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Sundance 2011: Montana rolls out the red carpet for one film, 'Winter in the Blood' [Updated]

January 24, 2011 |  7:00 am


It's not only finished movies that come to the Sundance Film Festival to be seen. Pictures that are in pre-production also are brought to Park City to raise both awareness and funds. It's not every film, however, that comes with the good wishes of an entire state behind it.

That state is Montana and the film, set to begin shooting in June, is "Winter in the Blood," directed by Andrew and Alex Smith and based on the landmark novel by James Welch about Native American life that has never gone out of print since it was published in 1974.

The Smith brothers have been to Sundance before, with another Montana-based film, the Ryan Gosling-starring "The Slaughter Rule," and their ties to the state are intense. Not only were they born and raised there but Welch was also a family friend, and their mother, celebrated writer Annick Smith, was the co-editor (along with William Kittredge) of the renowned anthology of Montana writing "The Last Best Place."

Welch's novel is so respected in Montana that the state's governor, Brian Schweitzer, has offered to make his plane available to fly in potential funders, Native American tribes have OK'd filming in previously off-limits spiritual places, and two Montana friends of the brothers hosted a "friend-raiser" for the film in Park City, Utah, on Saturday night.

The event was an especially warm and affecting one and included remarks by two of the film's stars, David Morse (who was also in "The Slaughter Rule") and Chaske Spencer, who plays werewolf Sam Uley in the "Twilight" series.

The most emotional speech of the night, however, came from actress Lily Gladstone, who, like Welch, was born on the Blackfeet reservation near Browning, Mont. Shuttling back and forth as a child between the reservation and her new home in Seattle, Gladstone remembers how strongly she identified with the plight of the novel's half-Native American, half-white protagonist. When she quoted a potent line from the book on Saturday night -- "I felt as distant from myself as a hawk from the moon" -- she couldn't help it. She began to cry.

-- Kenneth Turan in Park City, Utah

[Update: An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to the Blackfoot reservation.]

Photo: Twins Andrew, left, and Alex Smith, on Main Street in Park City, Utah, at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, where their movie "The Slaughter Rule" was in competition. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Congrats, Andrew! Awesome article!

I was born and raised on the Hi-line in North Central Montana and have known members of the Welch family my whole life. A truer book telling the story of life on the reservation has never been written and probably never will be.

Thank you Kenny for this sweet piece. You really captured the essence of the night, and we really appreciate your reportage on the project.

I did want to point out one important "fact check" error-- it should read "Blackfeet" instead of "Blackfoot" -- the former is the tribe, the latter is the river that runs through it...

A & A

You might also point out that Annick Smith was a co-founder of the Sundance Institute , and c0-produced A River Runs Through It. These aren't unknown filmmakers--these are kids of the connected.


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