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. 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 Doc Fund, New York Times Video, ESPN Films, Gravitas Ventures, Sub-Genre, Participant Media, BBC Storyville, CNN Films, ITVS, POV, PBS, The Film Collaborative, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Seed & Spark, Film Independent, Field of Vision, The Fledgling Fund and Catapult Film Fund. 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 qualify 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)

BEST MINI-DOC - (Under 15 minutes)

BIG SKY AWARD - (Films about the American West)

Submissions are open to nonfiction films and videos of all styles, subjects, and lengths. All films selected for screening will be notified of their status by January 8, 2021. The filmmaker agrees to be responsible for all shipping and insurance costs for shipping materials to the festival office. All submitting filmmakers will be notified of the official selections prior to the festival.

If accepted for screening, your film will screen on our festivals virtual platform and possibly in Missoula Montana in February 2021 as part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

ENTRY FEES ARE NON-REFUNDABLE. Should the 2021 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival be canceled or postponed because of an act of God, natural disaster, epidemic, 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 prints 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 the 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, 2021 in order to be screened.

Entering filmmakers must have one of the following formats available by January 20, 2021, if accepted, for screening at the festival. Blu-Ray or h.264 (.mp4) file.

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 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 on mailing a physical screener.

All entry deadlines are postmark deadlines. Entries postmarked after the final deadline may not be considered. Submission fees are non-refundable.



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 2021 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, if accepted, will be upheld and not be infringed. I own or control the copyright in and to, 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 19 - February 28, 2021; 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
  • Noel Bass

    We premiered at Big Sky, so this festival holds a special place in our heart. But beyond that, what you can expect from the Big Sky experience is total professionalism, great communication, delivering on promises, and a unique international festival that has a personal feel to the filmmaker. We feel like Big Sky went above and beyond for our film from the very beginning. Thank you Big Sky!

    April 2021
  • Fernando Saldivia

    Even despite covid circumstances, the festival experience was great. I am glad my film The Roots Weaver shared the screen with so many beautiful pieces. The festival certainly opened up a lot of doors for my work. Totally recommended!

    March 2021
  • I strongly recommend you submitting your film to this fantastic and respected festival. I had an honour to be in the short documentary competition with my film "RUST", the festival qualifies for the Academy Award in the documentary short subject. BSDFF is run by a highly professional team, devoted to quality, extremey well organized, prepared for all scenarios, motivated, inspiring and helpful, nice to talk to and communicative. The programme was really splendid this year. In general I rarely meet so kind people in the industry. This experience enabled me to go on with my film but also taught me a lot as a filmmaker. It changed the life of my film eventually. Do not hestitate to make friends with The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. It's worth it.

    March 2021
  • Olivia Ahnemann

    Our film YOUTH v GOV was the Centerpiece film of the festival in 2021 and it was a great experience. The festival organisers embraced the film and offered us several opportunities to engage with festival attendees and fellow filmmakers. We participated in a Doc Shop panel about impact, which was very well organised and executed, and we were invited to screen our film for schools in Montana and do a special Q&A for students. Big Sky really gets behind the films it programs and supports your work!

    March 2021
  • Jin Yoo-Kim

    We had the pleasure of having Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust be the closing weekend film for the Big Sky Doc Film Festival 2021. We were also nominated for the Big Sky Award and participated in the Doc Shop Panel about Impact Producing. Our world premiere with Big Sky Documentary Film Festival was a dream come true. In 2020, we had the pleasure of going to Missoula and pitching our project at the Big Sky Pitch. We were so taken by the warmth, hospitality, and the honest feedback we received, along with amazing training to hone in on our pitch. We got to meet new people, strengthen old connections, party with filmmakers, get to know the locals, and plugged into the amazing programming the film festival had to offer. When we got back to LA, we received support and funding which we think was a result of our pitch at Big Sky - we believe our experience put our documentary on the map. We bunkered down and got to work just as the world shut down because of covid. We planned on returning to Big Sky to premiere our film and re-live our pitch experience. Though we didn't get to travel to Missoula, the virtual experience of premiering our film wasn't as disappointing as we were expecting because of the wonderful people like Rachel, Joanne, Alana and their teams who made sure our experience was valuable. Their warmth and constant connection made us feel taken care of and we are happy to feel like we are part of the Big Sky family. We hope to return in real life one day and share communal space again.

    March 2021