Boulder, Colorado-based photographer Kody Kohlman’s Mission Mountain documentary captures Amy O’Hoyt’s story and perspective as a first-generation rancher and a woman in a male-dominated industry. The documentary and accompanying still images give us a glimpse of Amy’s day-to-day experiences as a beginner and how she approaches her work, focusing on sustainable practices to ensure a circular economy.
Mission Mountain was a passion project for Kody, who shot the documentary in Polson, Montana, at Amy’s ranch with his friend and fellow photographer Andrew Bydlon. The subject, Amy, is also a friend of Kody’s, and Andrew had worked with her through a previous client. The relationship between the three made the collaboration go smoothly.
Since there wasn’t a traditional client, it allowed us to work closely with Amy and collaborate on how to tell her story most compellingly. In addition, since Amy is a friend, the relationship was great and made it easy to work with her.
In the documentary, Amy talks about learning to drive a tractor, how to feed the animals for the first time, and how she had to be vulnerable and ask questions of more experienced ranchers so she could learn how to manage the operation. It’s clear that life on the ranch is hard work that requires both physical and emotional endurance. The determination and willingness to figure it out along the way that Amy displays throughout the film is inspiring. “You have to love the land,” said Amy’s mom Cheryl O’Hoyt. Amy loves the land and the animals on it.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains and Glacier National Park, Montana is a state known for its incredibly diverse terrain. While Kody had spent time in Southwest Montana, he had never been to Polson before, and he was impressed by the rural landscape. The ranch is located close to the base of the Mission Mountain range, hence the documentary’s name.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Bozeman, so that was my impression of Montana, but Polson is a much different scene. It’s very rural but absolutely stunning.
The mountains are massive! It was super inspiring to see her [Amy’s] dedication and hear about her goals for the future. I completely fell in love with Montana and gained a new appreciation for rural living.
Because of the location, the weather conditions could change drastically day-to-day, but work on the ranch continued no matter what.
The ranch itself is gorgeous; we saw a ton of different conditions while we were there. It was pretty eye-opening to see all the work that goes into ranching and agriculture. Amy was out working regardless of weather conditions.
Kody and Andrew took their time capturing various story elements and shot the project in 10 days. They found that the most challenging part was building out the story by editing down the content. They wanted to showcase Amy’s work ethic, explain regenerative agriculture and show how hard it is to work with cattle sustainably, all while keeping the film short.
Putting all these pieces together into a 10-minute film was a challenge, but we had a great editor, Matt Coddaire, who helped bring it to life and provided a new set of eyes on everything we shot.
Matt, the film’s editor, helped Kody and Andrew make the necessary cuts and selections while covering all the elements they wanted in the story, resulting in a more powerful piece that delivers the message in a compelling but concise way.
Deciding what elements needed to stay and which ones were less important is challenging because when you’re on these shoots, there may be some moments you really attach to on an emotional level, but they don’t necessarily fit into the story.
Kody’s time on Amy’s ranch also proved to be a significant learning experience for him personally. Learning about beef production and everything that goes into it has changed how he views food and how he shops for it now.
My biggest takeaway wasn’t related to photography or filmmaking but to how much work goes into beef production. It’s spilled over into produce and other goods I purchase as well. My partner and I signed up for a CSA for the first time this year to support local farmers and shift to eating more seasonally and locally grown foods.
This piece is up there with the things I’m most proud to have worked on. Andrew and I have both received a ton of positive feedback. I hope that more people see and connect with the message that doing things the right way usually isn’t the easy way.