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The Black Hills Film Festival will run from April 26 to 30 this year, screening 18 documentaries, features and shorts for casual filmgoers and cinephiles alike.

Local stories

Some films were locally made or follow local figures, such as the documentary "Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs," about the rodeo star.

"There was much more to the man than just the rodeo champion," said director Justin Koehler. "I wanted to go deeper and find out what made him tick."

Koehler argued that there was a fairytale element to his life.

He was born during the Great Depression to an already dirt-poor family in Mission Ridge," Koehler said. "He wound up on the cover of Life Magazine and on TV shows."

Koehler said that he hoped people walked away with a greater understanding of Tibbs.

"I hope they go in thinking they knew who he was who can walk out taking about how they weren't expecting what they saw," Koehler said.

The South Dakota-set "Neither Wolf Nor Dog," based on the novel by Kent Nerburn, also seeks to give people a wider understanding of a subject.

The road movie follows a Lakota elder and his closest friend bringing a white author through the heart of Native American country, forcing the author into a deep understanding of contemporary Native life.

Director Steven Lewis Simpson said that he related to the experience, as he'd filmed in the region for 18 years.

"I feel the story tells certain truths that need to be heard," Simpson said. "There's not always an open discourse between Lakota country and surrounding communities."

He felt that the story helps give a wider perspective of Lakota country, avoiding stereotypes.

"I know people are going to fall in love with Dave Bald Eagle's character, because he's such a rich human being," Simpson said. "And I think the humor, though it's Lakota humor, plays wide because the characters are so well-developed."

Native stories

"Neither Wolf Nor Dog" isn't the only film following Lakota or Native American subjects playing at the festival. Local Lakota filmmaker Willi White's debut short, "The People," will tell a story set in a dystopian future, when Native lands and rights are gone and oppression and civil war have laid ruin to U.S. democracy.

"The intention was to tell a modern story about Indigenous people's history and put it in the future," White said. "We think this represents some of the struggles Indigenous people go through."

White noted that while the story was written and shot during protests for the Keystone XL Pipeline, it wound up reflecting the current political climate.

"Our intention going in was never to be a political statement, but it wound up reflecting wanting to take care of the place we live in," White said. "Ultimately, it's about getting people to think and starting a conversation."

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests, meanwhile, are the subject of the documentary short "Mni Wiconi: The Stand at Standing Rock," directed by Lucian Read.

The short was shot in September and October of 2016 and was meant to give a basic understanding of issues surrounding the protests and the leading voices.

"We wanted people to know what the most important facts were," Read said. "I think we contributed to people's basic understanding of what was happening in a way that wasn't a polemic."

Read said that he personally appreciated the significance of many tribal nations coming together for a cause.

"I can never fully appreciate as a white person the historic power of that, but even as an outsider it was amazing," Read said. "It's an honor to have people share their stories."

Stories by women

The festival also features a number of films by women, including "Wild Prairie Rose," shot in Beresford by director Deborah LaVine. The film follows a woman returning to her hometown to take care of her ailing mother and banding together with the townspeople to make a movie musical for her.

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"I shot a film in Beresford a few years ago and fell in love with the people," LaVine said. "I wanted to go back there and make something about a community-made film."

Set in 1952, the film's protagonist is also dealing with the post-war world after women, having been given unprecedented responsibility during the war effort, saw things change again when the war was over.

"The musical was a fantasy, an illusion of what a perfect life was going to be," LaVine said. "It captures the hope and the naivete people had."

LaVine said that the film would also capture being in a place with a traditional and concrete set of values when "you're slightly different."

"I want it to be warm and familiar, but I also hope it'll jostle people to look through a new prism," LaVine said.

Rainy Kerwin's film "The Wedding Invitation," meanwhile, was borne out of a desire to put funny women (including herself) on the screen.

"Men always get the funny lines, and I wanted to tell a story where women are real characters and they have the funny lines and the pratfalls," Kerwin said.

Kerwin wrote a story about women trying to track down plus-ones for a wedding and turned it into an empowerment story.

"Women are told there are specific rules about dating: you can't hit on a guy, it's a turnoff, and I don't think that's true," Kerwin said. "If we can inspire women to take control of their life and say, 'I'm gonna go ask him to have coffee with me,' that's the best thing that could come out of this."

Kerwin added that the film's reception at festivals has been beyond what she's hoped.

"We expected our demographic to be 25 to 40 year old women, but men have liked it, too," Kerwin said. "I think if you're telling a story that's honest, with real moments, everyone is drawn to that."

For a full list of films and showtimes or to purchase tickets, visit

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