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A new film by two presenters from the Covellite International Film Festival is already underway in the Mining City.

The movie is called "Brown," and festival co-organizer Don Andrews says it's a story steeped in noir mystique that makes the most of Butte's history as a melting pot of immigrants.

The film tells the story of an illegal immigrant named Aryan who travels to a small town from an unknown location and tries to make a new life for himself.

"Despite his efforts to land a legitimate job, he falls in with the wrong crowd," a synopsis reads. "Along the way, he's befriended by a street-wise orphan girl who gives him a new perspective."

"Brown" is brought to you by Covellite International Film Festival presenters Raj Amit Kumar and Damon J. Taylor of Dark Frames Films — the same co-writing duo who in June said they wanted to shoot scenes for their planned film "Shopping Mall" in Butte.

Andrews said Tuesday that the feature-length "Shopping Mall" is shaping out to be a film with an estimated budget of $500,000 — a project that proved too ambitious to launch before Kumar, the director of both films, is due back in his home country of India.

Nonetheless, Taylor and Kumar had their hearts set on filming something in Butte, so they co-wrote "Brown," which they describe as a "micro-budget" film.

"In less than two months we wrote it and put it all together," Taylor said.

Volunteers converge

Filming on "Brown" has been underway since November, and more than 18 cast and crew members have traveled from around the country to volunteer for the film, some of whom, if they stay long enough, just might become certifiable Mining City residents.

Ainsley Patterson is the film's production coordinator.

She says she doesn't have a home base and travels around the country working on different projects. Her last project, Patterson said, was in Georgia, where she collaborated with one of the state's film communities.

"I drove here with everything in my car," said Patterson.

Amelia Adams, production assistant, also traveled to Butte from Georgia.

Adams said she and Patterson came to Butte in July and heard about the project through Taylor.

"I'm originally from Georgia, and then I came to Butte," said Adams.

But it's not just out-of-staters working on the set of "Brown."

A handful of Montana residents are also helping on the film — like Sheridan native Andrew Rossiter, a Montana Tech student who splits his time between pursuing an acting career and studying to become an electrical engineer. Rossiter is acting in the film and also helping with the production.

"(Acting is) fun. It's engaging and you get to work collaboratively with many people," said Rossiter. "That's one thing I've always liked about plays and movies, the fact that everybody in there is an artist of a different kind."

Andrews says the film's noir aesthetic is fitting for a story that has Butte as its backdrop.

Merriam-Webster describes noir as "a type of crime film featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography and foreboding background music."

Andrews described Butte as the "home of noir" noting that an early practitioner of the genre, Dashiell Hammett, a screenwriter and author who produced a majority of his work in the 1920s and 1930s, had worked in Butte as a Pinkerton detective.

Hammett's novel "Red Harvest" is believed to be inspired by the Mining City.

"I don't think he really ever would have developed that style if it wasn't for Butte," said Andrews, adding that some people believe Hammett was hired to kill Frank Little, though that speculation has been brought into doubt by historians. Little, a labor leader, was lynched in Butte in 1917 for his union and anti-war activities.

Insiders, outsiders

Kumar, who is co-writer, director, and also the film's lead actor, says "Brown" is a story about insiders and outsiders.

"It's a story of abandonment and a question of trusting an outsider," said Kumar of the friendship that grows between the film's two main characters, Aryan and the orphan girl. "I think it's a very, very contemporary issue that we're dealing with today in terms of illegal immigration and creating wars and creating boundaries and keeping outsiders out."

For the filmmakers of "Brown," the project is more than just a movie.

The crew said they want to see the film community in Montana flourish and hope one day to contribute to the state's economy in a big way. Andrews says he owes it to Butte, which he said has been supportive of his vision by opening its homes to filmmakers, serving them meals, and volunteering its time.

"We definitely would not be able to make movies without the help of the community," said Andrews, who said a new style of making films is growing in Montana — what he likes to call "cowboy cinema," a model based on bartering and in-kind contributions rather than traditional revenue streams.

Incentives needed

But establishing a film industry in Montana can't happen, Andrews said, without film incentives.

In a recent article on "Yellowstone," a cable television series starring Kevin Costner, the Missoulian reports that Montana's tax incentives expired in 2015 and an effort to revive them in the 2017 Legislature failed. Much of the series has been shot in Utah, the article states, "which has aggressive perks for movies and TV."

"It's become slightly harder for artists to keep doing what they've been trying to do," said Patterson. "So if we can participate in creating quality artwork out of Montana, then maybe we can change that trend (of vanishing film incentives)."

"Brown" wraps up filming in January. The filmmakers have a goal of releasing the film in time for the Covellite festival in September.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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