Toyota-sponsored documentarian has a passion for salmon and grizzly bears

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The life of an outdoor documentary filmmaker is a mix of thrilling adventures and occasional perils. For Idaho journalist Kris Millgate, she wouldn’t want it any other way.


Millgate owns Tight Line Media, a company that also specializes in visual and print journalism. Her love for nature dates back to her childhood when she scanned the skies for a rare sighting of a bald eagle near her home. Today, his work takes him thousands of miles, through winding waterways and harsh landmasses. Millgate is currently riding a tide of success, as her year-long documentary, “Ocean to Idaho,” has garnered a string of awards from several outdoor media associations and environmental-focused film festivals. His 30-minute film also earned Millgate a pair of local Emmy nominations.


“Ocean to Idaho” chronicles the journey of chinook salmon and their round-trip migration from nesting tributaries in Idaho to the Pacific Ocean and back. With a life expectancy of five years, the featured salmon will travel four rivers and three states to the Pacific, where they live for two to three years, before returning home.


“This project was on my bucket list,” Millgate said. “I saw my first salmon in 2017, near the end of its life cycle, and thought how fascinating it would be to follow this species on its journey from the ocean to Idaho.”


The fish featured in this film traveled 850 miles on their return trip. However, most never return to their original nesting sites, which is why chinook are listed as endangered. In addition to natural predators, salmon must contend with human obstacles such as electric dams and sport fishermen. While essential to the local economy and people in the area, power dams can be particularly problematic for fish, but Millgate was determined that the documentary would not be a one-sided film. She interviewed Native Americans, recreationists, farmers, conservationists, biologists and civil engineers to get their unique perspectives on the subject of dams versus salmon.


“My goal was not to tell viewers what to think, but to show all sides of a complex subject,” she said.


The documentary had a physical impact on Millgate as she devoted nearly a year to filming and production work. Her travels took her 80 miles by raft and 4,606 miles by vehicle, as she gathered her footage. The rigors of filming also forced her to use five cameras, one of which suffered a broken lens, while enduring bruises and stitches from various injuries. She also burned three surgical masks and two jugs of sanitizer, as her principal shoot took place in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


“I pretty much isolated myself on the road for everyone’s safety,” Millgate said. “It gave me some lonely times, but I’m really happy with the finished product.”


Millgate was very complementary with Teton Toyota of Idaho Falls, which provided financing and exclusive use of a Tundra pickup for the documentary.


“I couldn’t have done this project without Toyota,” Millgate said. “Their investment and involvement were essential in the making of this film.”


Travis Zmak, managing partner and managing director of Teton Toyota, said the dealership had partnered with Millgate for several years, back when it had a local outdoor TV show. He said the decision to fund “Ocean to Idaho” was personal.


“When I started talking to him about the project, I felt his passion and knew we could help him with funding. My desire to work on the documentary together was to know that I could one day fish salmon with my sons the same way my dad and I grew up,” Zmak said.


Zmak also said Teton Toyota’s relationship with a local celebrity, like Millgate, resonates with many of its customers, especially those with a strong affection for the great outdoors.


“In eastern Idaho, we are a mecca for fly fishing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and hunting, so the majority of our guests spend a lot of time outdoors. outdoors,” Zmak said. “At Toyota, we want to be the means by which people go outdoors, to pursue their passions – to help them get to the places they dream of. »


Not content to bask in its recent success, Millgate and Teton Toyota have already embarked on their upcoming documentary on the migration of endangered species. Principal filming for “On Grizzly Ground” has already begun in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. With more than 1,000 grizzlies in the area, Millgate will focus on the routes frequented by a constantly moving creature – albeit with long-range cameras.


“As big as they are, Grizzlies can travel 1,000 miles in one summer and make similar trips 30 times in their lifetime,” she said. “We need to follow them and understand them because there are bound to be more Grizzly human engagements in the future. Unlike salmon, these bears could kill me, so the majority of my filming will be from a very safe distance.


“On Grizzly Ground” will be completed later this year, with a summer 2023 release date.


Originally published July 27, 2022


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