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Missoula Art Museum to screen concert film about Butte, mining

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Marcy James

Photographer Marcy James' piece, "Lost Inside," (archival pigment print) from  "Edge of the Abyss: Artists Picturing the Berkeley Pit."

The Missoula Art Museum is hosting a free screening of “Pietà: Lament at the Edge of the Abyss” this Thursday, June 16, at 7 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.

The concert film “tells the anguished story of the Berkeley Pit” in Butte, one of the largest Superfund sites in the world.

After the screening, there will be a Q&A with some of the creators: composer Jerry Mader, artist/publisher Peter Koch and Dr. Richard Littlebear (Cheyenne).

A concert was originally arranged for last summer as part of “Extraction: Art at the Edge of the Abyss,” a decentralized series of art exhibitions and events that occurred around the U.S. last year, all on the theme of extractive industry and its effects on the environment. It was started by Peter Koch, a Missoula native, and the late Butte writer Edwin Dobb. Koch invited Jerry Mader, a composer who grew up here as well, to compose the piece. It premiered in Seattle in 2021 but the MAM date was canceled.

Thursday’s event includes a 38-minute filmed version of the concert, with the Seattle Sound Ensemble directed by Bobby Collins and violin soloist Karen Bentley Pollick. You'll also see additional live elements: “a reading of the traditional Sweet Medicine Prophesy by Dr. Richard Littlebear, President of Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana, with Cheyenne Honor Songs by Conrad Fisher, Northern Cheyenne singer, and the recorded video of the Seattle premiere of Pietá,” the news release said.

The film version “brings two sites into focus: the Berkeley Pit mine in Butte, Montana, and the strip-mining operation in Colstrip, Montana, which borders the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.”

Littlebear and Mader have collaborated before on oral history and preservation projects.

"I am composing a Lament for the mother of us all," they wrote. "I have little choice but to cry out and sing for that which is gone and beyond the illusion of resurrections; an unredeemable death ... My Lament is a Pietà; in the spirit of the mother who cradles the body of her martyred child at the base of the tree. The tree of life. The cross of death. It is a Lament without promise. It will exist only to bear witness."

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