Hanna Ranch director Mitch Dickman on Kirk Hanna's legacy
Kirk Hanna was a cattle rancher, a conservationist and a Colorado legend before his untimely death at age 43. His pursuit of a utopian vision for the ranching way of life, and his impact on open-space preservation and resource management, are just part of the story told in Hanna Ranch, a new documentary from director Mitch Dickman. Hanna's vision for the future of ranching may be what makes his story worth sharing, but at its heart, it's a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare, full of conflict and despair, with vivid characters and an inspirational vision of a world that balances the needs of rural and urban populations for a better future for all. Hanna was a Colorado original, and the film offers a rich character study, an engaging narrative and a compelling argument for the importance of the man's work and his legacy. Before the film opens today at the Sie FilmCenter, we spoke to Dickman about how he came to work on the project, the challenges he faced and the state of Hanna's legacy today.
Westword:Can you give us a quick overview of the story, and what Hanna Ranch is all about?
Mitch Dickman: Hanna Ranch tells the story of one man's fight to protect his family and his land. It's indicative of a lot of the challenges that have occurred in the West, and that occur to this day. It delves into conservation, mental health, family and food.
How did you come to this project? What was your introduction to Kirk Hanna's story
My introduction to the story was [an article] on the ten-year anniversary of his passing in the Rocky Mountain News, rest in peace, and I read it and got the whole story, or as much as you can get from a newspaper article, from that. I filed it away with a lot of other things that I thought would be a good idea to turn into a film. This turned out to be one I couldn't stop thinking of.
Hanna's story has been well covered in local media across the state, and it's such an iconic story of the Mountain West and the ongoing conflict between urban and rural communities, but somehow the whole thing is still somewhat obscure. Is there a reason for that?
I think part of it is, they use the term "visionary" to describe [him] and by nature of that, he was ahead of his time. A lot of the things he was talking about, that he was getting press for, a lot of people thought he was out in left field. The work that he started so many years ago is still being done now. It's one of those "quiet hero" stories -- somebody whose impact might be greater than it appears on the surface, as it's covered by the news media. I think there's a lot of people similar to Kirk Hanna who've done tremendous work and it's gone unnoticed, but his is at the top and the tragedy that goes with it adds a whole other layer than makes his story different.
He certainly makes for a fascinating character. It seems like his story would translate well to a narrative feature.
Yeah, I don't know if you heard the story, but that is the genesis of [the project]. I first wanted to fictionalize the story and after about six months I went down and asked Ann [Hanna, Kirk's widow], and it was just an awkward moment to sit down with her and say, "I want to purchase your life story and make a fictional film from it." As you can kind of tell from the film, she's pretty tough as nails, and she was like, "No, that's not going to happen." Then she rolled out all those newspaper articles out on the floor and said, "There's your film."
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