Archive for the 'Video' Category


“Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” is Here

Exactly three weeks ago, my video “Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” had its premiere. Some of you might recall my post over two years ago, when I first started filming for this project. The work actually began in the fall of 2011, when I requested and later received a grant from the Suburban Ramsey/Washington County Cable Commission to create a program about the low water levels in White Bear Lake, the centerpiece of my community.

When I first visited Minnesota over 25 years ago, I “discovered” and fell in love with the astonishingly beautiful and varied freshwater here. Later, after working in public health and contemplating what might be the most personally meaningful and impactful issue I could work on, I decided to focus on the sustainability of water. It’s critical for all creatures to survive and thrive, yet in so many ways and places it’s under threat. I saw the situation of White Bear Lake as an opportunity to learn about and explore different aspects of a water crisis in the making, and to engage others in this process as well.

Working on the video, I talked with scientists, attended presentations, studied maps, and was present for different hydrological monitoring activities. During the drilling of a well over 600 feet down into the Mount Simon aquifer, I witnessed a cross-section of geological layers progressively brought up by the drill. I felt humbled to see how interconnected we are to past millennia, through water.

As I talked with different people, I got a sense of the politics, social dynamics, and varieties of personal meaning the lake has for people locally and regionally. For me, working on the video was like spending precious time with an ailing friend. While recognizing how the face of the lake has changed, I’ve continued to feel that White Bear Lake has a unique and delightful spirit. I was happy to have an excuse to spend time together. In fact, I typically had great fun when I was out by the lake with my video camera, capturing images of the water and meeting new people who were open and generous with their thoughts, stories, and time.

As I gathered more and more information—and hours and hours of footage—I struggled greatly trying to decide how to tell this story. I wondered how much technical and political and social information to provide, how much of my own voice (both figuratively and literally) to include, and how to end my story in the midst of an evolving situation. During months of “writer’s block,” and months chipping away at editing, I was helped along by feedback and encouragement from friends, associates, and a documentary filmmakers group I belong to. A friend willing to help with camera work, and others who provided sound and animation expertise all generously lent their time and skills when there were things I couldn’t manage on my own. Now I’m relieved to find myself at the other end. Completion is sweet.

Yet, the completion of my video is also what I hope will be the beginning of a shared conversation among us, and new or expanding relationship between you, water, and White Bear Lake.


save our symphony!

Last week I was busy shooting video, once again for Barbara Britain and her documentary program featuring Elden Lawrence, a Dakota Elder, which I have written about in a previous post.

One of the places I filmed Elden was at the Minnesota History Center, at a new exhibit called ‘Then Now Wow!‘ This exhibit contrasts how things used to be in Minnesota with how they are today. It’s the first exhibit the Center has designed especially for children.

I also had the opportunity to make this video for Save Our Symphony Minnesota, a group formed just a couple weeks ago to give voice to all who want to see the end to a management lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, which has lasted for nearly a year (coincident with a similar crisis at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra). The Orchestra’s board, after raising $50M for a renovation of Orchestra Hall, has been seeking to make radical cuts to musician compensation, shrink the size of the orchestra, diminish the Conductor’s artistic authority, etc., and musicians have been scrambling to make ends meet during protracted contract negotiations. There’s a lot more not to like about this situation and I refer you to SOSMN’s website and Facebook page for more of the ugly details.

When I reflected on what I was capturing this past week, I realized that, with orchestras facing an uncertain fate in Minnesota as well as many other places globally, our two world class orchestras in the Twin Cities could be candidates for inclusion in the ‘Then Now Wow!’ exhibit in the not-so-distant future.

Imagine that: Two orchestras in Minnesota that used to regularly perform classical music of the highest caliber, allowing the public to hear major works played by the best soloists and interpreted by the best conductors in the world, both live and through recordings. Two orchestras with musicians that served as teachers for those who wanted to learn to play the violin, the bassoon, the tympani.. and experience the pleasure given and received in playing. Imagine that they are a thing of the past. Gone. That all we have left are recordings from 20 years ago, and that there are hardly any musicians left who are able to play the great classical works of music.

I can’t quite believe this is really happening, but it is.


Archive X: Train Circuit

Last month I had the opportunity to prepare a 45 min. video for use at the Northern Spark Arts Festival in St. Paul, MN. Specifically, I was asked to create a video from archival footage involving trains, that could serve as video fodder for John Keston’s Instant Cinema project. In this project, three musicians would improvise based on live A/V feed from around the festival as well as my pre-edited work.

Northern Spark is inspired by celebrations of the Summer Solstice, and so runs all night long. It’s an amazing assembly of performing arts, this year spread out across the Lowertown area and including the recently restored, but still empty, Union Depot. Attracting over 20,000 people – who seemed to be mainly 20 and 30-somethings, I found the event to have a delightful, mellow and magical vibe.

