After years spent working on television shows and other projects in New York and Minneapolis, filmmaker and photographer Britni West decided to bring her passion and expertise home to Montana to create a film that tells a more personal story.
At 31, West said she found herself in a complicated yet liberating stage in life back in New York, one she said she shares with several of her friends her age.
“It’s a really confusing time in life where you’re trying to figure out if you’re supposed to have a family and settle down somewhere and do something, but then also all of us are finally getting to the point where we’re like ‘I know what I’m doing creatively and I know what I want to make and I know what I can do now,’” West said.
This new project, titled “By Now I’ve Lived a Thousand Lives and None of Them are Mine,” she said, will portray the journey of a woman in her thirties, played by West, moving back home to Montana after years spent living and growing as a person in other places.
The story will jump between and compare her journey to that of her friend, Hillary Berg of Bozeman, who followed a similar path but who has a very different personality and lifestyle.
Berg, West said, maintains a more quiet, controlled lifestyle in her mountain home in Bozeman, after having spent the last year-and-a-half adjusting, making friends and connections and reshaping her life to fit her surroundings.
West, however, described her life as much more chaotic, with an outgoing personality and a boisterous family, providing a loud and lively contrast to her friend.
Montana has drawn filmmakers from around the world with its breathtaking scenery and expansive wilderness.
In the last five years alone, around 40 movies were filmed at least in part in Montana, but West said, the culture and inner lives of the state’s residents have rarely been portrayed accurately through film.
Beyond the scenic landscapes of her home state, West said the people of Montana make for an interesting and beautifully honest film. The importance of family saturates the culture and livelihoods of mountain dwellers, West said, lending an ever-present theme to the movie as she jumps between the lives and relationships of herself and the people around her.
“I really just want to capture my family and what life is like here because I feel like you don’t see that in a lot movies in a natural way,” West said. “I’m just happy that I get to show them to the world I guess.”
Following her last film, “Tired Moonlight,” a more narrative film which received shining reviews by the New York Times and other publications, West said she realized a desire to capture a realness and authenticity that scripted characters and scenes lack.
In the spirit of authenticity, West said the film remains open ended, without a planned, scripted direction or ending.
Though she has an idea of where she wants it to go and scenes she wants to include, she has also allowed for the filming to progress naturally, capturing real moments with her family and interviewing people she’s run into along the way and incorporating their stories into her own.
“I think it’s more like you find something else out about life by using real people,” West said. “I’m just really interested in non-actors and real life and capturing that in a way that makes sense more than a narrative story about it.”
When she first came up with the concept for the project, West said she had no intention of making a movie about her life, much less putting herself in it. However, as she attempted to work with her aunts, uncles, grandmothers, parents and siblings, she found that they reacted much more naturally when she joined them in front of the camera.
Using herself as an anchor point, she said, allows her to weave the story in and out of other people’s lives with her as a connecting thread between them.
Though she plays herself in the movie, West will not be moving back home permanently like her character in the film or her friend who shares the spotlight.
One of the biggest contrasts between Berg’s and her portions of the film, West said, is the difference in how connected they are to their Montana surroundings.
While Berg has spent the last year building a life, making friends and dating in Bozeman, West said she has few ties to her hometown anymore outside of her family, and even they have a lot of catching up to do.
“There’s like a weird dynamic when you get back and your family knows the thing that you always were and you have become something else, maybe, and the people in that new place don’t know that part of you,” she said.
For her part of the movie, West has filmed a family wedding and casual gatherings, interviewed relatives about memories and photos and incorporated chance meetings with strangers into the mix. For Berg’s, she’s filmed her working with horses, her interactions with men she’s dated and some of the quiet moments that make up her artistic aesthetic and lifestyle.
Her goal, she said, is to capture both of their lives in a way that reflects their contrasting natures and comparable journeys.
Over the next year, West said she plans to return to continue filming in the fall and winter between projects with the TV show she’ll begin working on in August back in New York in hopes of finishing the project by next summer.
Though West said you never know how audiences will respond to movies like hers, she hopes the story will resonate with viewers in the same way her last film did, allowing her to showcase her friends and family at film festivals and other venues across the country and around the world.
“I just try to make something manageable and relatable out of the beautiful chaos that I am constantly finding myself in the midst of. It’s not always the simplest approach, but it rings true to me,” West said.
As an independent filmmaker, West, with the help of her director of photography, Sage Morita, does most of the filming, directing and editing herself, but travel costs and other expenses can pile up without the support of a production agency or artist grants.
To contribute to the project or for more information, visit https://www.britniwest.com.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org