BUTTE — In addition to being the site for a television pilot airing on HGTV this week, Butte may also soon be the location of a new feature-length movie.
Filmmaker Raj Amit Kumar says he’s bringing his cinematic eye to Butte and locations throughout Montana with a new project called “Shopping Mall.”
Kumar said recently that “Shopping Mall” follows the lives of three men — a 17-year-old high-school student, an African-American Marine who has returned from war, and a poor, heavyset man — who find themselves in the chaos of a mass shooting at a shopping mall.
The film delves into the men’s experiences leading up to the shooting, and leaves viewers wondering whether the characters are the perpetrators of the shooting or its victims.
Themes of violence are nothing new for Kumar.
His first feature-length film “Unfreedom” was banned by the Indian government in 2015 for the movie’s depictions of sexuality and violence.
Kumar, who has a doctorate in film from Southern Illinois University and has presented his work at more than 20 film festivals in India and the United States, including the Portland and Chelsea film festivals, said the two themes have long been important ideas in his work. After all, he said, they are forces that seem to make the world go 'round.
“I think that’s what shapes our world,” said Kumar. “(The) happening of it or not happening of it, (the) containment of it or release of it, shapes how everything is structured around us.”
“If we want to understand ourselves, if we want to understand our society … that’s the place to look,” he added.
As for mass shootings, Kumar said he’s surprised that there aren’t more dramatic films on the subject given their prevalence.
“Mass shooting in America … we’ve just kind of become desensitized to it,” said Kumar. “It’s become like an everyday phenomenon.”
Incidentally, Kumar was born in Muzaffarnagar, India, which at one time was known as the second most violent city in the world after Mexico City.
“I think we make everything from our experiences,” said Kumar, when asked whether his hometown influenced his viewpoint as a filmmaker.
Should everything go according to plan, filming for “Shopping Mall” could begin sometime after October, said Kumar, who added that he’s spent about six weeks in Montana raising money, consulting with economic development officials, location hunting and sending out a casting call.
Kumar said that he has not settled on a location for the mall scenes yet, but that the movie will nonetheless be a “Butte film.”
He said he selected Butte mostly as a result of the city's Covellite International Film Festival and its co-founder Don Andrews, who has served as a kind of unofficial spokesperson for “everybody should come and make a movie in Butte,” Kumar said.
Kumar screened “Unfreedom” at the film fest last September, but he and Andrews already knew each other from the Portland Film Festival, where they both presented work.
Today Kumar is serving as a production coordinator for the Covellite and has spoken at the Covellite Cinema Club, a weekly meet up where films are screened and discussed. Meanwhile, co-writers on “Shopping Mall” include Damon Taylor, Kumar and Andrews, whose Covellite Studios is producing the film in addition to Kumar’s Dark Frames.
Aside from being the site of the Covellite, Kumar said Butte makes a good location for “Shopping Mall” because of the town’s industrial history, noting that the main characters in “Shopping Mall” are people who are “running out of steam.”
When asked what’s next for his film career, Kumar replied that he simply wants to get to the finish line on “Shopping Mall.”
“If I survive this (movie) I’ll try to make another one. What else should be the ambition? Make a move until you die, pretty much,” he said.