Jon Steinhorst, the Instant Cinema project’s Artistic Director, gathered archival footage from and pretty much let me loose. I loved having this excuse to experiment, and especially to play with effects much more than with my other documentary work. In many ways this was more like painting and collaging. Plus, I LOVE trains!

Making the video for this purpose was a special challenge, as I was trying to make it interesting visually, but also design the audio in a way that the band could incorporate, mixing it in and out. I had no idea what they would find most useful, but I tried to limit the narration and orchestral music that accompanied most of the footage.

The version you see here is one I’ve further edited for audio to make this even more of a stand-alone piece. There are five main “movements,” each with its own feel and theme. I had a blast making it, and hope you like it too!

PS, It’s the nature of trains to take you on a journey, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.


Hampton Beach Sunrise

Last week I was perusing some older photographs and came across shots I’d taken in 2008 on the beach in Hampton, NH at daybreak. Since we recently had our first snow here in Minnesota and every day brings more and more darkness, these images were a welcome, reviving sight.

Much appreciation to my good friend K.R. Seward for sharing his lovely music.



Over the past year I’ve been serving as a videographer for the Suburban Community Channels TV series ‘Prairie Profiles,’ produced by Barbara Britain. During this time, Barb has been focusing on stories surrounding the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of this appalling period in Minnesota and U.S. history. We’ve done interviews with a number of different historians, to share stories of the events and individuals from that time.

Yesterday we were at the Minnesota History Center, where we had the honor of talking with Dr. Elden Lawrence, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota elder, historian, writer, and past President of Sisseton Wahpeton College. Elden told us the story of how his great grandfather Lorenzo Lawrence helped rescue three settler women and thirteen children who had been captured by Dakota from the Lower Sioux Agency. His actions put his own life and those of his family members at risk of being killed by other Indians and non-Indians alike. You can read a previously recorded oral history of this event here.

In sharing how he came to be a historian, Elden spoke about how, despite growing up on a reservation, he lacked knowledge of his own tribal and family history. As an adult, it became his quest to learn more, in order to better understand himself and his people. His research led him to discover with surprise his own family connection to Lorenzo Lawrence and Lorenzo’s unique story. Elden said he felt that without a sense of our own culture and history, we cannot be fully grounded. In researching his ancestors’ stories to find personal meaning, Elden has brought to light information and perspectives that are of benefit to all of us. His book The Peace Seekers, for example, tells the stories of Christian Dakota that are often missing from both white and Native accounts. The quotes I’ve read from this book are ones I find very compelling, and I’m looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the topic of vocation, it made me wonder whether each of us has a particular, personal quest to fulfill, whether we’re aware of it or not. Something that drives us, that we can’t help but be curious about, because it has some sort of personal significance to us. It seems like people who approach their quests with the greatest fidelity – at the risk of being shamed for being selfish or challenging the status quo – are often able to make contributions that go way beyond serving themselves, to serve many others. People like Elden.

For more information about the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 and its historical context, I highly recommend as a starting place North Country: The Making of Minnesota by Mary Lethert Wingerd. If you don’t know about the genocide that occurred during that time, please take time to learn more.


The Lowdown on ‘Surf’s Up!’

I spent several days last week up on the North Shore of Lake Superior – this time on a retreat to try and gain a greater sense of direction related to my work life. I had the opportunity to work with life coach Marcia Hyatt, and to stay in her cheerful yellow cabin on the water’s edge.

Any career guide will tell you, the place to start in choosing a fulfilling career is to know and understand oneself, so that is where we began. Self-reflection isn’t new to me, but I was curious to know if anything else valuable might surface. So, I wrote, I drew in a visual journal, I hiked up a mountain, I did ki breathing and yoga, I talked with Marcia and played in her sandplay box, I didn’t talk with anyone else for a day, I wrote some more, I paid attention to my dreams..

By the middle of the second full day, I was tired of focusing on myself. Since the night before, prodigious waves had been crashing relentlessly, and the sky was a churning kaleidoscope of dark clouds and blinding sunlight. I thought it would be fun to send a clip of the waves to some friends, so grabbed my iPad to capture some video. Just one clip though, didn’t seem to do the scene justice, so I kept shooting more. Back at my cabin, I searched around for some video editing software for the iPad, and started throwing my clips together, making a slapdash video I ended up posting on Facebook.

