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Running with Bison

I’ll never forget it.

Five hundred bison ran in unison, full speed, flying across the plains and there we were, less than 40 yards to their side, roaring beside them in my Landcruiser. “Holy shit! Holy shit!” I shouted over and over like a mantra. I stared at the animals in awe while trying to avoid the random gopher holes scattered across the grasslands.

The herd in motion. Photo by Mariah Ore.

I had never driven off-road before, but here I was, three days into the Blackfeet buffalo drive and I had gone pro – driving as fast as the Blackfeet volunteers on their ATVs and pushing our luck with our proximity to the running herd.

There were eight of us – a crew of seven and a cast of one – shooting two short films simultaneously. One was a documentary about the Blackfeet buffalo drive – a twice-a-year ritual of moving the tribe’s herd 30 miles between summer and winter ranges – and the second was a fiction film about a teenage girl’s experience of healing from trauma by going on the drive (inspired by a true story told to us by the Blackfeet buffalo manager).

Our crew filming the construction of a lodge on day 1 of the drive. Photo by Mariah Ore.

One film would have been enough, but I believe in taking risks (and also creating stress for myself and others) so I said, “Hell, what do we have to lose? Let’s do both of these.”

It was a difficult shoot. The chaos of the first day of the drive – when the animals just took off, bolting into the distance, busting through a fence or two – to the second day when an early winter storm nearly froze us to the bone, to getting lost in the fog alone on the 2nd morning, but it was also one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. I am so grateful for the Blackfeet Buffalo Program opening the door for us to film this and for my talented and determined crew.

Our cast and crew on location at the start of production.

Both of these projects were made possible in part by the Big Sky Film Grant and I can’t wait to share these projects with the world. Stay tuned….

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