BROKEN BOW–There are many organizations with members telling the correct story of Nebraska agriculture, Farm Bureau, A-FAN, Common Ground, Ag in the Classroom to name a few. This past weekend at the Tiffany Theater in Broken Bow, another champion for Nebraska agriculture premiered his three years’ labor of love for the Nebraska Sandhills and the ranchers who reside there in the film “Ocean of Grass.”
George Joutras was not unfamiliar with the Sandhills growing up, as Ogallala is on the southern tip of them. He left to attend college UNL, one of his classes being film making. He returned as a businessman working for a computer tech company to Ogallala then moved back to Lincoln. He always had a camera in his hand, and upon returning to the capital city, opened a studio for his photographic images.
He sometimes exhibited at the Burkholder project in Lincoln, as did Laron McGinn, an artist from Dunning, Nebraska and whose McGinn family ranch consists of land in both Custer and Blaine counties.
“We met in ’03, hit it off, and when he invited me to stay with him on the ranch if I got out there, I knew the invite was genuine. I had planned on a day or two, ended up staying for a week. The film is based on the book I wrote “A Way of Life: Ranching on the Plains of America.” It is a blurb book so sells one at a time on Amazon.com. I kept coming out to the ranch with my camera getting over 260 photos for the book. My wife Pam and daughter Shea gifted me with a video camera one year for Christmas, inexpensive so I incorporated that into my trips to the ranch. When I knew this story of these hard working, dedicated people who treasure and nurture their land and their livestock had to be told on a big screen, then I bought better equipment and reshot a lot, turning into twenty-two months of filming. This film could not have been made five years ago – no drones, no stabilizers on my camera. When Laron was on top of a windmill putting the spring back on, my camera was on a painter’s pole, hovering,” Joutras said.
His painstaking shots of cattle with the camera in the tank, took ten days to get. “Cows are wary creatures, they would see the lights and just before it took, would move over.”
Joutras’ 84 minutes film was first seen at the Kansas City Film festival, then at its Nebraska premiere June 9 in Broken Bow, edited down from the original 100 hours.
“When I got it down to three hours and knew it was still too long, then I felt like Matt McGinn did in the film when he had to euthanize baby calves whose feet were frozen. Those minutes were my baby.”
The film is committed to other film festivals, Joutras stated, so it will be awhile before it is sold for public viewing.
“This is a 100 percent Nebraskan production. I had no extra funding – I did all the stills, the videos, the editing, the captioning, the producing. Only the music is not mine.”
Besides drones, Joutras used an ATV, rode along in the pick-up, or his own foot power to capture the true essence of life on a sandhills ranch.