Please note: This posting was published September 25, 2009 and edited/updated March 16, 2022.
Gabriel Byrne narrates this new documentary about a small mining town in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and the miners, many of them immigrants from Ireland and England, who helped put it on the map.
In this copper-mining metropolis, the Industrial Revolution collided with the romance of the frontier, corporate capitalism battled organized labor and the country’s ever-increasing appetite for metals laid waste to land and water, yielding vast fortunes for the copper barons and a tragic environmental and economic legacy for the people of Butte.
As the title suggests, the Butte story is inseparable from the story of America. The town contributed mightily to the industrialization of the country during the 20th century, helping build the world all Americans live in today. Besides the constant dangers underground, the people of Butte weathered a massive fire, strikes, mine shutdowns, health and environmental problems and finally, the bulldozing of long-established neighborhoods to make way for open pit mining. “When they killed the houses,” one character recalls, “they killed the people.” As other once-great American cities see jobs and industry disappear—and with it, established communities that generations have called home—BUTTE, AMERICA’s relevance extends far beyond the towering mountains of western Montana.
The film originally aired Sunday, November 29, 2009, on PBS, and then later as part of the documentary line-up at Independent Lens.
You could purchase a DVD for home viewing at one point, but it is hard to track down now. The only version currently available seems to be from Berkeley Media.
Be sure to visit the official website! You will find behind the scenes videos, information about the filmmakers and the production team, educational resources, and more.