The inaugural class of the Montana Institute for the Arts was thrown to the wolves on Day 1.
They were asked to open up and share a story about their personal lives.
Some of the tales were funny while others were decidedly serious.
The point, indie film director Michael Polish said, was to get them to be vulnerable.
“It’s jumping off the cliff, but you can’t wait until day four to do it. There’s limited time,” Polish said from a dimly lit room at Flathead Valley Community College.
The college was the site of a filmmaking workshop hosted by Hollywood duo, Polish and his wife, actress Kate Bosworth. From July 9-20 the pair will be leading students through “Moviemaking One on One” — the first offering from the Montana Institute for the Arts, a non-profit art school, the couple founded in earlier this year.
While they’ve made a name for themselves in the City of Angels, both Polish and Bosworth have a love for the Big Sky State. Polish grew up in Montana and the couple married in Phillipsburg in 2013 and also own a home in Bigfork.
But another reason why they selected the Flathead Valley as the location for their latest endeavor was what Polish considered a lack of artistic opportunity.
“The Flathead, besides having the biggest lake ever, it has the biggest drought in art in terms of filmmaking,” he said.
Polish and Bosworth are working to change that landscape.
Nineteen students, including four sponsored by National Geographic, will explore the entire process of movie-making from script development, cinematography and producing to acting, editing and sound.
The course will emphasize the importance of story before anything else, along with vulnerability, empathy and a lot of hard work.
“My ideology behind the school is you have to know story before you can do anything. Story’s the most important part of filmmaking. You can’t even pick up a camera if you don’t have a story,” said Polish.
Both Polish and Bosworth will share insights from their own careers and will use their respective films as teaching tools — pairing firsthand experience with the end result. For example, during a discussion on character development, Polish showed samples of his 1999 film, “Twin Falls Idaho.” And Bosworth said she planned to discuss her rigorous transformation for the role of female surfer Anne Marie in the 2002 sports drama “Blue Crush.”
“Today I chose ‘Blue Crush’ for them to watch. It really demonstrates what it takes to be an actor in an extreme way. Not a lot of people know that story, they just see the end result. It’s a really great metaphor for being an artist,” Bosworth said. “It was literally taking the impossible and making it possible — that’s really what it takes to be an artist is take something that doesn’t exist and make it exist. I think what Michael and I try to do, rather than saying here’s a scene and act it out, it’s really about talking about the process and what it’s like.”
At the culmination of the class, students will be instructed to write a 3-10 page screenplay. The top four, chosen by student vote, will be shot and then screened the final Friday of the workshop.
“I think the students are going to have such a kick watching each other’s stuff,” Polish said. “They will have gone a long way from where they started yesterday.”
One such student is Tara Walker Lyons of Missoula. Walker Lyons was one of the few to earn a National Geographic sponsorship and hopes to use insights gained from the MIA workshop to further her activism efforts.
“I decided to use video to tell the world what had happened to me when I was younger. Out of that, there was a law created …. called Tara’s Law … and it creates an educational curriculum for students to learn about safe touch and body safety and sexual abuse prevention in schools,” Walker Lyons explained.
After sharing her own story, she encouraged other victims of abuse to do the same and began capturing their stories.
“I was sitting down with people who were giving a lot to me and I wanted to make sure I was nurturing that in the right way so I feel like I owe it to my project to educate myself,” she added. “This has been just a really huge blessing.”
In the coming years, Polish and Bosworth hope to increase the length of the filmmaking workshop to perhaps four or six weeks, and incorporate more outdoor activities such as rafting or climbing into their teaching. In the long run, Polish’s vision includes a dedicated facility for the institution tied to FVCC. He noted that the college has “done everything possible to make this work so I don’t feel that we should separate that far from them.”
“I’m hoping this school continues when I’m long gone — this is legacy stuff,” Polish said. “It would be nice for Montana to have an institute grown, bred and raised in Montana that will always belong to Montana.”
For more information about the Montana Institute for the Arts, visit www.go-mia.org.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.