Facing The Storm

I’ve liked the work of the folks at High Plains Films ever since I was a grad student at the University of Montana and saw “This Is Nowhere,” their documentary about the RVers who travel around the country, only “camping” in Wal-Mart parking lots. Their documentaries have covered a range of topics, from the asbestos-caused health problems in Libby, Montana, and profiled MG pal and Canyon Country Zephyr publisher Jim Stiles. Their newest documentary, “Facing The Storm,” covers another Western issue: the wild bison. Or not so wild anymore, depending who you ask. “Facing the Storm,” co-produced with The Independent Television Service and Montana Public Television, is historical, political, environmental and damned interesting. There’s footage of bison being herded back into Yellowstone Park (so Montana cattle ranchers can tout their state as “brucellosis-free”) with snowmobiles, helicopters and police cars; footage of bison being shot at close range; footage of bison being killed in slaughterhouses; interviews with cattle ranchers, native Americans who are building the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative, bison ranch owners, wildlife biologists, historians and animal rights activists like John Lilburn, the man who was convicted of “hunter harassment” when he stood between a hunter and a bison in 1990. We’ve had a long relationship with this Western icon, from hunting it to near extinction in the 19th century, brought it back, but artificially try to keep it in the perfect square that is Yellowstone National Park, and now, as one of the interviewees in the film says, “The great Wild West of the migrating bison herds, I think is a thing of the past. There’s just no place for that to happen anymore.”