All the while I felt like I was totally goofing off, and not doing the work I had come to do. Toward the end of my retreat, trying to discern what I might have accomplished, I was reminded of the Tao Te Ching – of doing without doing, of being so in harmony with nature that there is no sense of conscious effort. Among the insights I experienced during the week, this video and other spontaneous things I did when I was taking a “break” were at least, if not more telling than the more deliberate thinking I had done.

Who are you when you goof off?


New water project

From this blog or otherwise, you probably know I have a special interest in water. This week I started video production on a new documentary about regional issues of water use, that I’m guessing will have a lot to say about our consciousness and management of water in Minnesota.

Right here in the northeast Twin Cities metro area, the water levels in many lakes have been steadily decreasing in recent years to historical lows. The reasons for this have not been clear. Around White Bear Lake, the situation has obviously impacted residents and businesses on the lake. But it’s also seriously compromised the lake’s recreational features, likely affected local tourism, and been a major downer for a community whose identity is centered around this beautiful and historical body of water.

Moonrise over White Bear Lake, January 2012

This past year city, county, state and federal governments collaborated to support research by the US Geological Survey (USGS) to determine the cause of White Bear’s lake level declines. The findings to date were presented at a White Bear Lake Conservation District meeting this week.

One of my most formative experiences when first coming to Minnesota was taking a limnology field course at Lake Itasca, and I’ve been something of a water geek ever since. I’m still trying to get a handle on all the USGS study findings, but am fascinated by the methods they used – sampling wells to look at isotopic markers of different water sources, using a submarine EcoMapper to sample water quality along the lake bottom to find indications of seepage, examining well pumping volumes over time, etc. – to figure out what may be going on.

If you’re interested, you can soon view the findings at the USGS website. In a nutshell, the data indicate that our recent decline in lake levels are associated with greater pumping from high capacity wells (commercial, municipal, and irrigation) that has come with increased development in nearby cities. To a lesser extent, the decline also reflects a decrease in precipitation over the last several years. It’s pretty clear that our water use and water bodies in the area are directly linked through the Prairie du Chien aquifer below us.

What happens next will be the main subject of this film. I’m especially interested in capturing the community and planning discussions, as well as any policies and/or actions that may result.

This week at the Conservation District meeting, working with the videography and production assistance of Tim Splinter, we were able to capture a range of questions from the Board and residents during the meeting itself, as well as additional comments from local residents, a business owner, and a civil engineer. The meeting room itself was packed.

Among the people we talked with was Fletcher Driscoll, a distinguished hydrogeologist and lakeshore resident. His comments mirror the feeling I have that we may be entering a new era in our relationship to water here in Minnesota.


Prayers for Healing

Well, I’m finally to the point where I can show you this – the video I’ve been working on in some shape or form over the last couple years! I’ll let the video speak for itself, and welcome your comments. In this post, however, I’d just like to say a few words about the process of producing a video like this.

This isn’t my first experience producing. In particular, in 1998 I served as Executive Producer of the public television program Town Meeting: A Community Response to Sexual Violence when I was working at the Minnesota Department of Health. In many ways this current project reflects my own evolution from that experience on a personal and professional level.

Since ‘Town Meeting,” which dealt with the effects of sexual violence and the need for prevention at the community level, I have continued to learn a lot about the things that lead to pain and harm in our society. I’ve also learned from other people, from research, and from my own experience about things that are especially important in helping us stay healthy and weather life’s challenges.

Part of what I’ve come to believe is that violence, abuse and despair cannot be prevented or overcome without healing.  Feeling connected, cared for and at peace can happen in many places and many ways. The Healing Ministry that’s described in this video is one avenue I’ve found that offers access to these things in a thoughtful and powerful way.

As a member of the Healing Team, I worked with the group off and on over the course of about a year  to examine the ways we understood and might communicate about this kind of ministry. We talked about our own experiences, the effects, concerns and fears we’d observed, and language that seemed to best capture something that ultimately transcends words. I also had conversations and meetings with the church leadership, to understand their views and seek their approval for the project.

When it came time to start filming, I started asking people who came for prayers about their experience. The people you see in the film were the only ones I interviewed – mainly because I found what each of them said, and said so eloquently, was all that was needed. I confess I feel that throughout this process there was a certain grace at work, consistent with the ministry itself.  Filming and editing took place over about 6 months total, with the final product completed this past summer. Once the video itself was done, there were legal/procedural issues that took additional time and energy, and which, while trying, offered still more lessons about production and opportunities to experience the Spirit at work.

For the Town Meeting, I had a producer, director/editor, crew, television studio, and contracting organization to work with.  For this project, I was flying solo – producing, filming, lighting, sound, interviewing, editing.. the whole deal.  While it’s been a long process, it’s also been very gratifying to use and develop my skills through this project, to build on what I’ve learned and experienced, and to share that with you!

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