By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – “Homesteads to Huntley” is a newly released documentary that chronicles Big Sky’s history from its early days as a tiny ranching community to the opening of Big Sky Resort under Chet Huntley’s guiding vision.
Outlaw Partners joined forces with Huntley’s daughter, Sharon Kahn, and Big Sky residents Kristin Kern and Anne Marie Mistretta to produce the 26-minute film that brings this story to life. Kern is Huntley’s niece and Mistretta, who also wrote the film’s script, is the chair of the Historic Crail Ranch Conservators committee.
The film consists of a narrated montage of interviews with the Huntley family and key players in the resort’s establishment, archival photographs, historic news footage, and early resort plans and sketches. The film begins with a brief history of the Crail family and other Gallatin Canyon homesteaders then shifts its focus to Huntley, who was also born into a Montana ranching family.
“Homesteads to Huntley” follows the iconic newscaster’s path from his youth through his long tenure on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” and his return to Montana—where he would live just long enough to see his dream of making this area an outdoor recreation destination a reality with the opening of Big Sky Resort.
“Homesteads to Huntley” premiered at a private showing for the Gallatin Canyon Women’s Club on July 12 at The Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. Three generations of Huntleys were present for the screening including Huntley’s daughter Sharon Kahn, her son Rik Arensmeier and his two sons—Chet’s great-grandsons—Sam and Daniel Arensmeier.
“I think the history of a place is incredibly important,” said Kahn, explaining why she felt making this film was necessary. “It’s important to know where you come from, what and who was there before you, before everyone who is here now—especially when you’re talking about a location that has expanded and grown into what is today.”
After the screening, the Huntley family stopped at the Big Sky Visitor Center to be photographed in front of Chet Huntley’s antique roll-top desk before heading to his former home on Chief Joseph Trail.
In addition to its educational value, the film was of personal import, both for Kahn—who said she can’t watch her father’s last broadcast on NBC without shedding a tear—and especially for her son and grandsons who got to share the big-screen viewing experience together.
When Kahn’s son Rik was 10 years old he spent two weeks in Big Sky with his grandfather. “The greatest memories I have were always with my Grandad Chet,” Rik said. “He and I shared a love for the land, the mountains, the rivers and especially fly fishing. He taught me to fish on some of the greatest rivers in the world: the Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone.”
Rik’s 33-year-old son Daniel hadn’t seen the film prior to the July 12 premiere. “‘Homesteads to Huntley’ was fantastic,” he said. “Not only did it open the life story of my great-grandfather Chet but it also put everything into perspective of how Big Sky came to be and what it took to make his dream a reality.”
“It made [the boys] connect to their great grandfather in a way that they wouldn’t have if we were just sitting around talking about him,” Kahn said. “It was a very important moment.”
“Homesteads to Huntley” is now available for viewing at homesteadstohuntley.com.