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Montana Movie Magic from Page to Screen

Wednesday, December 26, 2018/Categories: Market MT, Film

By Allison Whitmer, Montana Film Commissioner

Have you ever finished a book and, absorbed with the written word that created beautiful images in your mind, thought it would make a great movie? Luckily for Montana, talented writers have laid the groundwork for some of our most beloved films.

In the classic “A River Runs Through It” directed by Robert Redford, the sun-dappled rivers and biting trout lay a shimmering veneer over a family that struggles to connect, and relationships built in youth that fray in adulthood.

The film crew transformed the main street of Livingston into 1920s Missoula, bringing the time between the wars back to life. The Oscar-winning cinematography, combined with the star power of Brad Pitt, put Montana on the map as a fly-fishing destination.

Norman Maclean wrote the three-story collection at age 70. The pain and aching loss, still fresh across the years, resonated with readers when it was published in 1976, and the collection was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year.

Robert Redford would return to the state for filming of “The Horse Whisperer” in 1996. Robert Richardson’s majestic cinematography helped the film bring in more than $175 million worldwide.

Set in the Boulder Valley south of Big Timber, the jagged peaks and green edges of the valley were the perfect setting for the story in which Redford’s character, Tom Booker, helps a teenager and her horse recover from their injuries.

Inspired by the work of real-life horsemen, the debut novel of Nicholas Evans that inspired the film sold more than 15 million copies in 1995 and was one of the bestselling novels in the U.S. that year.

The snow-covered mountains and remote landscapes of David Quammen’s short story, “Walking Out,” bridge the uncomfortable silence between a divorced father and his son. Reconnecting on their annual hunting trip, every step into the mountains brings them closer to a decision that will change their lives forever.

Stepping away from his slick on-screen image in the “Magic Mike” films and aptly directed by the team of Alex and Andrew Smith, Matt Bomer delivers a commanding performance confronting the notion that strength can only be passed down through suffering.

Now known as a pre-eminent science writer, Quammen in the past 30 years also has published a few hundred pieces of short nonfiction in magazines such as “National Geographic” and “Rolling Stone.”

The average days in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” follow small-town Montana women in a series of intersecting events.

An all-star cast of Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lara Dern and the luminous Montana actress Lily Gladstone transform this film into a sublime example of the director’s art.

Based on Maile Meloy’s short stories “Half in Love” and “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It,” the film carefully examines facets of life in Montana.

Pivoting to the plains of the Havre/Chinook/Harlem area, “Winter in The Blood” dissects a rough and tumble reservation community. The film adaptation is the second by the directing duo of Alex and Andrew Smith.

A leading light of the Native American Renaissance, James Welch is no stranger to the texture of hardship. He writes piercingly of the alienation that affects Native Americans, and this novel specifically sets the protagonist against dislocation from his family, his social group and his memories.

The themes of landscape, alienation and contemplation come full circle in the debut feature from actor-turned-director Paul Dano. Working from the 1990 novel “Wildlife,” Dano directs Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan in a tense drama of marriage, forest fires and adultery. For part of the film, Livingston doubles as Great Falls. “Wildlife” also has been nominated for Spirit Awards in Cinematography, Best Actress and Best First Feature.

Author Richard Ford has two films under his belt. He wrote the screenplay for “Bright Angel,” also set in Montana and starring Bill Pullman. Considered a “master of the short story genre” by “Paris Review,” Ford spent years writing in Great Falls and now keeps a home in Billings. He has been the recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

This is only a small selection of literary works turned into films. See the full filmography of made in Montana films at


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