For years, Kalispell native Nicolas Hudak has honed his creativity far from the Flathead Valley, living in Italy, studying in New Zealand and working in Germany. But when it came time to work on his first full-length feature film, there was only one logical place to go: home.
“If I succeed in making this film the way I hope to, it will be because of the people, resources and support I have here,” Hudak said. “You realize how many great connections you have (at home) when you move somewhere else.”
Since October, Hudak and his partner Anu Webster have been regularly making the 100-some mile trek to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where they hope to make a documentary. At its core, the film would address what it means to be Native American in the 21st century by focusing on five different tribal members of varying generations.
“The main idea is to show a group of people coming from this place where there are these challenges, really elements of a third world country,” Hudak said, “but also such a deep cultural and spiritual history.”
Hudak is fastidious in his approach. In the more than four months that he’s been traveling to the reservation, he hasn’t filmed a single moment. Instead, he’s focused on forming relationships with a few tribal members at a time and learning what stories they think need to be told.
Ultimately, he says, they will determine the film’s message.
“You’ve got to do all the research and spend the time,” he said. “If all you want to do is go and shoot stuff then your film’s going to look like it.”
As a teenager growing up in Kalispell, Hudak was drawn to photography – a medium that captured elements like observation and storytelling that he was passionate about. Gradually he worked his way from photo into film, a progression that led him to a very “comfortable and natural place.”
When he was just a sophomore in high school, Hudak moved with a friend to Sardinia, Italy. He spent the next few years living in Europe and Montana and eventually finished high school at Flathead Valley Community College. He made his first film, a documentary on rock climbing on the Italian island of Sardinia, with local filmmaker Michael Javorka.
Film schools in California were too expensive and “a different scene” from what he was looking for, so on the suggestion of a FVCC professor, Hudak headed off to study in New Zealand.
“The debate a lot of times is whether to jump into the business or go to school,” he said. “School takes a lot of time and patience, and you do a lot of unfunded and maybe impractical work. But the beauty is having the time you need to absorb and observe everything. You learn how to think.”
Hudak’s devotion to detail is evident throughout his work– and even his personal habits.
As interesting topics come up in conversation, he jots notes in a small journal to remind himself to look up a film or story. On his Web site, trailers for his fictitious independent short films and documentaries skillfully marry music, text and images. Together with Webster, he’s tackled topics from textile tariffs in New Zealand to eating disorders, relationships and a song fabled to have inspired hundreds of deaths by suicide.
Hudak’s photos from working trips to Mumbai, India, last summer capture poignant moments of everyday life there: a child playing with a balloon in an alley way; women doing laundry by hand outside; and a small girl grasping an elderly adult’s hand.
He was in the city working on a New Zealand TV series crew documenting how the country’s rich were helping the poor. The show is good, he says, but the photos – snapped on location between filming – represent his personal artistic vision.
“Everyone has their own perspective or vision of the way they think things should be,” he said. “I really connect with these photos, whereas I can watch the film, but don’t connect with a lot of it.”
Prints of some the photos from India are on display and for sale in Ceres Bakery in downtown Kalispell through the end of the month. Proceeds from the photo sales go toward the Browning documentary. Hudak is also working to meet nonprofits and businesspeople that would want to collaborate on the project and is applying for grants.
“It’s like a whole bunch of eggshells and you’re breaking through the eggshells to find the right people,” he said. “The patience to do it right is worth it, though.”
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