Hunter Weeks had found himself in Montana. His latest directorial release, Ride the Divide was about to begin a theatrical tour and he was contemplating his next move. Robert Hawkins, a fly fishing guide, lived and breathed the Yellowstone River. When the two met on a back country split boarding excursion they got to talking. A friendship was born and so was the vision for Where the Yellowstone Goes.
Robert, a 4th generation Montanan, was no stranger to life on the river. He’d grown up in a drift boat learning to fly fish with his father and mother at a young age. His mother beams with pride at the man her son has grown to be. “He’s been guiding forever. As a boy he would take my hand to help me walk through the little stream on the way to our fishing hole,” she recalls. He eventually became a professional guide, working around Paradise Valley and doing stints on Bristol Bay Drainage in Alaska for a decade. Love brought him back to Montana full time and he rounded out his year by starting a photography and design business with his wife. Year after year, in his trusty spec-free, hand-built drift boat, Robert set out with eager clients, ready to be guided through an afternoon of reeling in spotted Rainbow Trout and beloved Yellowstone Cutthroat. Though fulfilled professionally, Robert’s lingering desire to run the length of the Yellowstone tugged at his consciousness, begging to become a full-fledged plan.
Hunter, director of three independent films, was about to release his latest project, Ride the Divide. Spurred by adventure, he traveled as often as possible, soaking up cultures and experiencing new modalities of daily life. His film career had been a fantastic ride on a rocky road. Though the wounds from his sophomore slump had healed, phantom pains plagued him as he prepared to launch a new film. Uncertain of his next project, he focused on a successful theatrical tour for Ride the Divide and let life lead the way. When he was asked to document a group of ice climbers that would require a back country trek, he didn’t hesitate. Although he did find a way to practice split boarding before the actual event. This seemingly innocuous lesson set the course for what was to become Hunter’s 4th directorial release. When Robert relayed his desire to float his drift boat the whole length of the Yellowstone River all Hunter could say was, “You know, that would make a really great film.”
After countless discussions and endless hours poring over maps a plan was in place. Robert would lead the expedition from his drift boat taking basic gear and one passenger, a second when necessary. A supply raft carrying the majority of cargo with the ability to carry as many as four other people would be managed by rafting guru, Shannon Ongaro. Hunter would direct from the boats, camera in hand. His father-in-law, John Hall would ride along as crew cook in an attempt to rediscover purpose after retirement. A road crew, led by Hunter’s Ride the Divide partner, Mike Dion would capture the story from the road, scout locations and stories, and provide support to the boats. Assisting Mike in the second unit was producer, Sarah Hall, and Justin Haight, a student from Michigan yearning to gain insight into filmmaking.
Over the 30 days that followed, the group discovered wonderful people, beautiful places, and made unexpected connections. Where the Yellowstone Goes began as a simple wish that turned into more than your average place-to-place journey. It grew into a mindset, a lifestyle, and a guide for the future. Where the Yellowstone Goes is about the relationships between people and places and the importance of persevering through the challenges of guarding our priorities, values, and traditions so that future generations can thrive.