Black Hills Film Festival covered many subjects

By Jeff Smith

Honored wth a fedora — Elaine Miles, right, looks delighted to receive a fedora from Chris VanNess, executive director of the Black Hills Film Festival on April 28. Miles talked to the audience about the film “Smoke Signals”, that she appears in.

On Saturday, April 28, there was a large turnout at Hill City theater for the celebration and screening of the movie “Smoke Signals”.

It tells the story of young Native American men who travel to Arizona from the Coeur d’Alene Reservation to collect ashes from one of the men’s father. The man, Victor, has a lot of resentment about his father’s alcoholism and abandonment.

In the end Victor learns to accept forgiveness and forgive his father.

It was one of the first full-length feature film written, directed, co-produced, and acted by Native Americans. “Smoke Signals” was also different at the time it was shown because it didn’t depict Native Americans as wise, stoic individuals.

Elaine Miles, one of the actresses in the film, talked to the crowd before the film was shown to the crowd. She said it was her favorite movie she has been a part of.

Miles had one of the humorous scenes in the movie. She drives a car backwards. The car itself once belonged to Sherman Alexie who wrote the screenplay.

“I was happy to be part of a low budget film that made history,” Miles said.

She said it was a fun, quick shoot that everybody enjoyed.

Another film that is relevant in today’s world was the film “This Land”. It received the best documentary feature at the Black Hills Film Festival.

It tells stories about the damaging effects of the Trans-Pecos pipeline, Keystone pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline. “This Land” took the audience to the the Texas and Mexico border, to the Dakotas, and then Northern Canada.

Alan Thompson, the director of the film, said the stories serve as a microcosm for what is happening worldwide.

“These are very small stories that kind of tried to show there are many more,” Thompson said.

There was about three to four people interviewed in each town but there are many more people affected by the pipelines. Thompson said there were other perspectives about the film that showed that not everyone is against the pipelines. It talked about how there is an upside to these pipelines from an economic standpoint.

“You have libraries and many other things that are building up small towns,” Thompson said.

In Mexico, they are hoping that a pipeline would come in so that they can have gas for their stoves. He said there are benefits to oil benefits that are needed for everyday life.

Some of the oil pipeline work is being done behind people’s houses.

The film showed that there needs to be more upkeep on pipelines to prevent spills.

There are alert systems for the pipeline that can show that there is a leak but by the time someone gets there to seal it up the spill could have reached catastrophic amounts.

There was one spill in North Dakota that happened almost four years ago and the company is still dealing with remediation of the pipeline spill. The company did have to pay a fine but the clean-up wasn’t considered sufficient enough.

Thompson did reach out to the oil companies for comment in order to add some more perspectives but they just sent him a general safety packet.

The Black Hills Film Festival gave voice to people going through current struggles but also helped people recognize the heroes from a long time ago.

Robin Massee, who created “Angels in Our Midst”, wanted to spotlight women who were nurses during WWII.

“These women inspired me and I want people to see it so they can be inspired,” Massee said.

Massee said she has great admiration for the women and fell in love with them.

She thought about doing the film when she was in France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

“The French government had invited 100 veterans, men and women, to receive the Legion of Honour,” Massee said.

She started hearing stories of Army nurses that were there and she realized she hadn’t seen any type of story about them. Little by little she found other people who were nurses. She wanted to hear their stories and not just about the work they did.  Massee wanted to know the type of daily living they did that gave them so encouragement and some semblance of normalcy.

“They did have some adventures,” Massee said.

Her plan is to go to other film festivals to start getting recognition. Once she gets more recognition she would like to go to television stations to ask them to put the film on T.V.

She would like people to look at the film and say “if they do that then maybe I can do something.”

Felicia Farmer, a grandchild of one of the women featured in the film, watched the film for the first time last Saturday.

“I thought it was awesome, very well put together,” Farmer said.

Her grandma, Marcella LeBeau, lives in Eagle Butte. She also spent 31 years in the nursing field.

Gerri LeBeau, Marcella’s daughter, said Marcella talked a lot about her time during World War II.

“My dad was in World War II but he wouldn’t talk about it,” LeBeau said.

The festival would not have been possible without the 45 volunteers that contributed their time throughout the event.

One of the volunteers was Logan VanNess, the nephew of Rick and Chris VanNess.

He said everything from working the festival it to seeing the films was phenomenal.

He worked at the Elks Theatre, Hay Camp Brewing Company and at the Hill City High School.

Aside from what he learned working he said all of the movies had a message and that people can learn information in an informal way.

“Logan was a godsend,” said Chris VanNess, executive director of the Black Hills Film Festival. “We talked about this before. Having a dedicated person for sales and tickets. It was something we implemented this year and we are going to do it again. It works.”

The festival directors also decided that having a couple of stand out films to anchor each of the sessions was a good idea too.

Brandy Straw and Rhianna Jones, students in Hill City, also helped to raise money for the Hill City High School theater program. Straw said she discovered this year she had a love for theater.

“I’m going out so I wanted to do something to help the theater program,” Straw said.

Everything at the concessions in Hill City was donated and the proceeds go to the theater program next year.

By the Sunday after they had raised about $340.

The theater program takes trips throughout the year and also needs money for One Act props and costumes.

Jones said she heard about the volunteer opportunity through her mom who works for the Hill City Arts Council.

“I think it is fun. I came back today because I heard it helps the theater department,” Jones said.

Straw said Rhianna worked harder than any high school student.

VanNess learns a lot every year throughout the festival. Something she has learned is that people like to go to things that are close together.

VanNess said Hill City had better attendance than years past. Other locations had big crowds too. This year they expanded to Hot Springs and Spearfish. VanNess said Hot Springs had a lot of people and Spearfish had a fair amount of attendance. She said more outreach needs to happen in Spearfish.