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.
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!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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