78 minutes, 2010, HDCAM

“New Film Chronicles History of Bison, Men”
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, October 27, 2010
By Dan Person

“Facing the Storm,” a new documentary about bison being screened tonight at the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture, is nothing if not ambitious. The film sets out to document “the complete history of human relations with the largest land mammal on the continent.”

In 78 minutes, it runs through the animal’s evolution and its role in American Indian culture, America’s expansion west and Yellowstone National Park, among other things. Commentary is provided by tribal historians, activists, writers and governors, notably Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who says the annual bison haze led by the Montana Department of Livestock “is a tool for chasing buffalo around and slaughtering them if there get to be too many of them.” As governor, Schweitzer oversees the livestock department.

And, as if the history of the American bison were not sprawling enough, the filmmakers also turned their sights to the future of bison management in the United States and prospects of the animal’s return to the Great Plains.

“Facing the Storm” was produced by High Plains Productions, of Missoula, and co-produced by The Independent Television Service and Montana Public Television.

While a number of books on the history of American bison have been published, film director Doug Hawes-Davis said the dramatic story had not gotten proper film treatment. “We felt Yellowstone’s current (bison) politics and management have been documented pretty well,” he said Tuesday. “I felt the thing that hadn’t been done was to document the complete (human) relationship with bison.”

The task was daunting, he said.

“There are many great stories that are left out,” he said. “Once I really got into it, I really found our whole history with this animal fascinating.”

Work on the film began in 2005 when a woman from Florida, outraged by the Yellowstone and Montana’s low tolerance for bison leaving the park in the winter, put up some funding to help High Plains Productions tell the bison’s story.

From a wildlife conservation standpoint, it’s not a positive story. But the film ends on an optimistic note, delving into efforts in Kansas, northern Montana and Indian reservations across the West to restore bison to the range.

Hawes-Davis said the upbeat tone at the end of the film reflects his own optimism.
“The reason I am optimistic is that bison are tough as hell,” he said. “If they’ve survived what we’ve put them through so far, they’re going to make it.” Also, he said, “There seems to be so much public interest and so many different ideas of how to improve our relationship and provide more places for bison to be bison.”