Through a hole in a rigged purse, a camera films a woman sliding half-naked down a pole. Faces fade in and out of darkness, dollar bills pile up and talking to filmmakers could result in termination. The images of Montana in the new documentary, “Stripped,” are a far cry from the landscape-filled scenes the public is used to seeing.
Montana-born filmmakers Melissa Coulier and Fleur Phillips bring audiences into the life of fast cash, bright lights and internal struggles led by exotic dancers in the state. For Coulier, the project is about more than dancing—it’s about giving the women a voice.
It took months of scouring websites like XoticSpot and Craigslist to find women willing to be filmed. Even after that, club owners put up roadblocks, threatening to fire dancers involved in the documentary and forcing the film crew to go, at times, undercover.
The all-female ground crew filmed “Stripped” over three months, focusing primarily on three women: a mother living with her child in Missoula, another raising two children and her nephew in Butte and a retired dancer working for an eye care professional in Bozeman.
The Montana Film Office was concerned about any explicit content when Coulier and Phillips initially pitched the idea, said Deny Skaggs, the film commissioner.
However, once Skaggs heard more about the film’s message and found out the filmmakers are from Montana, he decided to support the project.
“They are trying to bring a different point of view to the industry that no one talks about,” Skaggs said.
Coulier hopes Montanans watch the documentary despite the fact that its subject is taboo, adding that any hardworking individual will appreciate its message.
“There may be judgment,” she said, “but the girls aren’t keeping the clubs open, the community is.”
As an environmental science and natural resource journalism graduate student at the University of Montana, Laura Scheer reported on the competition for rail space between Montana grain growers and Bakken crude oil. She is currently a freelance writer based in Missoula. Laura enjoys spending her time outdoors, cooking without instructions and coconut oil in her morning coffee.