Posts Tagged ‘Documentary film


“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.


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.

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