18 January 2009

Butte, America: A PBS Documentary Film about Butte, Montana

Butte, America: The Saga of a Hard Rock Mining Town, a film by Pamela Roberts & Edwin Dobb (my neighbor across the way in "East" Walkerville), premiered in Butte this weekend.

Butte, America tells the story of "the most important city between Chicago and Seattle" from the rise of copper mining in the late 19th century to its decline in the postindustrial era. The film is representative of the United States during this era and the broader themes of American history that played out on "the little stage" called Butte. Capitalist greed, the human health & environmental consequences of industrialization, the rise of labor unions, women's history, and European immigration are some of the primary themes woven into the fabric of this great film.

Best of all, Butte, America tells its story through the voices & eyes of its people--including interviews and archival film. See the Montana Standard for Erika Yakowich's review and film clips.

How will Butte, America play in Pougheepsie & Peoria? I think that depends on how well American's identify with their recent industrial past and a world where people once identified with the work they did. Strangely, perhaps, Butte, America might resonate even more in TauTona, South Africa and Sierra Leone. As the film makes clear in its conclusion, there are still many areas of the world where underground mining is a dirty, dangerous job where miners and labor unions struggle for justice.

Here in Butte, like most of America, mining has largely faded into history--an epic period to be remembered and celebrated. The premiere was a gala event, beginning with a ballroom reception at the Finlen Hotel:

Where Ed Dobb:

and Pam Roberts (on right, with Margi Okrusch left and Jan Munday center):

could bask in the heady & richly deserved glow of a 10-year project seen through to completion.

Trolleys shuttled attendees to the beautiful, classic Mother Lode Theatre:

Where former U.S. Represenative and Butte's native son Pat Williams introduced the film:

After which the trollies shuttled us back to the Finlen for cookies & coffee. Thank you to all those who made this film possible:

And thank you especially to Pamela Roberts and Edwin Dobb for persevering in bringing Butte's story to the big screen.


Other award-winning films directed by Pamela Roberts:

* Ishi: The Last Yahi (1992)

* Contrary Warriors: A film of the Crow Tribe (2007)

Additional films Pamela Roberts has worked on:

* Amazonia: Voices from the Rainforest (1991)

* Backbone of the World (1998)

A few articles & books by Edwin Dobb:

* "Mining the Past," High Country News (1999)

* "Pennies from Hell: In Montana, the bill for America's copper comes due," Harper's (1996)

* Dinosaur Lives: Unearthing an Environmental Saga (1997; co-authored with paleontologist Jack Horner)

* Dancing through Life: Lessons Learned on and off the Dance Floor (2007; co-authored with Antoinette Benevento)


Tammie Lee said...

You sure did a nice review of that evening! Pictures and all. Someday I will have to take a look at the film.
Thanks for your visit. Always nice to drop by your blog and have a look around another part of MT.

troutbirder said...

I last time I was in Butte we stopped at, I think it was, Fran Johnson's, to get some fishing supplies. The town reminded me of some of our northern "Iron Range" cities. There were many empty homes and storefronts. Revival is happening although slowly.

Anonymous said...

Butte has always been a rather special place for me only because my parents met there in the early 1920's. My Mother worked for the phone company and my Dad worked briefly in the mines. He realized very quickly that wasn't the way to live and left for the Missoula area. Despite his brief tour, he had many stories to tell about Butte.

EcoRover said...

Thanks, Montucky--seems that anyone who ever passed through Butte has been touched by the spirit of the place. Butte "endures" like Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I never would have known about the film if you hadn't.

My grandfather was from Butte, and I've always been curious about the place. I never knew the man that well, so I didn't get a lot of stories, although I did hear a "Dublin Gulch" story a couple times.

Now to figure out how I can find the program.

EcoRover said...

Hope you enjoy it, Matt. It is on the road playing at other Montana cities, and I think debuts on Montana Public Television in the fall, with a national date to follow.

sally day said...

i looked this up because i follow the career of gene corr-and yet he was not mentioned in your blog-any reason for that----

Lori Shyba said...

Tonight is the big night for the PBS premiere of Butte, America. Counting down to 8 p.m. Can't wait.

Unknown said...

Nice site. Good to be exposed to an intelligent vision from a local butte occupant. Stumbled on it. Butte certainly has its charm...as toothless as it sometimes is! Best to ya