Game Day

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A review of two film screenings held recently in Bozeman.

Nine months of waiting. Three months of shooting practice. Weeks of prepping gear, poring over maps, and shopping for supplies. Finally, the time was nigh, the season soon upon us. And so a few weeks ago I found myself at the Emerson theater, surrounded by brothers- and sisters-in-arms, all grinning at the images appearing onscreen: big, wild places full of big, wild creatures. Excitement oxygenated the air, and like wide-eyed high-school graduates, we saw before us a vast landscape shimmering with promise. The hunt was coming, and we celebrated its approach with two nights of films on the big screen.

Hunting Film Tour Bozeman

Hunting Film Tour
Night one was a collection of short films currently touring the states (view schedule here). The Bozeman show featured a few Montana filmmakers, plus several from around the country. Disappointingly, most followed the typical action-sports paradigm, with shameless shots of sponsor logos, forced in like pop-up ads on a webpage; the egocentric characters and drawn-out interviews smacked of a reality show. While the footage in most was excellent, overall they felt like glorified commercials – and to make matters worse, the "fourth wall," that once-sacred veil concealing the camera, was often torn apart as narcissistic cameramen barged into the story. Documenting the documentation? I hope these guys don't do wedding photography.

Hunting Film Tour

Luckily, not all the films suffered this fate; a few told bonafide tales about genuine experiences afield. In one, a bull elk nearly runs over two hunters, both wide-eyed and rigid with adrenaline. That's the essence of the hunt: an intensity of feeling that never fades, that renders each encounter as exciting as the first. Another scene shows a sheep hunter's nasty leg wound, on which he hiked several miles back to the truck. With an infectious smile, he points to the bloody gash and declares, "I'm one tough motherfucker."

For me, the highlight of the night – the film that redeemed the others' failures – was by a family of traditional bowhunters who understand that hunting is about much more than killing. "Knowing all is a gift," the grizzled old patriarch narrates, "[hunting is a] communion that connects the sacred spirit within us all." With American Indian images woven throughout, the film takes the audience back in time and deep within. "Intimate distance is the name of the game," the narrator concludes. "The hunter inside us is no evil foe; he's generations united, romancing the bow."

Hunting Film Roundup:
Primal Dreams – Introspective narration and commentary. Not the best production quality, but who cares? It's the story that counts. 
Vapor Trailin' Aoudad – Another good film with good footage, decent narration, and charismatic characters. 
Ambush – Great music and excellent footage by a couple Montana boys. But it comes across as unsophisticated, with gratuitous logo shots and a weak ending.
Endless September – A bit disjointed and uneventful but some really good footage.
Duck Factory – Excellent footage and production quality, but this film suffers from extreme self-aggrandization and over-promotion of sponsors. Part commercial, part reality show, posing as a movie.
A Grizzly Adventure – Although it's got some cool shots, this film never really comes together. Note to the filmmakers: dramatic music does not magically render boring footage exciting.
Into High Country –  Incredible scenery and a well-told story about goat hunting in southwest Montana, but distressingly narcissistic: it's all about me, me, me.

There were a few other films whose names I didn't catch, but they suffer from various fatal flaws and aren't worth watching.

View select trailers here.


The Trembling Giant
The second night saw a shift, from a roundup of short flicks to a single feature-length film, also making the rounds around the country. (View tour schedule here.)

Trembling Giant Movie

As the film began, out came the hackneyed theme of "My passion is hunting but I love my family and when I go hunting I miss them and I'm so conflicted!" I sighed, checked my pack for Pepto-Bismol, and thought, two hours of this, gonna be a long night.

But redemption came soon enough. The first thing that struck me was the adherence to old-school filmmaking values: promoting sponsors before the film, not during, and a strict preservation of the fourth wall. It was clear that this would be a real movie, an authentic story about a genuine human experience. Excellent.

The film follows the lives of three groups of hunters from around the country – including a Bozeman gal and her dad – converging on an elk camp high in the Colorado backcountry. Interweaving multiple stories and subplots is difficult indeed, and the film suffered for it; but overall it held itself together. The audience got to know each character and understand their motivation for hunting. Each hunter was all about the experience – the challenge, the camaraderie, the connection with nature – rather than the kill. One tough older gentleman from the South credited his annual hunting trips with saving his life; contemplating his aging body and limited future with his friends in the Rocky Mountains, he broke down in tears.

Trembling Giant Movie

Sunsets burning red on a distant ridge, aspen leaves rustling in the breeze, family and friends gathered around a campfire: the cinematography and soft music took the audience there and immersed them in the story. I could smell the fecund earth, feel the chill wind, taste the alpine air. The Colorado mountain scenery was breathtaking – I wanted to leave the theater and drive there immediately. It took me back to my own guiding days and hunting ethic: we're there to see beautiful country, to challenge ourselves physically and mentally, and to encounter raw nature. A dead elk is just icing on the cake.

Perhaps the highlight of the film – you may have discovered my bias by now – was the commentary from the insightful old outfitter. Full of mountain wisdom, this rugged and kind-hearted gentleman had built a sort of wilderness holy land, where pilgrims came from near and far to worship in the temple of nature. Decades living close to the earth, working hard and serving others, imbued him with a rare insight, like that of a tribal elder. "Whenever we kill an animal," he reflects, "there should be a little bit of sadness. A fine animal has lost its life for your enjoyment. Don't ever forget that."

View the trailer here.

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