Ten years ago, Nicolas and Anna Hudak of Counter Production were stuck. It was February and they were headed up to Calgary, Alberta to catch a flight to Europe, but a snow storm was hitting the area hard, leaving them stranded in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Wandering the main street in search of something to eat, they found themselves chatting up the locals who were surprised by the presence of these friendly visitors.
One encounter that impressed us both was with the young Blackfeet man serving us at Subway – where we eventually found something non meat centric to eat. He asked us where we were from and could not believe that Anna, a woman from Germany, would choose to spend time in Browning at night in the middle of winter. He was very apologetic about the state of the reservation and displayed the kind of shame about his heritage that we encountered with many other young people we met. People were extremely welcoming: we met a man at the ATM who introduced himself to us, shook our hands and invited us to come stay with him (we had already checked into our hotel room). Us walking around main street caught everyone’s attention and everyone we talked to made us feel welcome and taken care of – which was something we had not expected.
This minor setback was the beginning of a relationship with a place and its people that would last many years to come and later result in a feature length documentary entitled Where God Likes to Be.
The film follows three young adults, Andi Running Wolf, a high school honor student who finds her college freshman year away from family and the community to be particularly challenging; Doug Fitzgerald, a new father who lives with his wife, baby daughter and extended family, in a small ranch house who takes deep pride in his culture and work as a cowboy; Eddie Tailfeathers, an unhappily, unemployed young man in a garage death metal band. Told from the perspective of the subjects the film takes place over the course of one summer as they each individually grapple with the trajectories of their lives and question both their identity and their future.
With any storyteller, one of the major challenges they faced was gaining access to subjects. This small, very tight-knit community had lost faith in the media due to how they have portrayed them in the past.
We spent the winter of 2009 meeting with elders on the reservation and discussing what kind of film would most benefit their people. We really wanted to tell a story about what it means to be a Native American today and for us this meant telling it through the voices of young people. We met with a number of young Blackfeet and through this process we found Andi, Doug and Eddie.
The reaction to the images and the film as a whole has been overwhelmingly positive, with invitations to film festivals around the world and numerous awards being won, but to Nicolas and Anna that’s not the best part.
The best part by far though has been the Blackfeet people’s support of the film. Without it, this project would have never been possible. We premiered the film at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana so that many members of the Blackfeet tribe could attend. We had an audience of over 1,000 people who laughed, cried and cheered.
Where God Likes to Be will be screening at the Human Rights Film Festival in Barcelona this December. A limited edition DVD and extensive photo book documenting their journey for the film is now available. Beyond that, they are working on a couple new projects that revolve around life on the Blackfeet Reservation.
There is no measure to how much learned through the creation of this project. Coming out of it I feel completely transformed as a filmmaker and photographer (and as a person). One thing I feel myself coming back to in other projects, is not to force things. Vision and focus are essential but often the real magic happens when we are able to go with the flow and open our eyes to what is happening around us. – Nicolas Hudak