of films focused on climate change, environmental issues, and conservation

The original impetus for the TZW Initiative at BSDFF came from a desire to reflect the values of the Missoula community, a place where the ethos of stewardship, resource conservation, environmental education, and the right to a healthy environment is incredibly strong. Forward-thinking sustainability efforts are taking root across the city, including the city of Missoula’s ZERO by FIFTY initiative, Logjam Present’s Going Green Initiative, Climate Smart Missoula’s work to move Missoula toward 100 percent clean electricity, Home ReSource’s efforts to support community-wide waste reduction and broader issues of sustainability, and countless businesses adopting more eco-friendly practices.

In 2019, BSDFF is partnering with Missoula Federal Credit Union to keep the initiative going strong. With the support of Missoula Fed this year BSDFF is able to provide a stainless carabiner mug to visiting filmmakers and festival patrons, encouraging them to use their own vessel and reduce single-use disposables.  

Collaboration with the efforts of an environmentally progressive community is the crux of our success in becoming a consistent model for sustainable event production. Novelty events can be major culprits when it comes to generating waste, with Solo cups and plastic plates and utensils overflowing from landfill-bound bins in the aftermath at events where those were the food serviceware options. A simple shift to recyclable aluminum cans, food served on wooden toothpicks and edible utensils, compostable popcorn bags and BPI-certified compostable wine cups, among other eco-conscious choices helps BSDFF create a more eco-friendly event in which patrons can be proud to take part.

Here’s how you can get involved as a festival patron to help BSDFF move Toward Zero Waste:

  • Walk, bike, or take the FREE Mountain Line or UDASH bus to festival events
  • Take only one program or plan your festivities with our online resources
  • Recycle your program and any paper you collect at the festival
  • Recycle! Compost! You’ll find bins at all festival venues
  • Learn more about ZERO by FIFTY
  • VOLUNTEER on the festival’s Green Team to help with recycling efforts!

Rachel Gregg is the executive director of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

February 21. Celebrate the launch of Missoula Electric Co-op’s newest community solar project atop the KettleHouse brewery in Bonner. 5 – 7pm.

February 26. Winona LaDuke Lecture: “The Next Energy Economy: Grassroots Strategies to Mitigate Global Climate Change” – University Center Theater. 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

February 28. Climate Change teach-in series kicks off with teach-in on Climate Change and Gender Oppression. UM’s Payne Native American Center lobby. 12 – 1:30 p.m.

March 14. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup: Zero Waste is next month’s topic. Imagine Nation Brewing. 5 – 7 p.m.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more conservation events for 2019 HERE.