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Young filmmakers Evan Wright, Erin Maxness, Austin Giarde, and Lance Gonzalez

Young filmmakers Evan Wright, Erin Maxness, Austin Giarde and Lance Gonzalez produced a short documentary film about teen life in East Helena.

Four East Helena teenagers filmed a movie that's lifelike, loving and connected to their sense of place in their hometown, and it's showing in East Helena tomorrow.

The documentary, "Just A Simple Town," is about teen life in East Helena. It was filmed this past summer, said Krys Holmes, executive director of The Myrna Loy in Helena. It's part history, part digging into the feelings the filmmakers associate with their town, a cultural exposition of how small towns build themselves up and view that edifice.

Its first showing was in September at the Myrna, a premiere for a short documentary that had the filmmakers answering audience questions after showings. And at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday it will be screened at East Helena City Hall. Admission is free. 

"It's a huge deal to be able to give a miniature experience (of a premiere) to these kids," Holmes said.

According to filmmaker Lance Gonzalez, "I was nervous, because I didn't know what to expect. It felt like an enormous opportunity had been given to us."

Filmmaker Evan Wright agreed. 

"It was a milestone," Wright said. "Look at how much we've accomplished."

The film's first premiere pulled some serious numbers, according to Holmes.

"We had to have two showings because it was in the little theater," Holmes said. "They did an amazing job of answering questions and passing them on to each other."

Austin Giarde has been interested in filmmaking since he was in the fourth grade and was introduced to Apple's iMovie video editing software. He saved up for two years to buy Final Cut Pro, but "Just a Simple Town" was his and the rest of the crew's first film made together, and also that they were paid to create.

"We wanted them to have the experience of being a paid artist," Holmes said. The entire experience of being a working artist was an important part of the process, according to Holmes and the filmmakers, all the way up to Giarde having the realization that the project was going to be a lot bigger than he thought.

"We underestimated it at first," Austin said. "We were underprepared." 

But that worked out. The film, which features Giarde's narration, acting by Gonzalez and Erin Maxness, and Wright's guitar playing, comes across as a thoughtful meditation on being from a town that is in the midst of a sea change, and the young people who are in the middle of it. 

The documentary is part of a larger cultural revitalization of East Helena called "cultural placemaking."

"It's putting artists in the middle of civic planning," Holmes said.

An effort known as the Food and Culture Hub is part of the Myrna's long-term plan to bring culinary courses, partnerships with schools and the city, gardening, a community kitchen and other creative projects that draw on East Helena's identity.

"We want to help these kids figure out their creative voice and how to use it," Holmes said. "There's a pattern of the industrial company town that needs to transform into a vital, self-sustaining community," Holmes said. "It's true of East Helena, as they had 100 years of smelting, nine years of EPA cleanup, and now what?"

Holmes is determined that creative works like the "Just a Simple Town" should become part of East Helena's roots.

"It's so easy to say all the good stories happened 100 years ago, or somewhere else," Holmes said. "These kids are growing up in unrepeated times with important stories."

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Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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