The unusual sight of desert sand dunes rising out of the prairie landscape and a nearby artistic oasis are featured in the latest video in the documentary series Stories from Saskatchewan's Great Southwest.
The Story of Sagebrush Studios is the 13th video in this series, which was started in 2012 by the Swift Current Museum in collaboration with local production company Overtime Studios.
“In the world that we live in and then our dependence more and more upon things like social media for what we’re watching and what we’re learning, I think one of the important aspects of these kinds of documentaries, is to give people the opportunity to learn,” Swift Current Museum Curator Lloyd Begley said. “I think video just offers an imagery and another perspective that adds to the whole compilation of different stories. We’ve now amassed a pretty good-sized inventory of digital media that we can use in telling different stories.”
Overtime Studios President George Tsougrianis directed the new documentary. The inspiration for this video was the vision of artists Dean and Fran Francis, who created a unique natural and artistic environment at Sagebrush Studios.
“For these projects I get inspired by the people that we talk to, and this one certainly is the same,” Tsougrianis said. “Dean and Fran are wonderful people. … I was just so enthusiastic. Imagine what they've accomplished in 30 years.”
A visit to Sagebrush Studios provides a multifaceted experience. Three historic church buildings have been relocated from nearby communities and carefully restored as artistic spaces. Two are used as galleries to display art works and a third is used as a working studio.
Visitors can also explore 20 acres of gardens, walkways and water features that surround the three buildings. Dean has planted about 10,000 trees since 1996, and the over 50 species of trees and shrubs provide a unique wildlife habitat.
“Any one of those things would be enough for the average person, but they've done all three,” Tsougrianis said. “I came away just being totally inspired.”
He visited Sagebrush Studios about 10 years ago and was impressed with what he saw then. He made a return visit in June while accompanying the Leader and Great Sandhills bus tour to create a documentary for a client.
“It always stuck in my mind that it's such a fascinating place in terms of what they've created there,” he said. “So when I went back this year in June with the tour I was just blown away. … By now the trees were so much bigger, all the churches were in place, and everything was basically finished.”
Discussions were then already taking place about the next three videos in the Stories from Saskatchewan's Great Southwest documentary series, and as a result Sagebrush Studio and the Great Sandhills became the focus of the latest production.
Dean Francis was happy to participate in the making of this documentary, and he was interviewed during the production process.
“We definitely have an interesting story and it’s one we’ve had to tell a lot of times, because when everybody comes to our place, they want to know what are you doing out here,” he said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, so we have to tell the story a lot.”
He was surprised about how extensive the process was to create the documentary and doing the on-camera interview was also a new experience.
“I usually communicate through paintings,” he said. “So sitting there and talking for hours at end was exhausting actually, because he really made me work hard to come up with words to express how I felt about things, and usually I’ve got the paintings to speak for me.”
Sagebrush Studios is off the beaten track and it receives about 1,000 visitors every year. Visitors are usually surprised by what they discover there.
“They may like old churches, that might be their interest, or they might like birds, or they might like gardens, or they might hopefully like art,” he said.
He hopes a trip to Sagebrush Studios will have an influence on visitors and that they will reflect on their own surroundings.
“I think it’s about appreciation,” he said. “Appreciation for the land and the wildlife and inhabitants and your surroundings. Appreciation for what you can do for yourself. Appreciation for art to show the beauty. I just want people to care a bit. … I’m hoping that when they glance across the land that they’ll notice the colour of the light as it hits the top of the hill, or the trees growing on the edge of the field. Just the designs and patterns in nature and make them think about what they could do to create their own environment.”
The documentary contains some stunning aerial images of both the Great Sandhills and Sagebrush Studios. The aerial footage was provided by Todd Tumback, the owner of Stealth Talon Aerial Photography and Video in Swift Current.
“The aerial just gives you that little different perspective,” Tsougrianis said. “It's the exclamation point for some of the things that you want to talk about in the story.”
He enjoys the collaborative effort and sharing of ideas with others during the creation of a documentary. The music for this video was provided by South African painter and musician David Kantey, who Tsougrianis has met a few years ago through an online seminar.
“I listened to the music in advance and I got a feel for the tone, because I knew that was the tone I wanted to have in terms of the pacing and just the flow, based on his music and his wonderful guitar,” Tsougrianis said. “So I was fortunate to have the music.”
The cost to produce these documentaries is a significant challenge. Funding for this video was provided by the Swift Current Museum, Cypress Hills Destination Area, Community Futures Southwest, Grasslands National Park, Tourism Saskatchewan, and Tourism Swift Current.
Tsougrianis has started a crowdfunding initiative as a means to obtain funding for future documentaries in this series about southwest Saskatchewan. Subscribers can show their support through a monthly subscription of $5 or more. Future episodes in this series will feature La Reata Ranch near Kyle and the story of Scotty, the Trex.
“We're inundates with all this content from around the world, but no one is telling our stories,” he said. “I'm passionate about it. I'm hopeful that people will see the value of preserving these stories.”
This latest video, The Story of Sagebrush Studios, and all the previous videos in the Stories from Saskatchewan's Great Southwest series are available on the Overtime Studios website at www.otime.ca