Tree Hunter: Portrait of an American Artist

: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production



Self-taught artist and naturalist, Dennis Downes, creates art that reveals our deep connections to the land and travels the country to protect the last ancient trail marker trees shaped by Native Americans.


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

Sporting a long white mustache, black leather vest and cowboy boots, Dennis Downes appears to have stepped out of the 19th century. He is a self-taught artist who grew up in a working class family in Glenbrook, Illinois and relentlessly pursued his passions to become an accalimed artist and earn a wide following and respect as 'the trail tree expert'.  Dennis has spent over thirty years crossing the country to document and inspire communities to protect the last Native American Trail Marker Trees.These trees were expertly shaped by indigenous people as navigational guides through the dense North American forests. Downes is the author of Native American Trail Marker Trees, Marking Paths through the Wilderness and the founder of the Great Lakes Trail Tree Society.

Downes' stunning paintings and sculptures reconnect us to nature and our forgotten history. He has created public installions of bronze and life-size trail tree sculptures and he has designed council circles formed with sapling trail trees planted by local communities in Illinois and Michigan. His process of creating art is as important as the finished work. Downes makes exquiste frames inlaid with natural materials and prepares his own paints and paper from native plants. Driven to understand how people once lived, he is an expert archer who makes his own fine arrows, bows and spears and he has built a beautifully crafted cabin by hand on a remote island in Canada.


We combine a rich archive of newly filmed material and interviews, with stunning images and video that Dennis has recorded himself over the years.This film explores the mystery of the trails trees and tells the story of a passionate complex artist who has overcome many challenges for the sake of authenticity. For the last five years, Dennis has been fighting cancer and in spite of ongoing treatments, he determinely continues his work.

This documentary is intended for wide release through film festivals, broadcast television, theatrical, museum and community screenings. We are currently editing the film and raising funds to complete post productions which is very costly. Your donations are greatly appreciated and are tax deductionable through the sponsorship of the Gotham Film and Media Institute.

If you prefer to send a check please contact Lesley Topping for the Gotham donation form that needs to filled out. Thank you for your support and interest.



Lesley Topping - Director, Producer

Lesley is filmmaker, writer, and editor for documentaries, feature films, shorts and multimedia presentations.  Her recent films includes  A RIVER OF OUR OWN: A history of the  Bronx River and she has written and directed many community films for the Scarsdale Historical Society. She edited Emmy award-winning documentaries for the Cousteau Society and television programs for A&E,PBS,and CBS News. In post production, she has worked 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.

Randy Ostrow - Consulting Producer

Randy Ostrow was Senior VP of Production at October Films and Executive VP of Production at USA films. He has produced numerous feature films including BASQUIAT directed by Julian Schnabel, STATE OF GRACE starring Ed Harris, Gary Oldman and Sean Penn, and Boaz Yakin's film, FRESH. In 2014 Randy recieved the Bingham Ray Spirit Award at Showeast.




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