Last Hat in Town Director: Zachary Fink Remaining showtime: 12:30 p.m., Sunday, November 18
Told through the stories of three men with three unique and intimiate ties to the rugged business of oil and gas extraction in the Rocky Mountain West, director Zachary Fink's documentary Last Hat in Town uses these character studies to tell the tale of the West's – and particularly Colorado's -- changing economic and cultural landscape. Fink is a product of the now defunct (deep, heavy sigh) ethnographic filmmaking program at CU-Boulder -- which was administered jointly by the anthropology and film departments – and as such, brings a keen eye for the ways in which the changing landscape of mineral extraction in the West affects the lives of his three main characters, and consequently the regional culture as a whole.
Shot over the course of a year, Last Hat meets up with industrial rancher Steve Wells, who happens to be something of a rarity for Western landowners in that he actually owns a large portion of the rights to the minerals that lie beneath his land. As such, he's more interested than many Colorado landowners in seeing these resources extracted because he'll get a cut of the money made, whereas most landowners only see one-time, per-well fees called surface damages. But the more land he leases to oil companies, the less he has to carry on the family business. On the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum, Last Hat introduces audiences to a roughneck oil patch worker and meth addict who gets out of prison with the odds against him, since recidivism rates among those busted for meth are disproportionately high.
“Crystal meth is a huge problem in the oil patch because of the long hours the guys work,” says Fink. “Most of them have come from out of state, they don't really have friends and family around, they're living in motels and have a ton of cash to spend and not a whole lot of places to spend it. And [oil rig worker Nathan Bassetti] found himself doing a lot of meth on the rigs and was ultimately arrested on an assault charge.”
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And while Bissetti's story is one about the yearning to get back home to place of comfort, and Wells' tale is one of being torn over care for the land that's been in his family for three generations and the possibilities of oil wealth, cowboy poet and RV vagabond T. Ray Becker acts as sort of chorus giving context to an altered landscape.
Interested in the idea that physical geography of what used to be open and wild land is now becoming an interconnected patchwork of resource extraction sites, Fink says he was less interested in telling the tale of the systems that have created this new West than he was in discovering how its inhabitants are coping.
“Oil extraction is the thread that links all of these stories, but it's more about the people. As a cultural anthropologist by training, it's more important for people to walk away from my films with a visceral understanding of what's happening to the people in my films than it is to deliver data.”
Told without narrator, and the only music played by Becker while on camera, Last Hat is a film that is wholly invested in letting its characters tell their stories with as little outside influence as possible. -- Sean Cronin