Montana Movies Are Booming Business

Official film office works to promote Montana movies to public By: Kenneth Shapiro
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The Details

Montana Film Office

Many travelers are introduced to Montana thanks to stunning images they see in movies and television shows. Without a doubt, Montana has gotten a lot of screen time in recent years and that trend continues in upcoming film projects, as well as at top industry festivals and events. What follows is an update.

“Winter in the Blood”
Directors Alex and Andrew Smith wrapped filming in September on the feature film, “Winter in the Blood,” in north-central Montana. The movie, based on the James Welch novel by the same name, follows the story of Virgil First Raise (played by Chaske Spencer of the “Twilight Saga”), who embarks on a wild and comic odyssey on the plains of north-central Montana, known by locals as the Hi-Line. First, Raise seeks to retrieve his renegade wife — and the beloved rifle she stole — ultimately finding himself along the way.

The Smith brothers, Missoula, Montana natives and writers/directors of “The Slaughter Rule,” chose to film in the rural communities of Chinook and Havre on Montana’s Hi-Line to honor the authentic locations of Welch’s “Winter in the Blood,” the famed Native American author’s first novel. The film crew transformed the towns back to 1975, decorating storefronts and downtown Chinook with period cars and props from that era. Chinook’s Powell Ranch, on the rolling plains outside of town, was used as the First Raise ranch in the film.

Montana’s wide-open landscapes play a major role in the film as well. The story of “Winter in the Blood” was heavily drawn from Welch’s life, growing up on a ranch on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, home to the Gros Ventre and the Assiniboine tribes and encompassing over 600,000 acres of plains. The Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, located near the Canadian border and home of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, was also a location featured in the film.

“The Montana Film Office (MFO) was instrumental in helping get the film up and running,” said Montana film commissioner Sten Iversen. “Over the last two years, we hosted the production team on two scouting trips throughout the state, showing them numerous location options.”

Producer Susan Kirr expects “Winter in the Blood” to screen at film festivals this winter and spring and hopes to release the film in the summer 2012.

“Ax Men”
Emmy Award-winning Original Productions, known for its non-fiction programming featuring everyday heroes in extraordinary situations, is currently shooting its fifth season of History’s “Ax Men” in northwestern Montana. The reality documentary series follows logging crews as they brave the dangers of the industry.

Northwestern Montana has a long history of logging. Its thick forests have been the source of income to loggers for generations; yet, their beauty remains. Pine, fir and larch trees carpet remote mountainsides and border alpine lakes, providing scenic backdrops to filmmakers who wish to capture the danger or the serenity of the Montana wilderness.

A production crew working on an episode of the fourth season of “Disappeared” for Investigation Discovery, filmed in Kalispell, Hungry Horse and the Spotted Bear Ranger District.

Each episode of “Disappeared” begins at the time immediately before an individual vanished, and chronicles the search for clues hidden beneath seemingly everyday behavior that may indicate what ultimately happened.

The episode filmed in Montana deals with the disappearance of 31-year-old ex-Marine Noah Pippin, who was last seen hiking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in September 2010 and has not been seen since.

The fourth season premieres on Monday, Oct. 24, at 10 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) on Investigation Discovery.


AFCI Cineposium
The annual AFCI Cineposium was held Sept. 11-14. The focus this year was on partnerships and sustainability for film commissions, and new strategies in social media and film tourism. Other topics included working with heritage locations and green initiatives for film production.

The MFO was a proud sponsor of the 2011 8th annual HATCHfest Oct. 5-9, in Bozeman. This homegrown, audio-visual arts festival takes place during the fall in downtown Bozeman and is known as an “innovation incubator summit” for creative professionals and thought leaders. This year the MFO kicked off HATCHfest with a filmmaker reception on Oct. 4 at the Double T River Ranch. Film Office staff was on hand to welcome the festival’s filmmakers, groundbreakers and mentors to Montana and explain the value of filming in Big Sky Country.

HATCHfest is a year-round non-profit organization, designed to develop and foster the growth of creative minds in various industries through mentorship, exposure and networking. This year, HATCHfest teamed up with Intel to produce a short film competition called “HATCH Your Passion Inside.” They asked filmmakers to describe what drives their passion for a chance to win $10,000 filmmaking package.

Film Independent’s Filmmaker Forum
The MFO is returning to Los Angeles on Oct. 21-23 for its second year as a principal sponsor of Film Independent’s Filmmaker Forum. MFO plans to have meetings with filmmakers who want to meet with Montana officials during the “IndieLink” session. The film office is also hosting a table at the luncheons on both Saturday and Sunday.

This three-day event is a must-attend for emerging, as well as established, filmmakers. Topics cover production, distribution, documentary and new media. Through panel discussions and networking sessions, filmmakers are given access to some of the most innovative names in independent filmmaking.

AFI Fest/American Film Market
AFI Fest celebrates its 25th anniversary Nov. 3-10 in Los Angeles in conjunction with the American Film Market. The fest includes screenings of more than 400 films. MFO plans on holding a filmmaker reception at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel during the AFI Fest and also participates in the American Film Market.

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