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Award-Winning Short Documentary Profiles Forest Service Fire Lookout

By Beacon Staff

New York filmmaker Brian Bolster was backpacking through Glacier National Park when he came across a fire lookout. The solitary day-to-day lives of people living perched atop mountains, scanning the horizon for wildfires, intrigued Bolster. The result is a 16-minute award-winning documentary, titled “The Lookout.” Bolster spent six days and five nights single-handedly filming Leif Haugen, a fire lookout for the Flathead National Forest, as he performs his daily duties at the Thoma Lookout in the North Fork area near the Canadian Border.

The documentary has been gaining attention and awards at film festivals around the country. It won the top prize at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival held recently in Missoula.

“I had a hunch that lookouts have a special connection to not only the environment around them, but also to the structure in which they live and work,” Bolster says. “As I was shooting this project, I quickly learned that fire lookouts and the individuals that staff them are an important part of our nation’s history, and I really wanted to showcase their work to audiences who may not be familiar with their unique, yet often times unnoticed, role in fire management.”

Bolster’s film reflects on solitude and the expansive landscape using impressive cinematography. One of the true rewards of being a lookout is seen through Bolster’s lens – pitch black skies peppered with bright stars; a wide open gallery of illuminated sunsets and mountain ranges.

Bolster also highlights the importance of fire lookouts to wildfire management. Fire lookouts — both the cabin structures and the individuals who station them — dot the landscape throughout the West, particularly in Montana. Flathead National Forest has four lookouts that are staffed every year during the summer and several others that can be staffed when needed.

“Fire lookouts are the quietest aspect of fire management, and many people may think we don’t staff them anymore,” Haugen says. “I hope this film helps to show that the lookout program is strong and well used in the fire management program, especially in the Flathead area. I’m very proud that my lookout friends, despite all having very different experiences based on the variety of settings they work in, have seen it and feel that the film does a good job of capturing the day in the life of a lookout experience.”

“The Lookout” is currently screening at various film festivals around the country. For more information and updates on the film, you can check out the films movie page on Facebook or email Brian Bolster at briansbolster@me.com.

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