The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is the premier venue for non-fiction film in the American West. Big Sky offers an ideal setting for filmmakers to premiere new work and develop lasting relationships with fellow filmmakers and industry. Celebrating 20 years in 2023, the festival draws an audience of 20,000 and film entries from every corner of the globe to a uniquely intimate mountain town setting with local Montana flavor.

The festival hosts over 200 visiting artists, presents an average of 150 non-fiction films and offers a variety of exciting events throughout downtown Missoula, Montana. In addition to screenings, Big Sky hosts DocShop, a five-day industry event that includes panels, master classes, workshops, and the Big Sky Pitch session. DocShop participants have included: HBO Documentary Films, Showtime Documentary Films, Tribeca Film Institute, Sundance Film Institute, New York Times Video, ESPN Films, Gravitas Ventures, Al Jazeera Witness Participant Media, BBC Storyville, CNN Films, ITVS, POV, PBS, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Seed & Spark, Film Independent, Field of Vision, The Fledgling Fund and Ford Foundation. Big Sky also screens films in schools across the state of Montana reaching over 4,000 students in just four days. Participating filmmakers have the unique opportunity to visit classrooms to present their films and engage students in discussion.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is an Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences qualifying event for short-form documentaries. The winner of the Best Mini-Doc and Best Short Documentary categories automatically qualifies to compete for a Documentary Short Oscar the following year. Distinguished judges from around the country select the winners in each category during the ten day festival. Special guests of the festival have included Les Blank, Barbara Kopple, Steve James, Joe Berlinger, Lucy Walker, Ondi Timoner, Robert Drew, Stanley Nelson, Kirby Dick, Greg Barker, Daniel Junge, Sam Green, John Cohen, Doug Pray, Travis Wilkerson, Jeff & Michael Zimbalist, Cazeh Zahedi, Hart & Dana Perry, Ron Mann, the Ross Brothers, Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and many many more.

BEST FEATURE: 40 minutes & over

BEST SHORT: 15-39 minutes (Academy Qualifying Category)

BEST MINI-DOC: Under 15 minutes (Academy Qualifying Category)

BIG SKY AWARD - Films of any length that artistically honor the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West

Winners in each category receive a $500 cash prize.

Submissions are open to nonfiction films of all styles, subjects, and lengths. All films selected for screening will be notified of their status by January 6, 2023.

If accepted for screening, your film will screen in Missoula, Montana in February 2023, and potentially in a virtual exhibition, as part of the 20th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

ENTRY FEES ARE NON-REFUNDABLE. Should the 2023 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival be canceled or postponed because of a natural disaster, pandemic, or for any other reason beyond our control, submission fees cannot be refunded.

Films of any completion date are eligible for submission. However, accepted films must not have been shown anywhere in Montana prior to the festival.

Big Sky does not pay screening fees.

Preview screeners and exhibition screeners must either be in English or have English subtitles.

Rough cuts are accepted for entry at the final deadline only. If you submit a rough cut, we cannot guarantee that Big Sky programmers will be able to review an updated cut at a later date. If you are submitting a rough cut, make sure it is indicated as such. Include the intended final running time and work remaining to be completed with your entry. Big Sky does not exhibit works-in-progress at the festival. Films must be completed by February 1, 2023 in order to be screened.

Films in competition are selected by the head of programming. Acceptance to Big Sky does not guarantee selection for competition.

Accepted filmmakers must have the following format available by January 19, 2023 for screening at the festival: h.264 (.mp4) file. All films screening at the festival must include a .srt file or a subtitled version of the film. The filmmaker is responsible for all shipping and insurance costs.

DCP is NOT an accepted screening format.

You are responsible for updating Big Sky directly regarding any change to your contact information and ensuring that emails from domain are not blocked by spam filters.

Big Sky requires an online screener to be uploaded to Vimeo (password protected private link), Youtube (unlisted link), or the FilmFreeway video player. If you absolutely cannot upload your film please email for instructions.

All entry deadlines are upload/postmark deadlines. Entries received after the final deadline may not be considered.



Discounted submission fees are available for Montana filmmakers or filmmakers with Montana-based films and Indigenous filmmakers. Explore the Categories & Fees panel for more information.


By submitting this documentary, I understand that I am agreeing to the following:

I am currently the copyright owner of this work. Should ownership or rights to my film change, this agreement to screen at the 2023 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, if accepted, will be upheld and not be infringed. I own or control the copyright and am duly authorized to submit this documentary film to the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (Big Sky) and to the best of my knowledge, all statements on this document are true; This documentary contains no material which could result in tort claims, royalty claims, claims for breach of contract, or claims of any sort whatsoever; If this documentary is selected for screening at Big Sky, I grant Big Sky the right to screen this film in Missoula, Montana, February 17 - February 26, 2023; I understand and agree that this film entry, if selected for the Festival, may be used for promotional purposes for the Festival, Big Sky and/or its partners and I grant Big Sky and its partners the rights to use up to two minutes of footage, photographic stills and/or titles and information from the film for promotional purposes; I fully indemnify and hold Big Sky and its partners harmless from: a) damage to or loss of the film print or videotapes en route to or from Big Sky or during the course of festival possession of the entry; and b) from any claims which may arise in connection with this documentary film. If a claim arises in connection with this film, I will bear all the costs of defense incurred by Big Sky and pay any award of damages which may ensue. I also agree to reimburse Big Sky for any attorney fees incurred in connection with the defense of such a claim. I understand that Big Sky reserves the right to place my film in the appropriate competition category. By submitting my film, I am indicating that I understand, comply with and agree to the Terms of Entry and the eligibility requirements.

Overall Rating
  • Jaime Wilken

    Big Sky was one of the best festivals I've ever been to. They treat the filmmakers so well and the city is very inviting! I loved going to the beautiful public library for Doc shop and felt it was a wonderful way to learn and connect. They make a point to make you feel welcome and truly care about documentaries and doc filmmakers. Missoula is also just a gem of city and the surrounding nature is breathtaking!

    April 2022
  • Eddy Frumkin

    Thank you Missoula residents for providing great service and hospitality to make my trip to Big Sky welcoming.

    April 2022
  • Alex Mallis

    This is how a festival should be run. As a shorts filmmaker I felt hugely supported and welcomed. The screenings were great and the parties were always the most fun. I'd make this the top of your festival submission list.

    March 2022
  • There is no festival like Big Sky.

    All that attend pine to return. I brought my first short film in 2018 and this year had the privilege to bring my first feature, "Tell Them We Were Here". The atmosphere cultivated in Missoula allows for a specific kind of community building that frankly just doesn't happen at other film festivals. There is something about Big Sky that removes the harmful exhaust put out by much of Hollywood and the industry at large. Must be that Montana air.

    March 2022
  • Betsy Laikin

    Big Sky has been one of the best festival experiences. The team behind the festival, the community that surrounds this beautiful place in the Mountains, the many programs and opportunities to meet & network, make this an excellent choice for any filmmaker to premiere their work in a supportive environment.

    March 2022