Jill Momaday

Filmmaker Jill Momaday with her dad, award-winning writing N. Scott Momaday, is shown making her film "Return to Rainy Mountain." It was shown Friday at the BZN International Film Festival.

Earnest — not ersatz.

The brand new Bozeman International Film Festival opened Thursday and Friday with a serious documentary about the battle for renewable energy and a poetic documentary about the Kiowa Indian heritage of Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday.

This festival had no Hollywood spotlights shining toward the night sky. No breathless rumors that actor Johnny Depp might show up. No Peter Fonda standing on the Ellen Theater stage, speaking loopily to his own hand as a puppet-like stand-in for the no-show movie star.

If pretentious, glitzy film festivals of the past left a bad taste in the mouths of Bozeman audiences, the new BZN Film Festival should reassure film lovers that this is the real deal, an event worth their time and attention.

It opened at the Emerson’s Crawford Theater Thursday night with director Jamie Redford’s documentary about his cross-country trip to find out if solar, wind and other renewable energy resources might ever replace fossil fuels.

Redford found lots of evidence that yes, it’s already happening, which led to his 2016 film, “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution.”

“It was inspiring,” said Tim Crawford, a ranch owner, local solar energy advocate and member of the BZN Film Festival board.

The four-day BZN Film Festival will show 70 films, including eight made in Montana and several from around the globe. The environment and women’s empowerment are two key themes.

Sixteen films were to be followed by panel discussions with local experts. “The Hungry Heart,” a documentary about the opioid epidemic in Vermont, was to be followed, for example, by a panel on fighting dangerous drugs and addiction in Montana.

On Friday morning, an audience of about 60 gathered in the Hager Auditorium at the Museum of the Rockies to see filmmaker Jill Momaday’s 2017 documentary “Return to Rainy Mountain.”

Her film tells the story of following her father’s and Kiowa ancestors’ trail to sacred sites, from the Yellowstone River’s headwaters to Wyoming’s Rock Tree, or Devils Tower, and finally to Oklahoma.

That film was followed by a panel discussion, inspired by Redford’s documentary, looking at concrete things local people are doing to promote renewable energy.

Susan Bilo, a green energy consultant and board member with the Montana Renewable Energy Association, said that building “net zero” energy buildings, which use no more energy than they generate, is doable, even in Montana’s cold climate. People can add insulation and seal cracks in older buildings, she said, but the most cost-effective way to save energy is to build it right from the start.

However, Bilo noted, change comes slowly in the construction industry.

Lindsay Schack of the Gallatin Valley firm Love Schack Architecture said energy-saving “passive houses” are being built in Colorado, Utah and Canada, so it’s “totally possible” to do it in Montana. In May, a Passive House International workshop at Montana State University trained 15 builders, including nine in the Bozeman area, in how to build to save energy.

“I’ve had lots of conversations with builders who say, ‘I build what people pay me to build,’” Schack said, so it’s important to educate people about energy-saving design so that clients will demand it and say, “‘This is as important as the countertops in my home.’”

Bilo said people need to speak up and demand energy-efficient construction when the city of Bozeman builds a new building or the Bozeman School District builds new schools.

Redford said one big selling point for “net zero” buildings is that they end up feeling very comfortable.

“When you go into one of these buildings, if feels really good,” he said. “It just feels right, it’s more healthy.”

He added that when he had his home’s traditional heating system evaluated, it turned out the ducts were a breeding ground for rats.

Kyle MacVean of Harvest Solar said the price of solar panels has dropped dramatically and the industry has expanded rapidly in the last seven years. He said Montana gets as many sunny days as Florida, the Sunshine State.

After the panel discussion, Bilo said the film festival was “wonderful” and she was looking forward to seeing actor Jeff Bridges’ film Friday night exploring people’s relationship with the natural world.

More information about the BZN Film Festival, tickets, films and a complete schedule can be found online at bozemanfilmcelebration.com.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

Gail Schontzler covers schools and Montana State University for the Chronicle.

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