It’s not often that seeing the Hi-Line inspires an audience of hundreds to applaud, but that’s what happened in the Wilma Theater in Missoula Saturday evening.
Brothers Alex and Andrew Smith made an appearance at this year’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Saturday to show the trailer for their film, “Winter in the Blood, ” that they shot in Havre, Chinook and other more remote parts of the Hi-Line last summer. Their appearance was in conjunction with a screening of “Visionary Insight, ” a behind-the-scenes documentary about Native American interns working on the Smiths’ production.
The Smiths are highly respected among the Missoula film crowd. While both were raised in the area, Andrew remains in Missoula as a film professor at the University of Montana. Alex has moved to Austin, Texas, though he flew to Missoula for the weekend from Los Angeles, where he is still working on editing “Winter in the Blood. ”
Prior to the excitement and adulation of the evening’s presentation, Alex and Andrew were making last-minute decisions about fund-raising merchandise in Andrew’s home, high on the hills to the south of town.
The brothers took a moment to look back on last summer and discuss the year to come.
On the most pressing of matters, the Smiths did say they plan to return later this year, near the anniversary of their filming.
“We’d love to come back and show the movie. We have to come back and show the movie, ” Alex said. “It’s just a question of where we can show it for a big crowd. Maybe we’ll do it at multiple locations. There’s that great theater in Rudyard. ”
They also expressed an appreciation for the area, both the landscape they specifically came for and the people who made the production a joy.
“We had a great time up on the Hi-Line. All the communities were supportive in so many ways, ” Alex said, listing off the props, housing, extras and accommodations that were offered, “stuff you can’t put a price tag on. If we had shot in Canada … or Oklahoma or New Mexico... they wouldn’t have embraced us like the Hi-Line. ”
After seeing the trailer, it’s obvious the land is itself one of the stars of the film.
“Someone up there called it a ‘spartan beauty, ’ which I thought was a great way of describing it because it’s just a little rougher, ” Alex said.
The Smith brothers are no strangers to rural Montana filming. They made “The Slaughter Rule” in 2002 around Great Falls.
The film may have shared similar crews, budgets and schedules as “Winter in the Blood, ” but they filmed their previous movie in the winter, which made quite a difference.
“You just felt energized by the Montana daylight, ” Alex said.
“The filming itself was kind of touched, I think, by magic, ” Andrew said. “We were bottling lightning. ”
The brothers said they could feel James Welch, the author of “Winter in the Blood, ” present in the filming. And his widow Lois had told them that he would have greatly enjoyed what they were doing.
“It’s a noble enterprise and a challenging one, because it’s such an amazing book, ” Alex said. “But we’re excited to see how people respond to it. ”
“And hopefully it will play all over the world, ” Andrew said.
“Get more people to the Hi-Line, ” Alex said. “I don’t know if it exactly will bring in the tourists like “A River Runs Through It” did. ”
“There’s not as much fishing, ” added Andrew.
“People won’t come up to round up cattle, ” Alex said.