Thursday, December 08, 2005

Where to? What Next?


It was 1992 when I first decided to tell the Sandburg story in a documentary. I had just completed my second film called "If The People Will Lead" focusing on the journalistic and other media efforts at work in the complex story of the fall of the Soviet Union. It was an extraordinary experience being in the U.S.S.R in May of 1991, and the work that went into telling that story had given me the confidence that the time was right to take on Sandburg. A year and a dozen of so grant requests later the project had not generated any funding and had lost momentum. My efforts were put into a new documentary, called "Caribou Bones".

The truth was, I was not ready to take on a subject as vast and complex as Carl Sandburg, and I put the idea in the freezer for a while.

Fast forward to early 2004. With a half dozen other films produced, and much broader life experiences to draw upon, I decided the time was right to jump start the idea. I found my old ideas, my correspondence with Helga Sandburg Crile and others, and decided to begin again. It was my opinion that the time was right to tell Sandburg's story. The country was divided politically and socially and faced (and continues to) many of the same challenges that Carl Sandburg wrote about during his lifetime. Who better than to turn a mirror on our times than a populist poet who lived and breathed democracy with all its warts and blemishes?

I turned to Penelope Niven's Sandburg biography (which was always close at hand anyway) and a number of other books to reaquaint myself. We wrote the initial treatment for funding requests in the fall of 2004 and submitted it to many groups like NEA, NEH, PBS and others. While it was well received, it produced no funding, and I knew we had to look harder at the subject and the story we wanted to tell. It needed more controversy, it needed a more critical view of the life and times... Here in 2005, merely celebrating a substantial writer is not enough.

As always, the subject of Sandburg does not disappoint. Controversy, criticism, war, race, politics, literary feuds, pain, loss and suffering… its all here in his story.

I have since reached further into the well of scholarship on Sandburg, finding some important works, like Philip Yannella's "The Other Carl Sandburg" and Dan Zanes' recording of songs Sandburg collected in The American Songbag, called "Parades and Panoramas". These two works have further motivated me that the story of Sandburg has value and relevance today. Many other books, articles and photographs about Sandburg are serving as inspiration, as well as a growing list of prominent scholars. The team has grown into a major league ball club of consultants and interviewees. Finally, we are going to tell this story in a way that deserves national PBS distribution.

Currently we await word from about six different funding opportunities. We submitted a highly revised treatment, proposal and draft script to the National Endowment for the Humanities in November. I wish I could say that now it's wait, wait, wait... But that is not the case. Our development of the script continues as we incorporate some of the information that we are gathering.

If you've read this much thanks, I'll do my best to bring up the excitement level of the posts... I just had to cover the groundwork before moving forward.

From this point this blog may deal with topics or experiences, not exclusively linear progress. There will be events and shoots from the past that will be described, research topics pondered, and perspective sought. So, please feel free to contribute.

Where to? What Next?

(Photo: self portrait in Chicago 11.05)

2 comments:

jhamand said...

hi paul

thanks for your passion...i 2 am passionate about sandburg and at the same time i am amazed that his works are not in the face of americans today...so much of what he has written about society, humanity and politics is RELEVANT to america TODAY! I often say to myself, and sometimes out loud...well Carl Sandburg said this " " about that topic...I also wonder a lot about what Sandburg would be writing today about the state of the world in which we live...I know though, that despite all the criticism he would give about government and the widening gap b/w rich and poor, he would still have hope that above all else the people will overcome all adversity and threats to their freedom.

Thanks paul for all of your hard work and please to not be discouraged in your quest for funding for this project. it is a very WORTHY endeavor.

paulbonesteel said...

It's great to hear your thoughts and encouragment. All of us are challenged to keep a sense of optimism about our 'American Experience'... and despite the challenges we will, as people and as a Nation, do our best to live honorably.

Carl certainly had that optimism, along with plenty of frustration and at times rebellion.