June 1, 2016 – Vancouver – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
“With these films, you have found the worthy and given them their moment.”
– Scott C. McLeod, artist, No Other Place
Starting today, everyone can experience a taste of life in small communities across Western Canada’s southern Prairie grasslands, with the online launch of the National Film Board of Canada’s The Grasslands Project, available free of charge at NFB.ca.
Created by filmmaker Scott Parker, along with NFB executive producer David Christensen, The Grasslands Project is a collection of 10 short films exploring one of the least known of all the regions in Canada. Nine small communities across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan are featured in the project, which was shot during the summer of 2015 when Parker travelled to the region to produce short documentaries based on community-generated ideas. Subjects, themes, even interview questions were developed with significant community input and each film was screened with participants, so as to create authentic portraits of prairie life.
From May 6 to 14, The Grasslands Project played to packed, enthusiastic crowds at nine local premieres in villages and small towns across the southern Prairies. Almost entire communities turned out for emotional evenings of film and community discussion, with Parker and Christensen in attendance.
A Rancher’s View: Cattle were once considered a major threat to the integrity of the grasslands―but the cattle of rancher Miles Anderson, whose land is adjacent to the Grasslands National Park, are now seen as part of the conservation solution.
No Other Place: Five prairie artists from across the grasslands region take us to the places that inspire them.
Homecoming: Small-town gatherings are a major force in keeping rural communities vibrant. In Magrath, Alberta, we follow the celebrations through the experiences of volunteers, the cornerstone of these events.
Life Out Here: Women ranchers can ranch as well as men―or maybe better. In this film, women ranchers choose the themes to be discussed, then interview one another.
The Last One: The last surviving member of a homesteading family laments the end of an era.
Generations: A father and son navigate the coming generational change on their family’s farm, as 19-year-old Shawn prepares to follow in the footsteps of his father.
Population 21: Wood Mountain is literally a bend in the road―but for the handful of kind souls who still live in the village, there are plenty of good reasons to call it home.
Val Marie Hotel: This hotel is more than just a business: it’s the hub of the community. As its owner prepares for a big night, we learn about the importance of the hotel from the people of Val Marie.
After the Fire: Small rural communities rely on their volunteer firefighters to handle any emergencies―but in a small community, victims are often friends and family.
Les Fransaskois: Gravelbourg is considered the centre of French language and culture in the southern Prairies. In this short film we hear from the “Fransaskois” about the challenges and future of their unique culture.
To make The Grasslands Project, Parker worked with a camera and sound package uniquely suited to a single filmmaker operating in the field, with his editing suite set up in the small Saskatchewan town of Eastend. Parker lived there for six months while shooting and editing the films and spent about two months in his “mobile production unit”―a specially equipped pick-up truck.
Parker also held 12 community media workshops that were attended by journalists, librarians, historians, prospective actors, Indigenous youth, agriculture insiders, bloggers, youth with complex physical disabilities, teachers, students, and federal inmates. The project also included local folklorist and writer Kristin Catherwood, who was instrumental in clarifying the ideals behind it and helping workshop participants understand the relationship between place and story.
The Grasslands Project is the latest in the NFB’s long track record of innovation in community-based film initiatives, from the early days of travelling NFB projectionists, to the pioneering Challenge for Change, which became a model for participatory filmmaking the world over, to sustainable NFB initiatives underway in Canada’s North and groundbreaking collective interactive experiences.
Scott Parker has worked in film and television for 30 years, producing everything from music videos to documentary films. Parker has primarily focussed his career on directing and editing but also shoots his own films. His projects include the NFB’s Stories from Our Land 1.5, which was shot in the Arctic, as well as work on development films shot in remote Central American rainforests. Parker has been a mentor to emerging filmmakers and contributed to a number of community-based film workshops. In addition to his filmmaking career, Parker’s international community engagement work (notably in remote regions of Botswana) provided the invaluable experience required to make The Grasslands Project.
David Christensen is an Executive Producer at the National Film Board of Canada, where he oversees a slate of documentary, interactive, and animation productions made nationally and internationally. David manages the North West Studio, one of the six NFB English-language studios located across Canada. Recent production highlights of his studio include the Tribeca Film Festival launch of Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson’s interactive work, Seances; If I Was God, Cordell Barker’s newest animated short; as well as the NFB co-produced feature documentary Hadwin’s Judgement. In total, David’s studio has about 25-30 projects in development and production at any one time.
“The generosity of people in these remote prairie places—that was how we ended up making such strong films. My role became one of interpreter, and with my colleagues at the NFB we leveraged our skills and resources to tell the stories that were presented to us. People all across this region made the project a success, and I’m grateful to every single one of them!”
– Scott Parker
“Tough as it is to believe, Canada is still a rural nation—and yet so many of our documentary stories don’t reflect that. With The Grasslands Project, we really wanted to work with people in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan to understand the kind of stories that were important to them, and then put them on the big—and small—screen. The 10 beautiful films that Scott has created could only have been done by being present in these rural communities for an extended period of time, and I’m proud that the NFB, as a public producer, was able to do this kind of work.”
– David Christensen
Online Screening Room: NFB.ca