The official mission of Thunderheart Films is to create and distribute films and videos that are designed to foster healing, tolerance and unity and to reduce prejudice and discrimination. That's a broad mission, we know, and we decided that our first projects would focus on the buffalo living on the Blackfeet Reservation and the people most directly involved with those animals.
This focus, at first glance, might not seem to align with our mission, but spend enough time around buffalo and you'll change your mind. Buffalo are a force of nature: they're a symbol of recovery and resilience, they bring people together, they break down barriers, they help people heal from trauma, and have the capacity to rejuvenate cultures.
We would like to achieve with our films what the buffalo achieve simply by being. They are our teachers and we hope to learn from them, and give back to them, in our film adventures.
or millennia, the Blackfeet’s existence depended almost entirely on the buffalo. The buffalo served as their food, clothing, and lodging, with even the Blackfeet economy dependent on the animal. When the Blackfeet were conquered and nearly wiped out by settlers and the American government, the tribe also lost its connection with the buffalo. As the settlers overturned the Blackfeet and their culture, they simultaneously hunted the very animal that had been the tribe's lifeblood, slaughtering the
buffalo to near-extinction. One hundred and twenty years later, the Blackfeet and the buffalo are returning from the edge of the abyss. Both clans, human and animal, were the victims of genocide, but ultimately survived and are now in a process of recovery, one that is being embraced beyond the borders of the reservation and one that celebrates and empowers the natural world.
The United States is in the beginnings of a buffalo renaissance. All around the country ranchers are beginning to raise buffalo and there are more than 59 tribes that are returning buffalo to their lands. Buffalo conservation efforts are gaining exponential traction, with the buffalo being named the national mammal of the United States. Despite all of this, there still remains hostility toward and skepticism about the buffalo’s future in the United States.
There are many challenges that buffalo face in our modern landscape. Many cattle ranchers are fearful of the buffalo due to a perceived threat of brucellosis that buffalo can carry and the competition they pose for grazing land. Federal and state governments, established alongside the cattle industry, forbid a free-roaming buffalo, and have imposed dozens of rules and regulations about buffalo transport and sales. The Blackfeet also have challenges with some neighbors who leave fences open, impose large fines on the buffalo whenever they graze on non-tribal lands and create constant headaches for the Buffalo Program workers. These challenges, large and small, are relevant not only for the Blackfeet but for nearly anyone working with buffalo nationwide. Their work revolves around the question: How can we overcome these roadblocks so that we can grow our herd?
Our current projects follow a small band of Blackfeet whose mission is twofold: to return buffalo to Blackfeet land by establishing a thriving buffalo herd on the Reservation, and to release a free roaming herd of buffalo into the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine. The film focuses on the lives of the people who work most intimately with the animals, following their journey as they strive to grow their domestic herd and restore a wild, free-roaming buffalo to the Rocky Mountains and the American West.
n 2014, Daniel Glick moved to Montana and was looking for work. As a part of his outreach, he connected with the Montana Wilderness Association and they told him that they were working on a campaign to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from illegally leased oil and gas development. They asked if Daniel could make a short film to support their effort and as a lifelong conservationist, Daniel jumped at the idea.
That project evolved into Our Last Refuge, a 25 minute documentary about the history of the Blackfeet people, whose culture and history is intertwined with the Badger-Two Medicine, and the 35-year effort to cancel the leases. This film, released in 2016, was used successfully in a national campaign to cancel the disputed leases.
On one of the trips to the Blackfeet Reservation for Our Last Refuge, Daniel and Zane Clampett (Our Last Refuge's Director of Photography) saw the Blackfeet Nation's buffalo herd hanging out along Route 2 in the shadows of Glacier National Park. Ever since moving to Montana Daniel had been longing to film buffalo and here he saw an opportunity.
He reached out to Kendall Edmo, who put him in touch with the people at the Blackfeet Buffalo Program, and everything just took off from there. They opened their doors for us to film their fall buffalo drive and they shot two short films on that drive - Bring Them Home and Iniskim. It was those projects inspired our feature documentary, Bring Them Home / Aiskótáhkapiyaaya, which is when everyone else on the team joined our mission.