Reviews & Comments

“Butte, America,” this week’s selection (10 p.m. Tuesday on KCPT), is as good a place to start as any. It’s one of those films you just couldn’t imagine on commercial TV — a tale about a Montana mining town that died more than a generation ago, a rich catalog of memory that ends in 1985, a story of tragedy and triumph that’s mostly played out before the invention of videotape.”

–Kansas City Star, Read Full Review

“When you were drilling and you got ready to fill the hole with dynamite, and shoved it in with a loading stick, you tapped her light. So’s you didn’t hit it too hard and it went off, and blow your head off.” Remembering what it was like in the copper mines, John T. Shea is matter of fact. “I never ever said goodbye in the morning going to work. I’d say, ‘See ya, so long, tap her light.’” He was lucky to survive, he knows. Too many of his friends and colleagues were killed in accidents. And yet they went to work each morning, like their fathers and grandfathers went to work, hoping for the best.

Shea’s story is an apt introduction to Butte, America. Pamela Roberts’ documentary—premiering this week are part of PBS’ Independent Lens—traces the history of copper mining in Butte…

–Pop Matters, Read Full Review

“Butte, America” captures the toughness of Butte but balances that with a sentimental spirit of community that’s still thriving in this scrappy town.”

–Billings Gazette, Read Full Review

“To much of the rest of the world, Butte, Montana, is known as home to an enormous, toxic hole in the ground, an emptiness where once stood the richest hill on earth. But for most of her life, filmmaker Pam Roberts has understood that the beauty and richness of Butte is a living, breathing thing. It’s an indefinable yet undeniable fact of the place, a sense of community and character that one finds in few other locales.”

–The Missoulian, Read Full Review

“There is much story to be told in the forces that shaped Butte’s community, and this is where Butte, America really shines. From a brief but notable summary of the struggle for dominance among the Copper Kings, to a detailed and riveting account of the savage wars between mining companies and labor unions, to a finely woven portrait of a group of people who stood united against the financial interests that ruled nearly every aspect of their official lives, Butte, America is a full-scale immersion into a city with the right to call its story a truly unique one.”

–Missoula Independent, Read Full Review

Butte, America goes far beyond documentary pictorialism to the deepest kind of fidelity, the spoken lives of copperdom’s miners and their families.  The struggles of the one-time world capital of copper are a dramatic and tragic chapter of our national life that every American should know by heart.”  

Ivan Doig, author of English Creek and This House Made of Sky.

Butte, America is an elegant demonstration of the potential of the documentary form, and I can’t recommend it enough. ”

New West Magazine   Read Full Review

Butte, America is fascinating, mythic, poetic, and ultimately almost overpowering in its utterly relevant presentation of the role of Butte in Montana, United States, and world history. This is an amazing story of community, beauty, and human dignity in the midst of almost ceaseless injustice, and is told with incredible skill.”

Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes from Montana, Why I Came West

“While Montana’s towering mountains, wild rivers and sweeping prairies are wondrous to behold, anyone seeking the heart and soul of the Treasure State needs to go to Butte. Pam Roberts’ stunning documentary about the history of hard rock mining under the ‘Richest Hill on Earth’ is a fascinating investigation of the tragedy of the working man and the criminal greed of copper bosses who sacrificed a city in their insatiable lust for profit.”

—William Hjortsberg, screenwriter, Legend, Angel Heart

Butte, America tells a vivid story of more than a century of industrial exploitation in the heartland of America. It’s about civilization coming into the Western wilderness, no cowboys or Indians but rather mining camp laborers from Cornwall and Ireland and Finland and America who went deeply and courageously under the earth and occasionally lost their lives in order to ensure that corporations and their owners could be wealthy and powerful beyond sensible measure. A combination of historical documentary film interwoven with interviews of living old timers, this film powerfully condemns the cold-hearted methods used to exploit essentially disenfranchised working people in Butte, methods still common in mines around the world. What to say? Glory in the proud survivors, fight against the injustices.”

William Kittredge, author of Who Owns the West?

Capitalist greed, the human health and environmental consequences of industrialization, the rise of labor unions, women’s history, and European immigration are some of the primary themes woven into the fabric of this great film. Best of all, Butte, America tells its story through the voices and eyes of its people—including interviews and archival film.”

— Pat Munday, Ecorover Read Full Review

“The photos, interviews, archive footage, score and narration are seamless. The city’s tale is etched deep in the overall history of mining across the globe, a detail thankfully not overlooked in the film. Butte, America provides great detail of what Butte was, what it is and most importantly what it can be in the future.”

Erica Yakawich, The Montana Standard Read Full Review

“Even in a colorful city filled with 150 years of history and scores of true Montana characters, it could be difficult for a documentary film maker to find a clear path to a compelling story…But Roberts and others manage to tell a lively story through a mix of interviews, historical photos, archival film footage and home video shared by folks in Butte.”

Montana Magazine Read Full Interview with Pam Roberts

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