About Barbara Van Cleve's American West Documentary

High above the southern plains, a jagged mountain range reaches into the clear sky — the Crazy Mountains

A mystical range young to the Western hemisphere, but long-treasured by humans. In the deep recesses of its heart, it offers the mysteries of remote wilderness. On its crumbling edges, it bleeds ice blue water into the plains that nurture game, cattle, and ranchers. Here, enveloped in the beauty of the West, the Van Cleves painstakingly built a legacy of land and lore. Read more about the American West Documentary below.

Barbara Van Cleve has one goal: Capture the enchanting feeling of what it is like to live the Western experience

 As a 5th generation Montanan, Barbara spent every summer at the Lazy K Bar Ranch her grandparents and parents built. Most of her life, including her childhood, was seen from behind a lens. She has captured enough candid moments of grit and beauty throughout the years to brush the top of a cowboy’s hat. In her photography, the world can witness the beauty, camaraderie, and femininity often dismissed in mainstream representations of the West. She is inspired to capture it all.

Barbara hails from a long line of Westerners.

Like the railroad, the Van Cleves paved a way for their family and those after them, to make a mark on the West. Over the decades, the Van Cleves built a large ranch in Montana. Their presence penetrates through generations of Western expansion, carrying legend-making triumphs and tragedies. Strong, wild, and hard-working, the Van Cleve family is symbolic of the frontier they call home.

Barbara traveled beyond the scope of Montanan borders to capture the heartbreak and joys of authentic ranch life in the American West.

She returned every summer knowing that the land was an unchanging element of her family’s life. When it came time to sell, her siblings didn’t connect with the land that Barbara dedicated her life to documenting. The ranch was her family’s legacy, and a deep sense of loss fell over her when they sold the Lazy K Bar.

Barbara Van Cleve’s American West explores the Van Cleve family’s hard-won and very successful expansion over the decades. Furthermore, exploring how the land and her family’s legacy are inextricably tied together into a vision of the West. Through the imagery of Barbara’s most iconic work with never-before-seen archival footage of early Montana, viewers will experience the West through Barbara’s eves. She recounts family moments relative to the development of the American West and the realities of being a woman rancher. She discusses Montana’s changing landscape and culture and what it means to build an identity tied to open space. The eventual sale of the family ranch is the distinctive heartbreak Westerners feel when their land is no longer theirs. Be it loss of land or death, the West continues, but will the ranch life Barbara captures remain?

Aesthetic Approach

The American West Documentary

The shooting style blends verité documentary techniques with the aesthetics of the western genre. Using archival film of early Montana, reenactments of key events in Barbara’s family history, and visuals of Barbara’s work along the years paints a picture of the past. On the other hand, utilizing the current day observational shooting of Barbara and the changing landscape of the West aids us in telling the story of the present. Together the two elements will harmoniously blend, merging the past and the present seamlessly.

Structurally, the film weaves together the stories behind Barbara’s most famous works with her family’s eventual sale of their guest ranch in Montana. In turn, revealing the deep and often transient relationship, Westerners have with the land.

The historical representations of the American West and the abiding desire to own a part of it are the backdrop. Meanwhile, personal accounts juxtapose insights about Western representation in art and culture. Stirring sights and conversations with the Van Cleves on their present-day ranch and the current landowner of the Lazy K Bar. As well as a renowned Western historian, a member of the Forest Service, and the proposed inclusion of a Crow tribal representative and a local journalist covering the Crazies’ land-use debates.

Director's Statement

This is the story of how Barbara and her family have left their imprint on the land of the Crazy Mountains. This local and traditional, yet extraordinary story reflects the history of the state that I now call home. I have great respect for what the Van Cleve’s built for themselves but ultimately sold.

The observational style of filmmaking I use will enable viewers to experience Barbara’s vision of the West. I push to find the subtle alchemy between camera, subject and moment.

Our Distribution Strategy

 Barbara Van Cleve’s American West producers will focus on building the social media audience even before production. We will have an experienced social media marketer manage the campaign early into the production stage. Then they will expand it as we move through post-production, festival premieres, and distribution. Part of this process requires involving other groups interested in the film. Our strategy is to release information, photos, and short clips during production. Thus, building awareness, recognition, and excitement around the film. Upon completion of the film, we will assess the festival situation and explore a targeted theatrical release through a specialized screening organization. (Such as Film Sprout) Then we plan to actively seek a deal with either a major distributor or platform.

 Our producers hope to exploit all the Video on Demand Options. Including SVOD (subscription), TVOD (transactional), and AVOD (Advertising Supported Video on Demand). In addition to more traditional options, e.g., linear outlets (broadcast like PBS or satellite like CNN) and manufactured media (DVDs). Producers will also explore the educational space to either carve out or include marketing aimed at this potentially lucrative area.

 The goal: to produce multiple revenue streams so we can adjust the distribution as the world moderates post-pandemic. We will keep in consideration that some SVOD outlets like Netflix prefer to purchase all the rights upfront. Our team will continually assess the viability of our approaches as the film progresses, looking at the current state of the market and drawing on our contacts in distribution and media. We will adjust both marketing and distribution as needed. The goal will always remain the greatest visibility for the film and the fastest return on investment to our investors.