MISSOULA — Despite the hospitals and cities that call Montana home, sometimes medical care requires out-of-state attention. One group is taking care of that issue and now their work is being recognized on the big screen.
Angel Flight West is a volunteer pilot organization that flies patients from rural areas to their doctor appointments out of state. It's literally a lifesaver for people with medical conditions that require expert care that can’t be found here.
We’ve told you in past news stories about how it’s made life better for so many Montanans. Now, the world will know in a new documentary called “Angels do Fly West”.
“You have no idea how amazing it feels,” said Angel Flight West volunteer pilot Michael Burks.
It was just supposed to be a short documentary, featuring Angel Flight West and how the program helps families who need medical care out of state and recruits pilots to help get them there.
Three years ago, producer, director and creator Joe McNeal of Missoula had read about the program in a social media post and contacted Angel Flight West Wingleader and pilot, Michael Burks.
“So, I asked him about what he would think about me doing a documentary on this and he thought that was a great idea,” McNeal recalled.
“When Joe approached me, all that mattered to me was getting help to recruit so I said, ‘no problem let’s do it’,” Burks said. “And now we have this phenomenal documentary we think is going to actually make a global impact.”
It already has. Even before its premiere, Angels Do Fly West is already winning film awards, either winning or placing in the top five in the best short documentary category. It even won in a category Joe McNeal did not enter.
“In the Los Angeles film awards it won the most inspirational movie, nominated by the judges of the film festival,” McNeal told MTN News.
The documentary tells the story of Missoula's Mya Toone and her journey with Angel flight West and pilot Michael Burks.
Mya has a rare bone condition and has spent a lot of time in Michael’s bright green airplane. Michael and his family have become a part of hers. We asked her how she felt about the film.
“I was surprised how much I was in it; I was a little bit embarrassed because my voice was so high,” Mya said. “But I really enjoyed it and it was a good message and I enjoyed it. I really hope it brings in new pilots. I really hope it helps more people. “
“I watched it about 50 times from the beginning to the editing to the end. I can tell you there was not a time I have seen this that I didn’t get choked up even though I knew what was coming. The total entire operation, everything about it, the need the strength and courage of these people. You can watch this over and over and over again and it will never go away." - Michael Burks
“I think that if people could step back and see what one thing, one flight can do and how much it benefits and helps, I think that a lot more people would do it,” noted Mya's mom Carly Brown
It is three years of work that came down to 12 ½ minutes in a documentary that’s struck a chord with those who’ve seen it. It’s a story that informs, inspires, and shows how something so simple can make a lifelong impact on another person.
It may win awards but the real prize is to continue the mission of Angel Flight West beyond these skies.
“In every state, I would love to see this branch out and see Angel Flight companies throughout the United States,” McNeal told MTN News. “I got some inquiries out of Greece and inquiries in Canada and are interested in learning more about Angel Flight so this could go worldwide.”
The original piano music in this documentary was written and performed by Troy and Anne Bashor. It was edited by Michael Town. Joe McNeal directed and produced the program and Michael Burks is the Executive Producer.
Beginning on Aug. 20, you can see "Angels do Fly West' for free on platforms like Vimeo. And you're welcome to share it.