Tree Hunter: Portrait of an American Artist

: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


Known as the "trail tree guy," Dennis Downes is a self-taught artist working to preserve ancient trees shaped by Native Americans to guide travelers through the wilderness. 



“I am simply fascinated with what came before us and the beautiful and hostile surroundings in which people lived and survived."

Artist, Dennis Downes has a devoted following in the West and the Great Lakes Region where he grew up. His art sales have funded his research and he is nationally recognized for documenting the last Native American trail trees and inspiring communities to protect them. These trees, found in nearly every state, were purposely shaped by tribes for hundreds of years to help travelers navigate through the wilderness.

Dennis's extensive body of work includes paintings, giant trail tree sculptures and living council circles. His art is often inspired by his travels and historical studies of Native Americans and the early European settlers. The process is as important as the resulting artwork. Each of his original paintings has a unique frame and Dennis often makes his own paints and paper from native plants. His longtime followers and patrons love knowing that their paintings are made with such meticulous care and layered with local history.


Our film will take you on Dennis’s trail tree journeys and tell the story of a complex and determined artist who has overcome great challenges for the sake of authenticity. We have a rich archive of footage and are seeking funds to complete the editing and last stages of filming. Our intention is to create an inspiring, informative and entertaining television documentary targeted to everyone. It will be entered into film festivals and have limited theatrical screenings.



Lesley Topping - Director, Producer

Lesley is filmmaker, writer, and editor for documentaries, feature films, shorts and multimedia presentations.  Since 2016, she has directed, written and edited 7 films for the Scarsdale Historical Society including a documentary on the history and recovery of the Bronx River. She edited Emmy award winning documentaries for the Cousteau Society Rediscovery series, and television programs for A&E, PBS, and CBS News. She has worked in post production on many features including  WHAT HAPPENED WAS directed by Tom Noonan, YEAR OF THE DRAGON and THE SICILIAN directed by Michael Cimino and STREAMERS directed by Robert Altman. 

Gary Donatelli - Producer

Gary and Dennis were friends at Glenbrook North High School in iIllinois and reunited filming Dennis's work and adventures His credits include directing soaps including ONE LIVE TO LIVE (1998-2011), ANOTHER WORLD, and GENERAL HOSPITAL. He also produced the feature film 23 BLAST directed by Dylan Baker. As a DP and camera operator he has shot numerous sports events and music video for artists including Neil Young, Madonna, Willie Nelson and many others.

Vanessa Procopio - Consulting Editor

Vanessa is an awarding winning editor with numerous credits in documentaries, features and television programs. Some of the extensive credits include GENIUS (Aretha Franklin), THE GET DOWN, MAKING OF THE MOB, Egg the Art Show and many documentaries for Bill Moyers.

Trish Dalton - Consulting Producer

Trish Dalton is an award winning independent director/producer. With a focus on social issues and the arts, several of her documentaries have been used as tools for change. Trish was named one of People magazine’s ten “Women Changing the World in 2020” for directing the HBO Sports documentary STUDENT ATHLETE and encouraging legislative change at the federal and state level to protect college athlete’s rights. Her film credits include STUDENT ATHLETE, ELECTION YEAR, BORDERING ON TREASON, SOUTHMOST U.S.A., ONE NIGHT STAND, and KERAS & MANIS. Her documentaries have broadcast on PBS, HBO and Ovation after screening at dozens of film festivals, including: SXSW, Miami, Boston Independent, Denver Starz, Nashville, True/False, DOC NYC, Full Frame, and Tribeca. Find links to her work on her site:


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