With the return of the Montana Institute for the Arts to Kalispell this summer, aspiring filmmakers will once again have a chance to learn the craft in the Flathead Valley.
MIA founder and president Michael Polish said the program was forced to adjust during the pandemic, in some instances by placing students on sets to learn, but that it will be returning to its original form in 2022. This summer will mark MIA’s fifth year in existence .
“COVID came in just when we were going to expand a little bit bigger within the school, so we’re probably going to go back to what it was like in year two and three,” Polish said.
The Moviemaking One-On-One course slated for August is intended to help people interested in learning about different aspects of filmmaking. That includes screenwriting, directing, camerawork, editing, acting, and sound work. MIA will once again use Flathead Valley Community College as a campus. The total class size will be small, and there are less than 20 spots to fill.
The idea is to more or less throw people into the fire so that they can learn from doing with the guidance of people with experience in the industry.
Throwing people into the fire means, among other things, getting students writing, and then getting students filming in short order.
“We just don’t give you a lot of time to think about it,” Polish said. “And I think that’s a plus.”
The director added that one of the benefits of the class is giving students the firsthand experience of meeting and learning from people who have actually worked in the film industry.
Polish’s own filmmaking credentials are extensive, and include directing the 2006 film “The Astronaut Farmer” starring Billy Bob Thornton, as well as “Twin Falls Idaho” in 1999 and “Northfork” in 2003. More recently he has directed “American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally,” which stars Meadow Williams, Al Pacino and Thomas Kretschmann. Polish is also behind the series “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” which was filmed in Montana and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Polish, who lives in the Bigfork area, also has roots in Kalispell and other parts of the Flathead Valley, including the Hungry Horse Dam where his grandfather worked in construction. While spots in the course are not restricted to Montana, Polish said he would like to enroll as many Montanans as possible.
As part of the course students will write a script, which they will then submit to a vote. A handful of the top scripts will be turned into short films in the second half of the course. Travis Bruyer, a former Flathead County Sheriff’s Deputy, who has also worked as an actor, consultant and armorer, helped found the program. Bruyer said to some degree the script selection and production process simulates the actual experience of working in the industry in that people oftentimes have to give up some degree of control.
“As a writer, if you are in Hollywood you can write it, but you might not get to direct it. You might have very little say about that project,” he said. The films are student-made, and while the program has resources to help bring them to life, Bruyer said a lot of weight is placed on storytelling.
“If you can’t tell a great story, all the special effects in the world aren’t going to save you,” he said.
More information about the Montana Institute for the Arts can be found at gomia.org. Applications are currently being accepted for a course that will run from Aug. 1 through Aug 12.