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Butte Hosts Film Fest, Awaits Visit From EPA Chief

Covellite International Film Festival in Butte, MT.
Josh Burnham
Covellite International Film Festival in Butte, MT.

There's a film festival in Butte this week, and there's a rumor that the head of the EPA may visit the mining city too. Montana Standard Editor David McCumber joins us now with  more information.

Nora Saks: David McCumber, thanks so much for joining us on Montana Public Radio.

David McCumber: Nora, thanks for having me, it's great to talk with you again.

NS: Butte is known for a lot of cultural events. The Folk Festival, the Irish Festival, but there's been something new on the horizon in the past two years. Could you tell me a little about the Covellite International Film Fest that's happening this week?

DM: Nobody really knew what to expect when these characters came and bought the Covellite Theater and announced plans to hold a film festival. And last year was just terrific, and so many great things came of it.

First of all, people really loved it here. But a lot of filmmakers came who brought their films to the festival and totally fell in love with Butte. They fell in love with the architecture, with the setting, and vowed to either move here, as some have done, or do work here, as even more have done.

That's just a really cool thing, and I think it really plays into Butte's economic development future. To me, there's a really good chance that Butte's next incarnation will be as a creative center.

NS: So this is the second year of this festival. What kind of changes are they making this year that you're aware of?

DM: The first thing is that it's just bigger. I think they're screening 110 films, narrative features and shorts, documentary features and shorts, work from youth filmmakers and so forth. It's a very ambitious schedule.

They're also making the admission free at a baseline level, then they're selling VIP tickets for events and things like that. But the good news is that you can go to a lot of films for free admission.

NS: But something that really stuck out to me about this film festival is just how they're trying to make independent film accessible to the Butte community. How has that free admission been received?

DM: Well, we'll see this week. They were pretty well attended last year, and I just have a feeling that this is going to be a banner year.

The other thing that's around the festival is that they have also started a production company and they bought a wonderful old wreck of a building. They are going to make a production studio with an animation area, with a sound studio, with rooms for editing and special effects and living quarters for film makers and producers. I just think it is a great idea and it just shows how this festival is kind of growing in scope.

NS: With all the films that they are planning on showing, are there any that you are really looking forward to or have a Butte focus that you are excited about?

DM: Well, there is both. There is a great Butte documentary about Robbie Knievel, Evil Knievel's son called "Chasing Evil," that I think will be really popular in Butte. From everything I hear about it, it is supposed to be just great. We ran a story this year about this bizarre electrical accident out in the back country where this hunter was nearly killed, nearly electrocuted. They  made a film called "Charged." I think that is the opening film for the festival, so that is a Montana story and I think that will be pretty well received.

NS: Wow, well it sounds like this festival is going to be really rich and diverse and hopefully will bring some good energy into Butte. Taking a different attack altogether and circling back to some super fun news, I know that the Montana Standard has reported over the summer that Senator Steve Daines has invited the head of the EPA Scott Pruitt to come and visit a Superfund site in Montana. What is the latest news on whether or not Pruitt might visit?

DM: I talked to Senator Daines probably, I guess a couple weeks ago when he was in town. He said that his office and Pruitt's office are exchanging dates, and it sounded like it was getting down to the nitty-gritty that it was very likely going to happen this fall. And Daines said the first place he was going to bring Administrator Pruitt in Montana will be Butte.

NS: What kind of impact do you think that will have on Butte, having the EPA Administrator actually visit the largest Superfund complex in the country?

DM: Well, in a way the impact is up to Scott Pruitt. I mean I think it is useful for him to see what is here, for him to hear from community leaders and people who are active in trying to improve the cleanup here. And I hope that he can take away the realization that there is a great deal more work that has to be done here, that the EPA has to stay the course and indeed many in the community feel like the EPA needs to do a lot more than it has been doing. Obviously, this all comes in the context of the Trump Administration proposing more than 30-percent budget cuts for EPA. Even though Superfund has been touted as a priority in the Trump Administration's EPA it too faces, the Superfund program faces 30 plus percent cut right now. I suppose it could really help if Pruitt could come here and really see what is here and what needs to be done.

NS: When top administrators do visit towns like Butte, is there often a chance for the public and the community to directly engage with them? I know that transparency and access to decision making around the Superfund cleanup in Butte has been such a contentious issue.

DM: That is absolutely right, it has been a contentious thing, and remains so. I think there will be a chance for a group of community leaders, and not just the elected officials, but people who are really active on the ground to meet with Mr. Pruitt. I know I've talked with the EPA facilitator here who's expressed a desire for that, and also Senator Daines said the same thing. He said he hoped the administrator could come here and have a frank conversation with people who are stakeholders in this.

So as far as a wide open to the public meeting, I mean I have no idea if they're schedule such a thing, but I'm at least hopeful that there will be a wide enough group seeing Pruitt that he will hear more than one version.

NS: Right, there are so many versions of that story and so many perspectives on what needs to happen.

David McCumber, it's such a treat to have you on Montana Public Radio letting us know what's happening in your area in Butte.

DM: Well thanks again, I really appreciate it Nora.

Learn more about the Covellite International Film Festival.

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