Humanities Through Film's second documentary is a 'Capitol' idea (2022)

Humanities Through Film's second documentary is a 'Capitol' idea (1)

A film produced by students in this year's "Humanities Through Film" two-week summer bridge program at Helena College explores the history of the state Capitol and the stories of Montana's founders.

"Humanities Through Film: A Summer Bridge Program at Helena College" ran from July 11 to July 22 this year. The program accepts juniors and seniors in high school and recent high school graduates and goes from around 9 a.m. to after 3 p.m. each weekday. This year, 13 students attended, four of them returning students.

The program itself is deeply rooted in the humanities.

“Los Angeles is the city of film schools, and there’s all different styles of teaching film production. At most of the schools, there’s a separation of the technical side of film and film history and film theory,” said Dr. Ari Lee Laskin, the program's director. “When I was in LA, I was part of a school that always tried to intertwine them."

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Laskin is originally from Canada and was a film producer for Helena College’s TRIO Program. He was also a research professor at Occidental College and was a film instructor and director for MAPS Media Institute in Helena.

The three-year program is funded by the Humanities Initiatives Grant that totals around $150,000 from the National Endowment for Humanities. Helena College was among the 21 colleges and universities awarded this competitive grant. Dr. Jan Clinard, who has been with Helena College for 11 years, was the one who spearheaded the grant.

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One of the on-site instructors was Director of Programming Dru Carr, a filmmaker out of Missoula and co-founder of the Big Sky Film Institute.

“Last year’s subject was very tangible for the (students) because they had just experienced a couple years of COVID-19, and lots of the things written about the history of the Spanish Flu were very similar and relatable,” said Carr. “This (year) is a bit difficult, thinking about a building (the Montana State Capitol) and how do you use that to represent ideas. It’s harder, I think.”

A former student of Laskin, renowned cinematographer and Academy Award winner Rose Bush, was brought in to teach at the program as well. In addition to Helena College, Bush teaches at Columbia.

The program's three main goals are to provide research experience and humanities instruction, produce a documentary film, and strengthen interest in humanities programs.

Each of the three years has a different theme that focuses on present issues in Montana through the context of the past.

The theme for 2021 was a comparative analysis of the social impact of COVID-19 in comparison to the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu. Out of this, students created the documentary “No Ordinary Time.” The students also made a podcast to accompany the film called “La Grippe.”

The film was submitted to 36 film festivals and was selected to ten so far. It premiered at the Myrna Loy Oct. 12, 2021, and saw much success, including a regional student Academy of Television Arts & Sciences award or a “Student Emmy”.

For 2022, the theme centers on the Montana State Capitol that began construction in 1896 and the contributions and founding stories around it that have been overlooked in the past.

The students interviewed historians, archivists, architects, Native American educators and more. One of them being Kirby Lambert, who was the outreach and interpretation program manager for the Montana Historical Society and one of the authors of the book “ Montana's State Capitol: The People's House.” This book inspired the title of this year’s student documentary about the Capitol called the “The People’s House.”

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Humanities Through Film's second documentary is a 'Capitol' idea (2)

The first week of the program revolved around pre-production work like research, storyboarding, workshops, setting up interviews, etc. During this week, three Helena College professors ran workshops on their areas of research and expertise with the students.

Virginia Reeves, a professor and author, has taught writing, literature and communications at Helena College for the past six years. This year, her workshop centered on storytelling and how the architecture of the Montana Capitol is itself a narrative of the time and people who built it. This narrative is then interpreted through the eyes of these students.

“The biggest thing I try to instill in these film students is that the maker of the film is always present. We like to think that’s not the case with news and documentaries, but once a human makes a conscious decision to create something, they’re there," stated Reeves.

Kim Feig is the professor of cultural studies and sociology and is the disability services coordinator who has been at Helena College for five years.

“We’re incorporating history, art history, and social sciences into the students' purview to give them tools to understand the Capitol in terms of material building but also the symbolism involved and how to read those signs through a critical lens. And to understand that depending on your lens, your interpretation of the material building and the art that’s in it, the flow of the building will shift,” said Feig.

Seth Roby, who has been a professor of art at Helena College since 2015, taught a workshop on creativity and strategies to start the creative process for any project in any medium.

On July 21, students were in a classroom at the Donaldson Campus of Helena College working on script, editing, voice-overs, music selection and more. Earlier in the week, they were out gathering interviews and film around Helena and at the Capitol.

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Humanities Through Film's second documentary is a 'Capitol' idea (3)

Going into the second week, production week, homeschooled sophomore Libby Roberts stated that they had not started filming yet for the documentary because of all the planning that goes into a production before the camera starts rolling. Roberts was among the bunch of students at desktops working on video edits in Adobe Premiere.

Humanities Through Film's second documentary is a 'Capitol' idea (4)

William Cranmore, a junior at East Helena High School, and Hadley Pearson, a senior at Helena Capital who was the main director of last year’s documentary, put their heads together working on a list of film festivals to submit the documentary to.

The rough cut of the film was completed July 22, the last day of the program. The student’s film “The People’s House” will premiere at 8 p.m. on Sept. 8 at The Myrna Loy.

In 2023, the final year of the summer bridge film grant, the theme will examine the history of fishing in Montana, including its ecological and social impact.

To sign up for next year's summer program, go

“Before this program I thought I had a plan, like I want to work in blockbusters, but coming here has opened my eyes to how many different paths you can take in this career. I mean a lot of these people here are focused in the humanities because that is what the grant is for, and that is something I never considered,” said Mara Flynn, a sophomore film student at Montana State University who attended the program last year and is back as a teaching assistant this year. “So because of this program, I feel like I have less of a life plan but in the most amazing, refreshing way possible. It has opened up the industry for me and what that can be like.”

Megan Michelotti can be reached at


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  • Helena
  • Montana
  • Film
  • Summer
  • Program
  • Helena College
  • No Ordinary Time
  • Montana State Capitol

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Megan Michelotti

Education and Crime Reporter


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