When filmmaker Stephanie Alton wanted to see if the American myth about cowboys was still alive, she headed to Montana.
What she found captivated her heart and she spend the next nine years filming Montana ranch families as they moved through all the day-to-day struggles in their lives.
“I wanted to show what ranchers go through, so I filmed them as they went through their daily chores,” she said. She filmed them through calving season, haying season and also as they battled the environment and society.
“When I first started filming this I went to New York City and asked people where their meat came from and they didn’t know. They didn’t think about where their meat came from. They just went to the store and bought their food. They had no idea how much works goes into raising an animal to get it to market for them,” Alton said.
However, after she started filming, society began to change and people wanted to know where there meat was coming from. They wanted more connection to their food. Alton was on board.
“I wanted to show the dedication and steadfastness that it takes to care for these animals,” she explained.
Now, with the filming and most of the editing done, Alton is gearing up to put the finishing touches on her film "The Montana Stockman: Tougher than Hammered Owl Manure," and start the distribution process so she can bring it to market.
It takes a lot to complete those last steps. Alton must do the final edit, music, finishing sound design, sound editing and sound mixing. She must also finish picture elements like color correction, on-line editing and mastering.
Then there are the steps toward licensing, distribution, and promotion, as well as festival fees and merchandise for contributors to this project.
“I want to market it to film festivals, PBS, educational venues and organizations that can get it out there in front of the public and start distributing the film,” Alton said.
But to polish the film, purchase the music rights and enhance the final quality, will take money, $20,000.
To help her raise that money, Alton’s film has been accepted by the prestigious Web site, Kickstarter.com. This site will give her film exposure to a body of people willing to help others with creative projects that need funding. Currently the site is showing a three-minute trailer of the 91-minute film.
Over the nine years that she spent with the ranchers, filming their operations, Alton learned to admire the strength and adaptability of the men and women who work with livestock.
“Everything is always changing for them,” she said. She was able to capture the frustration and helplessness of drought, the ravages of fire and the unforgiving pounding of blizzards.
One Big Timber family raised both cattle and sheep and when a forest fire threatened their sheep herds, the family worked tremendous hours to get their animals away from the fire.
“They couldn’t bring them out the way; they had come in because of the fire, so they had to trail them out of the mountain through a way they had never gone before,” she said.
When they came out of the mountains they were in Gardiner, Mont., more than two and a half hours from their ranch.
A call went out for help and “people from all over, from Billings and Bozeman, Gardiner and Big Timber, all showed up with their semi trucks to help move these sheep back home. There were so many showing up, they had to start turning them away. It was really neat to see,” she recalled.
Another time she filmed a family trying to get feed to their cattle through a blizzard that dumped 3 feet of snow in a single day.
“I’ve never been in so much wind and snow. They could hardly get to their cattle but they were out there, using tractors and everything they had to try and get feed out to them. That was an experience I’ll never forget,” she said.
Of course, calving and lambing seasons were other experiences that are forever impressed on her memory. She even set aside her film equipment for an afternoon to help dock lamb tails, something she had never done before, but with a storm moving in, they needed all the help they could get.
Alton has until March 18 to raise the $20,000 she needs. To see a trailer, make a pledge toward her goal, or to help connect her with additional funding, go to Kickstarter.com. and type in “The Montana Stockman.”
Alton received her bachelor’s degree in photography at Pacific Lutheran University, her master’s degree in photography from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. and further education in film study at New York University. Her work has been shown at numerous film festivals and venues. To learn more about Alton and her work, go to http://www.stephaniealton.com.