A couple of weekends ago, Missoula's Hip Strip was swarming with revelers. On Saturday, Sept. 23, Ear Candy Music hosted its 20th anniversary party, complete with corn dogs and live music. A block away, people crowded into the Senior Citizens Center parking lot to watch an outdoor screening of Pee-wee's Big Adventure in celebration of the Roxy Theater's 80th anniversary. The Pee-wee audience got a quick glimpse of the Roxy's new marquee, but it was Sunday when the arthouse theater officially lit up its restored neon sign to a round of "ooh!" and an impromptu chorus of children singing "Happy Birthday."
The Roxy staff is still riding that high as it gears up to host the Montana Film Festival. In its third year, the event has been pared down to a nicely curated selection of films, all of which seem to have received warm if not enthusiastic reviews. And there are some particularly anticipated (at least by the Indy staff) films on deck. Lucky, the story of a 90-year-old atheist who has outlived and outsmoked his peers, stars the beloved and recently deceased Harry Dean Stanton (and includes a cameo from David Lynch). Beach Rats is a coming-of-age story set on the boardwalks of Brooklyn. And Super Dark Times, which we review this week (see Film), has been described by festival curators as a fusion of River's Edge, Stand by Me and '80s slasher flicks.
Perhaps most anticipated by local audiences is the latest film by Andrew and Alex Smith, Walking Out, the story of a kid from Texas who travels to rural Montana to go hunting with his dad. The Smith brothers, known for Winter in the Blood and The Slaughter Rule, grew up in Missoula and made the film based on a David Quammen story. In advance of the screening, we spoke to Andrew about the film.
How do you relate personally to the themes in Walking Out?
Andrew Smith: The themes seem fairly inescapable for myself and Alex. Sometimes we don't even realize we're attracted to stories about the complicated and sometimes conflicted relationships between fathers and sons. That stems from not knowing my own father in my lifetime—he died when we were six. I think that we find ourselves gravitating to stories that connect to that sense of trying to know someone. And that's a fairly deep seam we keep exploring.
How did you come across the David Quammen story?
AS: We had read it when we were teenagers, in part because our stepfather, Bill Kittredge, was instrumental in getting this short story published in a literary journal. That was in the 1980s. David was living in Missoula and working as a bartender and he knew Bill. Many years later, in the late '90s, I was at the Sundance Lab, and Alex and I met another fellow, a filmmaker named Rodrigo Garcia. He found out we were from Montana ... and upon meeting us said, "Hey do you guys know the story Walking Out?" We were like, "Yeah!" And he said "I love that story. I've always wanted to make a film of it. You guys should write it." In 2012, we started talking about making the script and we got David on board ... When Rodrigo decided he couldn't make the film because he had a full schedule, he permitted us to take it over.
How did you decide where in Montana to shoot this film?
AS: I don't think David's story necessarily had any place names, except it begins with the train rocking into Livingston. The boy arrived by train. So we always knew we wanted it to be shot around Livingston. We shot it in the Paradise Valley, in the Hyalites west of Bozeman and near the Crazy Mountains. We wanted to be faithful to the story, and of course there's great film resources there.
Well, it looks beautiful.
AS: Thank you! We always say we audition the mountains as much as we audition the actor. We had a great location scout who spent weeks with us auditioning and casting the mountains. So it is a character.
Some of the reviews of Walking Out called it a "man vs. nature" movie. I don't know if you agree with that or not, but I wonder, with that kind of epic theme, what pitfalls do you try to avoid as a filmmaker.
AS: The idea of "versus" anything is something that we tried to avoid. IFC films has definitely chosen to emphasize the survival struggle aspect of the story, which makes sense because it does deliver on that level. It is a harrowing story of how you get out of a situation that seems impossible. But I think that actually the "versus" idea, which means "against," is turned into "for" or "with" in this film. In other words, it is about surviving by understanding nature. This story was attractive to me in part because of what it has to say about how we in the West inherit these expectations of how to live with the wilderness, how we make good use of it and also ensure its own survival by linking ours to it.
The Montana Film Festival takes place at the Roxy Oct. 5–8. Walking Out screens Sun., Oct. 8 at 6 pm. Visit montanafilmfestival.org.