Friday, December 09, 2005


Galesburg Ill. November 2005

I love the feeling when you can sense the passage of time, what a century of years make.

The warm late fall weather betrayed the date. A few blocks away from the tiny shack Carl Sandburg was born in the trains come and go, making sounds that trains make. This is where his father toiled on steel, where Carl walked the tracks to school, delivered milk, newspapers and where his mother carried in water from the pump outside. Standing there, you can almost hear the Swedish words and accents coming from inside the house, smell the burning coal from the cooking stove that served as the only heat. This was not a place from which you'd expect a poet to emerge, but, once again, humanity surprises.

The Carl Sandburg birthplace is a State of Illinois Historic site, run by a lone employee, the director Steve Holden and assisted by a non-profit support group. It is filled with artifacts and photos, original books and a guitar. Our trip there was as much for inspiration as it was for research. We shot some images, talked with Steve, pitched our project the The Friends of Carl Sandburg group there in Galesburg and met two scholars from Knox College, an english professor, Robin Metz, and Rodney Davis of Knox College’s Lincoln Studies Center. Their input was reassuring to me that Sandburg the poet still has things to say, and that his Lincoln biographies still resonate today.

We will return at some point to conduct on-camera interviews and shoot additional footage and gather archival images.

Director Paul Bonesteel shooting Remembrance Rock, the resting place of the Sandburg's ashes

(photographs by Evan Schafer)

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)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Many years in the making, already!

Whats this Blog all about? The making of a documentary film about Carl Sandburg.

My connection to Carl Sandburg started young. When we moved to Flat Rock, North Carolina in the early 1970's I was seven. Soon my Mom was volunteering at Connemara, the home of Carl Sandburg and his wife Paula for the last twenty or so years of his life. It had just a few years earlier been turned into a National Park and there we were, milking goats, growing vegetables in our own garden plot and exploring the houses and trails that make up the historic home and grounds. Soon I was learning how to write Haikus in the grassy fields around the house, part of a poetry class I was taking with my Sister.

Sandburg then was a distant grandfatherly figure in photos, unfathomable to some extent. But the goats were real, the cats were real, the hippy poetry teacher was real and the place seemed to have a magic about it. Sandburg seemed to me then as some sort of magician, capable of both the simplest poems and enormous books that I would'nt read for many years. There were cigar butts and papers still where he left them. Guitar strings that he had casually strummed. All of it rich with history and importance, but yet humble and tangible.

We are well on our way of telling a new and fresh story about Carl Sandburg, hopefully on PBS. We've been hard at work for the past two years (this the 'modern effort') doing research, grant writing, interviewing and team building. In the next few posts I'll go back re-cap where we've been, and bring you up to the present. Then you'll be along for the ride as we battle our way through a story that is as immense as it is wonderful, a process that is as painful as it can be long... and twists and turns that will have you begging for me to just "call me when it's done!"