Work is well underway on a four-part documentary on the story of agriculture in Manitoba and the Canadian Prairies.
The film, inspired by last year’s 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Selkirk settlers, will follow the story of farming on the Prairies from the first sowing of a bushel and a half of wheat brought from Scotland to the state of agriculture today and its prospects in the years ahead.
It’s a fascinating tale, said Winnipeg photographer and filmmaker George Siamandas, who is writing the script and working with a production crew from Prairie Public Television.
“The story is rich — it’s rich in detail, it’s rich in scope, it’s also rich visually,” said Siamandas, who has produced other award-winning documentaries for the PBS affiliate, including “Assiniboine Park: A Park for All Seasons”; “Lake Winnipeg’s Paradise Beaches”; and “Dreams of Castles in the Sky.”
Siamandas has been helped in his work by farmers and industry professionals on the agricultural subcommittee of the group that put on last year’s bicentennial event.
“They’ve been a great resource,” he said. “If anything, they’ve given me four times the contacts we could reasonably get to.”
The first half-hour segment will be about the arrival of the Selkirk settlers and the Red River settlement. It’s well in hand already, Siamandas said.
“It’s about how they struggled just to survive here, never mind to develop enough productivity to send out the first cash crop, and hassles with the Hudson’s Bay Company,” he said.
The second segment will focus on the subsequent settlement of the West, although fitting that tale into 30 minutes is an impossible task, he said.
“That’s going to be about struggles with the railways and the grain companies. We try and give an overview of all the crops and institutions, the establishment of the grain commission,” Siamandas said. “It’s going to have to be somewhat abbreviated from what it could be.”
The third segment looks at today’s agriculture.
“We’re trying to give a snapshot of who is the typical farmer, and what have the trends been,” he said. “We’re looking at the shifting of the kinds of crops being grown and how climate change is allowing crops that weren’t traditionally grown.”
He’s met many interesting people working on this segment, he said.
“I’m personally fascinated by the personality of the farmer. So there’ll be something about that, who makes a good farmer, and what kinds of characteristics they share,” he said.
The final segment will look towards the future, and how new technologies will bring new farm management practices, as well as the role of food in the future.
The tentative release date for the yet unnamed film is spring 2014. The film’s executive producer is Bob Dambach, who is also Prairie Public Television’s station manager.
When complete, the four-part documentary should have a huge potential audience, with over 350 stations now able to access PBS programming. PBS officials have also told the ag subcommittee that uptake for historical programming is high. The segments will also become potentially available as teacher resources in schools.
The total overall budget for the project is about $430,000, said Mike McAndless, chair of the agriculture committee. The project is getting $154,000 of that as an in-kind donation from Prairie Public Television and $85,000 has already been raised in cash or pledged donations.
“So we have the balance to raise,” he said, adding that they’ve been hearing back from more potential donors as summer progresses.
“If anyone wants to donate to this worthwhile project, they could certainly contact either Rob Tisdale (president of the St. Andrews Society of Winnipeg) or myself,” he said.