Bringing the World to Us The Bozeman Doc Series

Joseph Montalbano

The Bozeman Doc Series is dedicated to showing the people of Bozeman world-class documentaries. Curated and presented by Jason Burlage of Devolution Films, these films offer a wide variety of subjects with the intent of broadening our collective horizons, and bringing diverse thoughts and opinions to Bozeman. If you have an interest in the world at large, chances are the Bozeman Doc Series will feature something that will excite and inspire you over the course of the season, during which they screen a film every two weeks, starting in October and ending with their final, unannounced show on April 18th, with the possibility of adding a screening here and there, based on public interest.

Bozeman Magazine had the opportunity to interview Jason Burlage, curator and co-founder of the Bozeman Doc Series. When discussing what the Doc Series has to offer, Jason says; “It’s like traveling without having to go very far.” He expressed that watching these documentaries gives glimpses of the lives of people all over the world, and can broaden our own horizons by seeing what else is out there. “That’s one of the best things about the whole series, is that these films give a window to different worlds, and I’m constantly seeing films that reveal these little slices of life that I had no idea existed,” he says, speaking of the importance of showing the films they screen.

The Bozeman Doc Series was founded by Jason and an unnamed individual back in 2014, when Jason met and dreamed up the idea with the unnamed person at a film festival in Toronto. The two were lamenting that such incredible films would never make it to a theater in Bozeman — and thought of a way to change that. Thus, the Bozeman Doc Series was born, and Jason took the reins on the project when his co-founder became busy with life and other projects. Ever since, the Bozeman Doc Series has shown fourteen or more films a season; they will complete their ninth season later this year.

One of the best things the Series offers Jason is seeing how the community reacts to the films differently than anticipated, or differently than he did when choosing that film. He says, “I have worked on films for a lot of years now; let’s say you and a small team of people who have been closed in a dark room have been seeing it over and over again… you see it in a totally different way. I’ll see most of these films once or twice when I’m programming, and then I’ll see them with the crowd. The crowd may laugh at something I didn’t pick up on when screening it alone, or there will be things that people just see and connect with.” 

He feels that the Bozeman Doc Series does important work in giving people something to do over the winter, and is a fun way to engage with the community. “There’s definitely a little community built around these films, but we are often surprised by the different crowds that come out for different films.” He laughs about a few specific stories of such things happening over the years, such as a film called Kedi (centered on feral cats in Istanbul, Türkiye) drawing out a large crowd of cat lovers, or the rugby team that sat right in the front row when they showed a film about rugby and New Zealand. They strive for a wide variety of films, so there’s always something for everyone during the course of a season. When asked about what kinds of films they tend towards screening, Jason says; “We try to get a good range of styles and subject matter from different cultures. If we show one film about Afghanistan, we probably won’t show another one — we try to mix it up to get a good overview of the best documentaries out there.”

Speaking to the importance of being able to experience a film in person on the big screen, he asserts, “It’s a different thing to see a film alone at home than it is to see a film with other members of the community.” He feels that the experience in the theatre with your community, all gathered for a documentary you care to see, can be rather magical. When speaking about the variety of subjects and films they show, Jason is somber about those that don’t make the cut. “There are some films that you just love but, for one reason or another, just don’t work out. Especially towards the end of the season, when you get things booked out; then, all these great films show up.” Putting them in the next season is generally not feasible, according to Jason, because films are often released on a streaming platform, and the timeframe for showing them is missed.

However, the films the Bozeman Doc Series gets the opportunity to show off are always a hit. They often come close to selling out their venues, namely, the Museum of the Rockies or The Emerson. Songs of Earth was so successful that they had to turn many people away at the door, having made as much extra room as possible at the Museum. While another screening isn’t currently planned, there were whispers amongst Jason and other staff members about the possibility that, if shows are in enough demand, another screening might be offered later in the season. This goes to show that it is definitely worth paying for tickets in advance, as there aren’t always enough seats to go around. Additionally, arriving early is necessary. The line was quick and efficient, but getting to the venue early is more than worth it, so you can choose your own seats, and spare the staff’s time and trouble when they help squeeze you into the various gaps in the seating, should you come in closer to starting time.

The incredible turnout for such events speaks to the skill and quality with which Jason and his team of curators choose their films. Having been present at the screening of Songs of Earth, I can attest that it was a beautiful, impactful film. Jason and the Bozeman Doc Series chose extraordinarily well. Their curatorial choices going forward will continue to offer only the highest quality and most powerful stories. “We could show twice as many films and the quality wouldn’t drop at all,” says Jason when speaking about the numerous incredible films they screen in order to choose the season’s lineup.

The turnout is also indicative of how important these films are to those who see them. There are beautiful moments in Songs of Earth where the audience reacted very strongly, and being able to witness those powerful moments with others was truly inspiring. Many people chattered excitedly about the film as soon as it ended, others took their conversation out to the parking lot. It was powerful in its own right to see how such films affected everyone.

Jason spoke at length about the unique advantages that documentaries have over fiction films, speaking to why we should attend the Bozeman Doc Series. “I feel like documentaries are far more wide open; they’re a lot less expensive to make, so there’s a lot less risk,” he says. “People aren’t putting millions of dollars into this thing to follow a formula when it comes to documentary filmmaking. You just see films that are so much more original than anything you see in fiction these days.”

When asked how we can best support the Bozeman Doc Series, Jason says; “Come to the movies! Or, become a sponsor… we’re
always taking more sponsors. You know, if some business is supporting a documentary series, they must be good people.”
So, there you have it. Come to the movies, meet, and connect with the community that surrounds these beautiful documentaries, and enjoy. If you want to contribute more, there are pathways on the Bozeman Doc Series’ website to learn more about becoming a sponsor.
Jason was very excited about the upcoming set of films, namely the now-past film, Songs of Earth, which follows a woman discovering her parents all over again in a quiet farming community in Norway, and 32-Sounds, a film dedicated to dissecting the importance of sound through stunning audio, and moments of clever interactivity with the audience. The Bozeman Doc Series genuinely cares about the films they show, and screens them out of the need to share such incredible and oft-overlooked films. Check out the Bozeman Doc

Series’ website in order to see all of the 2024 screenings. They are sure to be memorable.  

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