Butte, America, a documentary that chronicles the history of what was once the best-known mining town in the world, debuts this Saturday at the Mother Lode Theater in Butte. The film, directed by Pamela Roberts and written by Eugene Corr and Edwin Dobb, is narrated by Golden Globe-winner Gabriel Byrne.
The Butte show is sold out, but tickets are still available for showings on February 6 at Bozeman’s Emerson Theater and February 21 at Helena’s Myrna Loy Center. Additional screenings in Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula are planned for the fall, but dates are not yet final.
I saw Butte, America in rough cut during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival last February. Though that version of the film lacked music and narration, I was blown away. For a newcomer to Montana like myself, it is hard to understand the central role mining played in this state’s history, not to mention what that statue of the Virgin Mary is doing on top of the Continental Divide above Interstate 90, so Butte, America was an education and a half. From the review I wrote last year:
“The film’s historical scope runs approximately from the first discovery of copper under that famously rich hill up through the town’s virtual collapse in more recent decades. [The filmmakers] have been at work for nearly a decade now, collecting interviews from the last and fast-disappearing generation with personal experience in Butte’s mines, as well as archival photographs, home movies old and new (including heartbreaking home-video footage of the Columbia Gardens fire), and the comments of historians and miners’ descendants. The film is a rich pastiche of still images, intimate close-ups of weathered interviewees, jittery old film clips, and haunting panoramic shots of the landscape of the town today.”
As I wrote last year, “the film is most affecting in the dignity with which it treats the work of mining itself … what struck me was the obvious pride that the interviewed miners show as they remember their working lives. “I loved to work underground,” says one white-haired ex-miner, remembering his days in Butte’s mines. “I always classified digging as a blessing from God.”
One amazing accomplishment of Butte, America is that, by the end, you just might understand what that miner was talking about. Butte, America is an elegant demonstration of the potential of the documentary form, and I can’t recommend it enough.
See the trailer on this page (see “Butte, America” movie trailer in the “Videos” box).