‘Idaho Babe’ showcases the legend of the Annie Oakley of Idaho
When broadcaster/filmmaker/artist/designer/photographer/storyteller Arlie Sommer was young, her grandmother would regale tales of the woman Harriet “Babe” Hanson, dubbed the “Annie Oakley of Idaho.”
“They were wonderful [stories]. They captivated me as a child,” said Sommer. “As I got older, I'd be at a party and telling a friend about Babe Hanson … she would shoe her own horses and smoke cigarettes at the same time…you can't help but want to talk about it, so why not make a film?”
Sommer crafted a short and poetic documentary called “Idaho Babe” was a minor sensation at this year’s Sun Valley Film Festival and will be showcased in a free screening at the Idaho State Archives on June 24.
Sommer visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about Babe Hanson, her film and her next big project – new episodes of Expressive Idaho for Boise State Public Radio.
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. By this time next week, a good many more people will be familiar with the living legend who was the “Annie Oakley of Idaho.” The film Idaho Babe chronicles this buckaroo legend. It's a rather wonderful tale brought to us by storyteller extraordinaire and someone we also know on this broadcast for the series Expressive Idaho. So let's say good morning to Arlie Sommer. Hi, Arlie.
ARLIE SOMMER: Good morning, George.
PRENTICE: So up front, we want to entice our audience a bit here without giving too much away. That said, there's so much of this improbable life. So, what do you tell a stranger of who Harriet Hanson was?
SOMMER: I first came across Babe Hanson through the stories of my grandmother. They were wonderful. They captivated me as a child because she was this strong woman character from the backcountry of Idaho. A buckaroo who was out there on her own making it happen, running the Sawtooth Lodge. And, you know, as I got older, I couldn't help but I'd be at a party and telling a friend, Babe Hanson, you've got to know who she is. She would shoot her own horses and smoke cigarettes at the same time. And it's just a fun story from Idaho history that is so enjoyable you can't help but want to talk about it, so why not make a film?
PRENTICE: I'm so glad you mentioned shoeing horses because she wasn't just strong for a woman. She was strong for a human being. And there is a part of your film where we learn something about how she was dealing with a rather particular mule. And it is a jaw dropper.
SOMMER: So true. Yes, she was exceptionally strong. And that was recognized by everyone who met her. Yeah, she had to manage all of her own horses.and she took care of them. And that mean meant using exceptional strength, including shoeing horses, which is, you know, holding your horse to nail a piece of iron into their foot. And, you know, the horse is bigger than the humans. So, to be able to manage that, it's pretty amazing. But she did it with gusto. She just had so much character. And, you know, her strength didn't mean that she didn't have kindness. Everybody knew her. She was well loved, and she cared about her community and was very involved with the people in her community.
PRENTICE: Her life in the Boise National Forest……the Sawtooth Lodge… her rocky marriages… her being queer. So, talk to me, though, about how you craft the story and accessing archives.
SOMMER: Absolutely. Well, I first got interested in telling this story officially through a film during a workshop I took at Boise State, where we were exploring trans identity in art. And I have a love for Idaho history and storytelling. And I started to think, you know, where does this exist in my passions? I immediately thought of that story that always comes to mind at parties and anywhere. Babe Hanson she broke boundaries. But, you know, born in the 1800s, there wasn't a lot of language for who she was. And so I just was wanting to learn more. Went straight to the archives because I just love using the archives in all of my work. They're a wonderful resource for fun stories, fascinating photos, and just I want to know where I'm from, where we're from as Idahoans and what makes us who we are. So,that was a natural place for me to go and seek it out. Now I decided to tell this story, and I am so lucky, George, because what I found at the Boise State Special Collections and Archives, where it was VHS footage of Babe, two interviews with her on videotape of her talking about her life. I thought, it's meant to be. I have to do this.
PRENTICE: This coming Saturday, June 24th, there is a screening of Idaho. Babe. The best part about this is that you'll be there for conversations, Q&A. And if folks arrive, say, anytime between noon and two, there's a number of opportunities to engage. And this ironically and it's pretty exciting will be at the Idaho State archives and for our listeners that's off of Warm Springs and Boise it's as if you're heading over to the Botanical Garden and the state archives building …it’s a beautiful building. You can't. miss it…and the event is free. This is a real rare opportunity.
SOMMER: Right. And, you know, I should say I mentioned the Boise State Special Collections and archives, but poignantly, yes, they I found also a lot of source material for the film from the Idaho State Archives, including lots of historic photos, which I turned into stop animations. And so, part of the film is VHS archival recording. Part of it is recorded interviews with my grandmother, part of it. A lot of it is also animation that I made from historical photos. So, there's so many ways you can use the state archives. And what why? I wanted to partner with archives to screen this film for free is to bring Idahoans to the archives, to use the state resources that we share as citizens of this place. And so the archives have offered to give people tours. They're going to have a bunch of special photos out on display for people to look at that are connected to the themes of the film. And so people will be able to easily browse their resources that are available. They're going to get a give a talk on how you can use the archives for your own creative projects and how much they will help you. It's incredible what they do for people. If you're interested in a project, they really back you up. And so all of that's going to be happening there along with refreshments, of course, at the end so we can all socialize and connect as a community.
PRENTICE: I'm glad you mentioned the animation part of your film because for our listeners, if you have a storyteller in the making in your family, who knows they want to do this in some form, it did trigger something for me….thinking, “Wow, this is great storytelling with all of these different forms in some artistic marriage.” And I think it's pretty inspiring for somebody who wants to do this for a living.
SOMMER: Thank you. That is absolutely the goal, to inspire others to make things. I'm interested in social practice art, which is all about dialog with people. It's not about the artist as this genius on a pedestal. It's about community conversations and coming to new understandings through making stuff. So, let's make stuff together. Idaho That's what I say.
PRENTICE: I can't let you go without asking about Expressive Idaho and I've heard a rumor that there's more to come later this year. Tell me that's true.
SOMMER: It's so true. I'm working on it. I'm working on Expressive Idaho now, refining a lot of the stories. They're in their final stages and we have a lineup of amazing traditional artists from the state. We just have so many cool people here working on their things, including some of my favorites are going to be a blacksmith that we have going to be on the show, a circus performer, a weaver. It's just quite the variety of themes coming up for Expressive Idaho.
PRENTICE: She is Arlie Sommer and the screening and Q&A for Idaho Babe is this Saturday at the Idaho State Archives. Things get underway at noon. Don't worry about being late because there will be a few opportunities there for a few hours. Pretty exciting and early for now. Thanks for giving me some time this morning.
SOMMER: Thanks, George. Have a great day.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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