SPEARFISH — A filmmaker from California has spent the better part of five years formulating a particular story in her mind, but it wasn’t until she came to the Black Hills that she found the inspiration she needed to jumpstart her passion project.
“For the last five years I’ve been driving alone through America, specifically a lot between Texas and South Dakota,” Maltz said. “So I wanted to tell a story about a young woman on a road trip. I was meeting a lot of people along the way and some- how (wanted to include) them.”
A number of years ago, Maltz came to the Black Hills with her fiancé, who is a paleontologist. They settled in Spearfish, and while he was out on digging trips she was home, digging up inspiration for her film.
“I knew that I wanted to make this project, so I just started going to the same diners and motels,” she said.
As she met more people in the area, and heard the stories they had to tell, Maltz said her film idea began to change and evolve into something more profound.
“It was originally going to be a story about a young white girl, sort of based on me,” she explained. “In the story she kind of feels this sense of everywhere she goes, (she feels like) some- one different.”
However, Maltz was worried that presenting the main char- acter, as a young white girl travelling in America wouldn’t capture the sense of alienation she wanted to convey.
One of the locals that Maltz met and became close with was Lainey Bearkiller, the two be- came fast friends and it wasn’t long before Bearkiller made a suggestion that would kick pro- duction into high gear.
“Lainey was like, ‘Why don’t you make it a story about a native girl?’” Maltz said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a really great idea,’ ... and then all of a sudden we were filming.”
The film, “The Unknown Country” which is still in production, follows the story of Tana, played by Lily Gladstone, as she travels from the Midwest to the Texas/Mexico border in search of the missing piece to a puzzle she’s trying to solve about her grandmother. Along the way Tana reconnects with her estranged Lakota family and meets a series of characters with interesting back-stories. As she meets each character, the story shifts to follow a few footsteps in their life before returning to the main plot. Maltz said what sets her project apart from other in- dependent films is the fact that every side character Tana meets is not only based on a real per- son, they’re played by the actual locals who inspired them.
As an example, in the film, Tana attends the wedding of her cousin Lainey, played by Bearkiller. The wedding in the film is Bearkiller’s actual wedding.
“It’s kind of taking as much of real life as we can,” Maltz explained, “But just trying to tie it together with a very loose narrative.”
So enamored with Spearfish was Maltz, that even though the story takes place all over the Midwest, she didn’t see much need to film in very many other locations.
“That journey is mapped out to look like it’s all over America but it’s really just Spearfish,” she said with a laugh.
Maltz said there was a sense of roadside Americana that she wanted to showcase in the film, and she found all she needed in Spearfish.
“Even (something) as simple as getting locations that look like these motels or these gas stations is almost impossible,” she said. “All that kind of Americana has disappeared in most of America.”
Maltz is currently showing the rough cut of her film at various independent film agencies across the globe. She will be shooting the final scenes of the film in Spearfish again in late November and plans to premier of rough-cut of the movie at the Matthews Opera House in early 2020.
“That would be great for the last shoot after we’ve been filming for two years, it would be so nice if by the very end people actually know about it,” she said.
For more information about this and other films Maltz has done, visit www.morrisamaltz. com. To find out how to donate to the production, email Maltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.