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Have your people call my people: Filmmakers dream big in Big Sky Country
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Have your people call my people: Filmmakers dream big in Big Sky Country

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Selfies were snapped, libations were enjoyed, and newly formed friends made promises to "have your people call my people."

This was the scene Wednesday night at Gamer's Café on Park Street in Uptown Butte during a meet-and-greet for the Covellite International Film Festival, an event that runs through Sept. 18 and features 90 independent films from throughout the U.S. and as far away as New Zealand to audiences in the Mining City.

During Wednesday night's event, community leaders and county officials mingled with the filmmakers and spoke on a variety of topics. Discussions ranged from using film to promote economic development to the subjects that inspired the movies, which included, among other things, for-profit prisons and themes of love, terrorism, and violence.

But perhaps most interesting were discussions regarding upcoming projects, some of which could potentially take place in Butte.

Raj Amit Kumar and Damon J. Taylor, both graduates of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, are two filmmakers who have been scouting in Butte, among other locations, for a new movie.

They haven't settled on a location yet, but Taylor and Kumar said what's appealing about Butte is its post-industrial landscape.

"It has the scenic beauty, it has architecture of different kinds, it has a history to it," said Kumar. "And I think the good part is there's a community of artists and filmmakers that's developing here that want to work together and do things together, and that's a great thing."

Taylor agreed.

He said he sees Butte as already having an indie vibe.

"Everybody we've met here so far is very independent. Either they own their own business or they're starting a building or they're trying to turn something into something. And right now it just feels like that's in the air. Some change is in the air."

The Montana Standard asked Taylor whether he thought art can elicit the change that's "in the air" beyond merely improving the quality of life.

He answered in the affirmative, pointing to towns like Park City, Utah, and Detroit but also to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where the movie "Gone Girl" was filmed.

"Since ("Gone Girl"), there's been, like, five other films that have been to that town," he said.

"It doesn't have to be that big of film. As long as the community gets the bug, then it's something that's cyclical. And I feel like art is that way. If you get a community of artists or you get a couple of photographers into town, then they either draw more artists or they get people interested."

On Saturday, Taylor and Kumar will present their feature-length drama "Unfreedom" at the Covellite Theatre, 215 W. Broadway St. The film, Kumar and Taylor said, tells two parallel stories, one in New York City and the other in New Delhi, India, that delve into themes of identity and violence.

Filmmaker Charles Perry of Portland, meanwhile, doesn't have an upcoming project in the Mining City.

However, Perry said he had an opportunity to stop by the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives while he was in town to research the role African Americans played in the settling of the American West.

Perry said he was especially amused by an article from the Anaconda Standard with the headline "Cause of Arrest: Negro Accused of Writing Impassioned Note to White Girl."

"The writer has an extensive vocabulary," the article states as it quotes a line from the letter:

"'The fervent passion that devours my soul for your adorable self can only be allayed by the declaration I am loved as fervently in return.'"

For the festival, Perry plans to preview his documentary "Black Cowboy" Sunday at the Mother Lode Theatre, 316 W. Broadway St. The film takes a look at the origin of black cowboys.

"Oklahoma was set up to be a black state and a Native American state," Perry said, explaining that many black people ended up in the West via the Trail of Tears after the conclusion of slavery.

Filmmaker Chase McDaniel and Jimmy Zuniga, on the other hand, say they've been to Butte before.

McDaniel and Zuniga — who came to Covellite to present the documentary "Hank," which tells the story of a woodworker and his relationship with his art — said they previously visited Butte from Austin, Texas, after hearing about the city from singer-songwriter Christy Hays, who owns a house near Walkerville.

Incidentally, McDaniel and his wife Kendall Watkins are in the process of creating a TV pilot for a historical drama that takes place in Butte. It's his first time marketing a pilot, and he said there's lots of competition in the world of television. Nonetheless he said he remains an optimist.

When asked what drew him to the Mining City, he said that he believes it has an atmosphere that's ripe for storytelling.

"I think that the city sacrificed a lot to help build our country… People gave up lives to pull (copper) out of the ground and help to bring electricity and power to our country," he said in a statement fitting for a festival named after covellite, which is a copper-based mineral.

"There's just an unlimited amount of stories here. The history is just so rich and deep."

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