Festival Celebrates 25th Anniversary Of "A River Runs Through It"

Sep 12, 2017

Forest fires forced some of the festival to relocate from Seeley Lake to First Presbyterian Church, 235 S. Fifth Street W in Missoula. Signs around the church note Norman Maclean's father, the Reverend John Norman Maclean, was the pastor from 1909 to 1925.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

A film describing what it was like to grow up in Missoula, the son of a Presbyterian minister who held two things sacred–God and fly-fishing–had its world premiere in 1992 in Bozeman, Montana.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka

25-years later, a festival was held to recognize how Norman Maclean's modest novella captured his family’s troubled story, and introduced a worldwide audience to the beauty of Montana, its rivers, and fly fishing.

"In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean" was a 3-day festival that wrapped up Sunday in Missoula. It was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie, “A River Runs Through It.”

Jean Maclean Snyder says before her father wrote the novella “A River Runs Through It,” he never talked about his brother Paul or his death. It wasn’t until he retired from his teaching at the University of Chicago that he sat down to write that story and finally come to grips with his brother’s death. Paul was found beaten to death in a back alley in 1942.

The book was released in 1976 by University of Chicago Press. It was recently re-published in recognition of the film's 25th anniversary.

Actor and Director Robert Redford first heard about the book in 1981. After reading it, he eventually met Maclean a few years later and began negotiations to turn it into a film. Norman Maclean finally agreed, but died before filming began. His daughter, Jean Maclean Synder, was a consultant during the filming.

“Our family is eternally grateful for their taking the story that was so dear to my father and so fragile and making sense of it for the screen,” she says.

One highlight of the festival was a panel discussion featuring key individuals from the film:

  • Actor Tom Skerritt, who played Reverend Maclean
  • Patrick Markey, Producer
  • Richard Friedenberg, Screenwriter
  • Jean Maclean Snyder, daughter and film consultant

Actor Tom Skerritt, Norman Maclean's daughter and consultant Jean Maclean Snyder, screenwriter Richard Friedenberg, and producer Patrick Markey talk about turning the slim novella into a film.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Maclean Snyder says it’s unusual for a film to have a 25th anniversary festival, but she says the impact the film had on Montanans, how it brought tourists and fisherman to the state, and helped efforts to restore the once polluted Blackfoot River are notable.

“It is unusual to have a 25th anniversary but it’s also unusual, I think, to have a movie make this much effect on the entire state,” she says.

When asked if she thinks there will be a 30th anniversary gathering, Maclean Snyder laughs, “Not like this. I think this came absolutely at the right moment.”