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A personal essay film about Minnesota's white colonial legacy, the U.S.-Dakota War and the myth of Paul Bunyan. Read more

Bemidji, MN Documentary
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This project was successfully funded on June 5, 2014.

A personal essay film about Minnesota's white colonial legacy, the U.S.-Dakota War and the myth of Paul Bunyan.

Bemidji, MN Documentary
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About this project

"In the Shadow of Paul Bunyan is an experimental first person documentary about colonial heritage, mythmaking in northern Minnesota, the US/Dakota war of 1862 and a certain iconic pair of roadside attractions in Bemidji, Minnesota. The film explores the way the Anglo-American caricature of Paul Bunyan overshadows the many complex histories of this state. Using rarely seen archival materials and observational 16mm film, In the Shadow of Paul Bunyan is an expedition into the hidden corners of this land we call Minnesota." 

Hi everyone! I've been working on a short film for the past year about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (feel free to check out the rough cut here). Turns out, Paul is a little more complicated than I first thought. Sounds kooky, I know - but I grew up surrounded by Paul and Babe, so why shouldn't I want to dive a little deeper? 

You see, I come from a small town called Bemidji in northern Minnesota, where we build strange statues of Paul, name our civic infrastructure after him, teach our children about him and defend him from any and all criticism (more on that here). Paul represents something unique about Minnesotan (at least the white Minnesotan) identity. All I want to know is - why?

Paul wasn't a real person. He was invented by an advertising executive, William Laughead (pronounced Loghead. his real name, I swear), who used him as a way to sell California lumber to a country nervous about the depletion of its northern hardwoods (the stuff we cut down in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, among other places). The lumber sold fine, but Paul Bunyan became something bigger than an ad campaign. He became a part of Minnesota identity. Statues of him began sprouting like weeds, people began making up stories about him and printing them in newspapers, and the joke became something bigger. Paul slowly became a very real part of the landscape. He really started to matter to people, and this is why it's so easy to forget that he never really came from the woods.

The thing is, lumberjacks didn't really tell Paul and Babe stories the way we think they did (you know, around a barrel fire north of the continental divide as the northern lights flickered around them). In fact, they hardly told any of the stories at all. Paul and Babe aren't the creations of loggers, but of the logging industry and a public desperate for an authentic regional identity. Why were we non-loggers so eager to claim them as our own? This is what I'm interested in, and this is the historical investigation that you'll be funding!

But since our collective history obviously didn't start with logging, I've also chosen to contrast Paul Bunyan with a darker (and less well known) part of my home state's history - the US/Dakota War of 1862, the largest of all the so-called Indian Wars (I say so-called because they just as easily can be called the 'White Person Wars'). It's through the clumsy memorialization of this brutal war (including its sad culmination; the largest mass execution in US history, where 38 Dakota men were hung simultaneously) that I started to see the strangeness of dedicating our landscape to Paul Bunyan. By contrasting the complex history of this war with the simple image of the plaid logger and his blue buddy, I think we might be able to complicate Paul Bunyan, as well as our own relationship to this land we call home, however tenaciously or tenuously. 

Of course, it isn't all gloom and doom. Your contribution comes with a few lil thank-yous. 

For $100, you'll get a one of a kind screen printed poster of the infamous battle between Nanaboozhoo and Paul Bunyan, once displayed at the entrance to Red Lake as you drove north on highway 89 from Bemidji!
For $100, you'll get a one of a kind screen printed poster of the infamous battle between Nanaboozhoo and Paul Bunyan, once displayed at the entrance to Red Lake as you drove north on highway 89 from Bemidji!
"Drink More Milk" - for $150, you'll get a screenprinted t-shirt extolling the virtues of Minnesota dairy.
"Drink More Milk" - for $150, you'll get a screenprinted t-shirt extolling the virtues of Minnesota dairy.
Of course, if dairy ain't your thing, I'll print you a "Logjam on the Big Muddy" t-shirt for your $150 donation - along with the poster, DVD and zine!
Of course, if dairy ain't your thing, I'll print you a "Logjam on the Big Muddy" t-shirt for your $150 donation - along with the poster, DVD and zine!

I'm also taking a version of this project to Minnesota this June, as part of the Northern Spark, a nonprofit all-night arts festival that lights up Minneapolis on June 14. Read more about my projection here.

Your funding goes directly towards buying film stock, paying for lab fees and doing archival research/exploration/reuse. The film is over half-done - I just have a few more locations to shoot and archives to plunder. Please share with your friends and family!

Risks and challenges

My main challenge (and constant worry) is kodak going bankrupt (again) and the REAL end of 16mm film as a capture medium. All the more reason to FINISH IT NOW! But seriously? Finishing the film is the easy part. Distribution is the ultimate challenge, as always, not just for my project but for many artists. Since this film is a personal vision and it's in the punk tradition of doing what we can with what we got, a DIY screening tour(plus an in-the-works tour of rural Minnesota high schools!) isn't far away. Let me know if you're interested in hosting!

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Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    12 backers

    A personal THANK YOU postcard, sent all the way from the Land of 10,000 Paul Bunyan footprints!

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    29 backers

    A copy of the Paul Bunyan zine - a limited edition printing of a secret pamphlet, chock full of all the bizarre Paul and Babe (counter) histories you didn't know YOU DIDN'T WANT TO KNOW! Featuring a personal essay, repurposed P+B archival materials and the historic trials and tribulations of Paul's originator, William B. Laughead. This zine will also feature some key stories from the US/Dakota war, which was fundamental in shaping the white settler identity that built the state we know today as Minnesota. It's all connected, my friends, and this zine will show you how. A real gem of a publication! I'm printing only a few hundred of these to hand out on the street at my Northern Spark projection in June, but I'll print some extra for YOU fine folks!

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    23 backers

    A copy of the Paul Bunyan zine and a limited-edition DVD of the finished film, all bundled together in a special HANDMADE FLANNEL PACKAGE! A true art object for a real big folk legend.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    5 backers

    A copy of the Paul Bunyan zine, film AND one hand-made, one of a kind poster, screen printed on reclaimed materials, featuring the infamous image of Nanaboozhoo slapping Paul Bunyan with a fish! You may remember this image if you've ever driven north on highway 89 from Bemidji, greeting you as you pass into the sovereign territory of Red Lake. Unfortunately, the sign has since disappeared (for reasons unknown), but if you donate a few bucks you can hold onto this hilarious and subversive image for yourself, forever! A truly amazing piece of regional lore, archival gem and guaranteed conversation starter.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $150 or more

    2 backers

    All of the above - a thank-you postcard, the zine, the DVD, the poster, AND a screen-printed "Drink More Milk, Eat More Butter" t-shirt! Specify size. Alternately, if you're vegan or dairy-free, I'll make you a "Logjam on the Big Muddy" t-shirt. Take a look to the left!

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States

Funding period

- (28 days)