Jessica Jane Hart

Jessica Jane Hart is a Montana native who studied photography at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. After graduating in 2006 she moved to Munich Germany to work as a freelance assistant to photographers Elias Hassos, Anja Frers and Matthias Ziegler. In 2009 she returned to the US and has been working as a freelance photographer in Montana, New York and California. In 2013 she began work on her first documentary film project, Makoshika which was completed in July of 2015.

Director’s Statement

I first became interested in this region after hearing stories from my brother, who was working as a diesel mechanic. His company would send him all over Montana and the surrounding states to do field work, but at a certain point he started spending more and more time in and around Williston, ND, a small farming community that happens to be at the center of the Bakken Oil Formation. Eventually that was the only place they were sending him; oil production there was suddenly exploding. He came home one day and said that something crazy was going on. In what used to be a tiny, close knit community, the Walmart parking lot had become like a city of its own, with signs saying “no unescorted women after 10pm.” New fracking technology had re-opened the Bakken, bringing scores of new workers looking for jobs. It was the beginning of a major boom.

On a road trip to see the area for myself, I saw vast farming landscapes punctuated by new temporary housing structures that locals referred to as “man-camps,” along with huge piles of dirt moving every which way as new construction took over the environment. Shorty after that, a teacher in a small town near Williston was kidnapped on her morning jog and murdered by two men who had come to the area looking for work in the oil fields. It was a huge blow to a such a small rural community. Local and national news began to cover the rise in crime and the vast amounts of money changing hands, documenting the changes sweeping the area.

Yet, to me it seemed like a big part of the story was missing; no one was explaining what all this meant to the people involved. Rapid economic development takes place in a chaotic and uneven way, with many facets–many people were excited to have new businesses in the area but heartbroken about the changes coming with it. For some, a unique way of life was being threatened, but to others, life was being breathed back into dying communities that were on the verge of disappearing altogether. I decided to create a more in depth portrait of the region, delving into the history of the place, painting intimate portraits of the characters who have built the land through a historic evolution of dramatic economic changes.

This is what made us decide to create Makoshika, with the goal of painting a more complete picture of what is currently taking place today, following an array of characters from different perspectives as they negotiate the changes unfolding around them as well as their own histories and values. By looking into the history of the region and allowing the folks who occupy the landscape today to share their experiences both past and present, we aimed to create a truer picture of this unique and historic event.