BILLINGS, Mont. - The MINT Film Festival kicks off Thursday at the Billings Depot, as the first movie will be screened at 6:00 p.m. 

Though similar in some aspects, this year's festival presents new changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The executive director of the festival, Brian Murnion, says he and his team decided to incorporate a digital platform this year with venue space for this year limited. 

"Because of the pandemic, we needed to limit our in-person screenings, so we shifted to a virtual platform," Murnion said.

In year's past, multiple venues throughout Billings have been used to screen films for the festival, but in an effort to limit their footprint, Murnion says they will only be screening films at two venues. The Billings Art House and Cinema and Pub and the Billings Depot will be the two locations where attendees can watch the films. 

Though the attendance at the in-person screenings will be limited, the virtual screenings allow Murnion and his staff to showcase more movies throughout the duration of the festival. 

"Because of the online element, more people can enjoy the festival and they can find something to watch," says Murnion. "We're actually able to program more films this year than we would have if we were tied down to a theatrical venue." 

The limited in-person attendance means there will be fewer crowds flocking towards downtown Billings. Cricket Clothing owner Laverne Royer says her store usually sees a spike in business during the time of the festival, since the store is located next to the Babcock Theatre. However, with no films being shown at the Babcock this year, Royer doesn't believe she'll see her usual spike in business. 

"I don't really see a lot of people coming in, hopefully we'll get a few."

Montana Vintage Clothing lies just around the corner, and owner Sherry Daly says she thinks the virtual screenings will contribute to less foot traffic around the city.

"With so much online, I don't expect we'll get a lot of people migrating downtown," Daly said.

Both Royer and Daly say they will be offering discounts to those who bring in their festival ticket if they decide to shop in their stores.

The MINT Film Festival will take place from Sept. 17-Oct. 10. The first film will be shown at 6:00 p.m. at the Billings Depot. For tickets, schedule and more information about MINT, click here.

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