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Blackfeet Art: Painting The Silver Screen At The Big Sky Documentary Film Fest

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival kicks off Friday evening in downtown Missoula. In this year’s line-up, 20 films are listed in the "Made In Montana" category, including "Blackfeet Art of the Northern Plains,"a short film about a 30-year-old Blackfeet artist named Lauren Monroe, Jr. Chérie Newman talks with the people behind the film.

Gita Saedi-Kiely: This year we are showing more than 200 films, screening at the Wilma, the Roxy, the Crystal, the Top Hat and Shakespeare and Company.

Chérie Newman: That’s Gita Saedi-Kiely, Director of Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

GSK: And there’s seriously something for everyone.

CN: In this year’s line-up, 20 films are listed in the “Made In Montana” category, including “Blackfeet Art of the Northern Plains,” a short film about a 30-year-old Blackfeet artist named Lauren Monroe, Jr.

Lauren Monroe, Jr.: Currently what we have, I think as a people, is we have a loss of interest from the younger generation to carry on the stories, the language, the ceremonies of our people that has been going for thousands of years. And personally, I think, that things stem from the globalization—there’s so much information coming in, so much desire to be different than who you are, to be popular, to listen to everything, or do everything, and dress in everything that’s American, instead of learning what it was to be Blackfeet.

Lauren Monroe Jr.
Credit Courtesy Lauren Monroe Jr.
Lauren Monroe Jr.

CN: The camera follows Lauren around his studio as he picks up brushes, mixes paint, and works on images of buffalo depicted in bright colors: turquoise, brick red, goldenrod. Paintings of long-legged red horses, black ravens, and people in traditional clothing hang on the walls. Last week, I asked Lauren about his art and his life on the Blackfeet Reservation.

LMJ: This art started when I was attending the University of Montana, Missoula. I decided one day I wanted to paint and so I went to the UM bookstore, purchased some supplies, went home and just started painting—with no training, or whatever. It was more therapy than anything. And it snowballed into where, for the most part, I do it full-time now.

CN: You said in the film that you were raised by your grandparents, and that that was traditional in the Blackfeet culture in some way.

LMJ: Yeah, in the historical context and even in contemporary, the first-born would often times go with the grandparents to help them as they grew older, to kind of take care of them. And also to kind of gain the knowledge of ceremonies. So it’s still a common thing, I think, for some grandparents to raise their children’s children.

A painting by Lauren Monroe, Jr., the artist featured in the film "Blackfeet Art of the Northern Plains"
Credit Courtesy Lauren Monroe Jr. All rights reserved.
A painting by Lauren Monroe, Jr., the artist featured in the film "Blackfeet Art of the Northern Plains"

CN: What do you want your art to say to people — Blackfeet people, non-Blackfeet people?

LMJ: That’s a good question, uhm… Initially, it’s kind of I feel it’s an inside job. I want my people and the younger generations to be interested in it. They may not have to know everything about it, but at least get an idea of what these stories are, what these things mean in our culture and continue traditions and our oral history. And for the outsiders looking in, I want them I guess just make that connection to that, too. I feel like as I do my art and continue to grow, I meet more people and I feel that it’s a great motivator to create dialogue, which I feel is really important to understanding each other. Even today, it’s always important to always acknowledge each other and find out what makes us more alike than separate.

CN: "Blackfeet Art of the Northern Plains" will be showing in the Wilma Theater at 2:15 Sunday afternoon.

LMJ: As an artist living on the reservation, one of the things I hope to inspire is for others to discover, for themselves, what it means to be a modern Blackfeet.

Big Sky Documentary Film Festivalbegins Friday February 19 and runs through the February 28. And as Gita Saedi-Kiely said earlier, there’s something for everyone.

GSK: There are a couple of films connected to musical performances. One is about former Soul Asylum side man George McKelvey and one about alt country queen Lydia Loveless—both of whom will be playing at the Top Hat after their screenings. There are films for our younger audience playing all week after school at the Roxy. We also have a doc shop, a week-long series of panels and workshops all about film making.

MTPR is a media sponsor of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival 2016.


Q & A with Eddie Roqueta, producer of “Blackfeet Art of the Northern Plains”

CN: What attracted you to Lauren, to his art?

Eddie Roqueta: I met Lauren on a film set and I was blown away with his knowledge of native culture, his experience of growing up on a reservation, his humbleness, and passionate creativity to do what he loves -- paint.

CN: Why did you feel compelled to make this film?

ER: After meeting Lauren I felt an instant connection and really wanted to make a film about him and his art that would not only help get his art seen by more people but also to help relay some of the important identity issues that younger generations are experiencing on reservations these days to an audience that might not know a lot about current Native American issues.

CN: What memorable experience did you have on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation?

ER: The most memorable experience I had on the Blackfeet Reservation was when Lauren took me out to this open field where you could see the mountains of Glacier National Park in the distance. It was extremely cold and windy, but Lauren had this sense of comfort and belonging to that place that made feel warmer than I should have. I can't remember the exact words, but he mentioned something about that place being his childhood and how he would run around and imagine all the animals in creative ways. And now when he paints animals of the area in his paintings he gives them a childlike-rendition as kind of homage to how those animals, that landscape, and his culture have contributed to his development as a creative individual.

Chérie Newman is a former arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. She founded and previously hosted a weekly literary program, The Write Question, which continues to air on several public radio stations; it is also available online at and
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