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New short film showcases Butte as a worldwide economic linchpin

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"Orphan Girl" debuts on Sept. 11 at the Motherlode Theatre in Butte.
“Orphan Girl” debuts on Sept. 11 at the Motherlode Theatre in Butte.

Whether you love Butte or hate it, there’s no mistaking the mystique of the Mining City.

It’s so captivating that this fall a new short film sets to showcase what makes Butte a great place — in both its history and its promising future.

The film, titled “The Orphan Girl” is one part of a campaign showing how rich the Richest Hill on Earth really is when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurial energy.

As Montana vies to snag new businesses and out-of-state capital, Chisel Industries and Headframe Spirits, in cooperation with the Montana Film Office, will be at the forefront marketing Butte as a happening place to be.

Named after one of Butte’s famous copper mines,  “The Orphan Girl” will serve as the keystone to the trans-media revitalization project set to market Butte as a destination for business owners across the globe.

Creators of the "Orphan Girl" short film raised the necessary funds to distribute the film during the first week on Kickstarter. Photo Courtesy Chisel Industries
Creators of the “Orphan Girl” short film raised the necessary funds to distribute the film during the first week on Kickstarter. Photo Courtesy Chisel Industries

The creators have already raised more than $45,000 on Kickstarter to help distribute the film. They met their goal of $38,750 in the fund raising campaign’s first week, which came as a surprise to everyone working on the film.

The film premieres on Sept. 11 at the Motherlode Theatre in Butte. The filmmakers hope to have it show at several other places in Montana before they enter it into film festivals including Sundance in Park City, Utah.

Cassandra Sunell, production coordinator, said having exceeded their fundraising goal allows them to increase distribution and marketing of the film to an even larger audience than they first anticipated.

“It just expanded that cloud for us to dream a little more,” she said. “When we found out we met our goal so quickly we thought, ‘Wow, what kind of exposure can we potentially bring to Butte if we keep doing this?’ and now expand on it. It’s exciting to think that, you know, with what’s already in place with our transmedia and marketing eyes which have already been on Butte and Montana … We can essentially now expand even more and we just really hope that eventually what happens is this is going to bring more people to Butte, and also businesses and entrepreneurs.”

That transmedia campaign attached with the film, Sunell said, includes video and text stories of individual businesses in Butte, what those businesses make and the opportunities they provide as well as tying it to miners and their history and personal stories.

“We really want to touch on back story about the history of mining and miners talking about their stories,” Sunell said. “We want to blend that and get that information on all kinds levels including social media, movies, short film and some YouTube videos to give people a real sense for what they were like and what this place is like.”

The crew shoots a scene for the new short film "Orphan Girl" in Butte. Photo courtesy of Chisel Industries
The crew shoots a scene for the new short film “Orphan Girl” in Butte. Photo courtesy of Chisel Industries

Deny Skaggs, Film Commissioner for the Montana Film Office, said he’s been thrilled with the response this project has gotten already and sees it as a sign that people understand the importance Butte has had and continues to have on not just Montana but the rest of the world.

“It’s such a great American story about this town that, you know, basically put the country on its back,” he said. “Without that hill in Butte we wouldn’t have electricity, we wouldn’t have all of these things that drove our economy. So it’s these men and women from all over the world who came together to do just brutal hard work and made this ingenuity happen. there’s a strong live-work-play concept we have in Montana and there’s such a pride and joy for life that comes out in this piece.”

In a news release about the film, the creators write that while Butte’s history is integral to Montana’s lifeline, more important is what the future holds for the Mining City.

“After 1950, 70 percent of (Butte’s) population moved away and the historic uptown’s built environment suffered from vacancy and disinvestment. However, there’s a new found hope in Butte and it’s led by modern mavericks on a still wild frontier boldly trailblazing a brighter future.”

Two of those trailblazers are Courtney and John McKee, owners of Headframe Spirits in Butte and the main players behind the “Orphan Girl” project. Headframe Spirits is a Butte-based distillery that produces five different types of alcohol in Butte.

The business opened in 2010 and last year the couple was named the 2013 Montana Entrepreneurs of the Year.

According to the Headframe Spirits website, “Over the last 3 years they opened a distillery in Montana centered around its custom continuous flow distillation system, which Headframe Spirits Manufacturing now fabricates for 3rd party clients.”


As for the film, the “Orphan Girl” project initially started as a marketing piece for the distillery but quickly grew to include highlighting the entire town of Butte.

The teaser on the film’s Kickstarter page includes snippets of chats with Montana governor Steve Bullock, Butte historian and high school teacher Chris Fisk, Chief Executive Matt Vincent and musician Tim Montana all speaking about the most precious and powerful aspect to Butte, it’s people that continue to redefine what it means to live in a place that embraces new ideas.

Sunell said the goal of the film is to reach the outside world and show them how special a place Butte still is today and how it’s an incredible place to grow and be and do business in.

“The biggest hope is that there are going to be global eyes looking down at Butte saying ‘Wow, where is that and how can we get there, and how can we live there?’” she said. “ and I think that’s one of the biggest goals, at least to me, but I also think speak on a little more on behalf of Headframe Spirits and Chisel Industries, we want to leverage this innovation project into a process which is being made now, which would just accelerate the process for someone interested in Butte.”

Skaggs said he not only sees the film as a way to show the unique and positive sides of Butte to the outside world, but also to serve to remind people who live in Montana how important of place it is to Montana’s continued growth.

People in Montana know (Butte’s) story and we want to remind people of that, but we also want to bring them into the now and see how we can propel ourselves forward and I think they do a nice job with that in the film,” he said. “Yarrow (Kraner, movie director) and I were talking and we decided it feels like Butte could be the epicenter of this immense amount of recognition and growth for Montana as a viable industry and a new industry.”

For more information on the “Orphan Girl” project, check out their website here.

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