UM Entertainment Management Alum Now Leads Big Sky Film Festival

Rachel Gregg speaks on opening night of the 14th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Gregg poses for a picture along the Clark Fork River as it snows.
Gregg earned her master’s in communication and environmental rhetoric at UM.

By Kelly Mulcaire, UM News Service

MISSOULA  It didn’t take long for Oregon native and University of Montana alum Rachel Gregg to fall in love with Montana when she took a summer job in Glacier National Park.

“I took the train from Oregon over to East Glacier and worked there for a season,” Gregg said, an Oregon State freshman at the time. “And I never left.”

Over a decade later, Gregg still calls Montana home. She now serves as the executive director of the Missoula-based Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, celebrating its 20th year this month. The role seems tailor-made for her after years of education and experience that all started at UM.

Her introduction to the film business started as an undergraduate student when Gregg enrolled in UM’s Entertainment Management program, where she quickly developed an interest in the backstage and behind-the-scenes workings of the industry.

“They brought actual people in from the industry to teach, so you had real-life examples and application of the things you were learning in class,” she said. “That’s really a high-value education when you get access to that caliber of people.”

Gregg attended the annual Pollstar conference as a student and took a job at The Wilma theater, helping organize community events. As an undergrad, she also took classes in the communications department. 

“Some of the most respected scholars are at UM,” she said. “I got really interested in the discipline, and I decided to make that my focus.”

She went on to complete her master’s in communication and environmental rhetoric at UM. Growing up on a farm, the environment was always a relevant theme in Gregg’s life –something she expanded upon throughout her studies. Her thesis paper focused on environmental documentary films as a tool for social movement.

“My concern grew and my interest in understanding environmental policy and problems just expanded as I was going through the communication program,” she said.

Gregg spent time working in the Adams Center box office before taking a job in the Montana Film Office, eventually becoming the public relations manager there. She helped lay the foundation for what is now a bustling film industry in the Treasure State. 

When she saw the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival was hiring a producer, Gregg jumped at the opportunity to combine her education, professional experience and personal interest in documentary films. Starting in 2016, she was serving as the festival’s executive director.

Gregg led the festival through two years of pandemic restrictions and is now looks forward to once again embracing the community element in the festival’s 20th year. The slate of events features in-person screenings and discussions, as well as several options to participate virtually. Gregg is also excited to welcome back international filmmakers. The lineup has representation from all 50 states and 42 countries.

For Gregg, though, some of the most vital members of the festival’s audience are the local Missoulians who come back year after year.

“Many of them are alumni of the University and work in high-level industries,” she said, “and that curiosity that took you to college in the first place or that bloomed while you were there carries on into your life and that’s a big part of our audience. They are lifelong learners.”

Gregg is looking forward to audiences taking in this year’s selection of films, which she feels presents an interesting look into post-pandemic shifts in society. For students looking to break into an ever-evolving entertainment industry, Gregg encourages taking advantage of every learning opportunity.

“Experiment with what’s available to you, and ask questions and don’t feel like you have to be really smart right now,” she said. “It’s always going to be a journey.”

The 2023 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival opens Friday, Feb. 17, with a screening of “Subject” at the Wilma theater. The festival will run through Sunday, Feb. 26, and tickets are on sale now.


Contact: Kelly Mulcaire, digital communications manager, UM Alumni Association, 406-243-4658,