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Butte, America: The Saga of a Hard Rock Mining Town (2008)

Told through the experiences of five-generation families whose lives intersected key historical events, BUTTE, AMERICA explores the largely untold story of industrialized hard rock mining in Butte, Montana.

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Told through the experiences of five-generation families whose lives intersected key historical events, BUTTE, AMERICA explores the largely untold story of industrialized hard rock mining in Butte, Montana.

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17 January 2008 (USA)  »

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Fascinating Story About a Western Mining Town
3 February 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I hope to visit Butte one day as a tourist (I have no familial ties to the city whatsoever, which may make my interest seem peculiar), and this documentary certainly was helpful in providing a historical overview of the city. I found it interesting that the film included the ethnic background of those giving testimony about their town; it shows the myriad countries of origin of those who came to settle in "The Richest Hill on Earth." The witnesses who grew up in Butte during its heyday give the viewer an intimate look inside the city and its people. The documentary doesn't sugarcoat anything, and it goes into detail about the various labor upheavals throughout the twentieth century, the rise and fall of Anaconda, the waxing and waning of the fortunes of the working class, and Butte's ultimate decline. The film portrays the city's history so artfully that it seems like a fictional saga of rise and fall--except it's all true. It seems this documentary left nothing significant out.

Granted, a documentary for a general audience will only mine the surface history (so to speak) of a place; still, I found it not only an educational experience, but a personal one as well thanks to the testimony of the witness. I found especially moving the witness's description of the destruction of their neighborhoods during the digging of the Berkeley Pit. The toxicity of the Berkeley Pit is also described (for a flippant and dismissive description of the Pit, try to find a clip from the "Daily Show" discussing it. It wasn't all that funny, as I found a thinly-veiled East Coast contempt for the Mountain West permeating the skit, much like heavy metals permeate the pit's waters. But I digress). I highly recommend this to those with a connection with Butte, Montana or with an interest in Western history. Butte is a part not only of Western history, but also an integral part of the story of America's Industrial Revolution, which is not stressed that often in popular history books and in the media. Hopefully, this documentary will open the viewers' eyes to not only the West (which wasn't all cowboys and gunslingers), but to America's painful entry into the twentieth century as well.


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