Birth of a documentary
"The Bruce" is a three-part documentary series exploring the history of Bruce County and the Saugeen Ojibway territory in Ontario. It was created by producer Yvonne Drebert and director Zach Melnick, principals of the Ontario Visual Heritage Project, in partnership with the Bruce County Historical Society (described in Appendix B) and in collaboration with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.
On May 5, 2016 the project kicked off with a brainstorming session at the Bruce County Museum-a public consultation to identify the subjects important to the people and history of Bruce. Over 70 community members gathered to pool their stories, both favourites and little-known ones, and also to contribute the names of story tellers and possible locations for re-enactments.
That was followed by a long period of research spearheaded by OVHP's longtime historical researcher Bill Darfler, with input from Robin Hilborn, whose Heart of the Great Lakes covered the pre-1850 period. The team read books and visited archives at all levels: national, provincial, county and the archives at the University of Western Ontario.
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation committed to work with the filmmakers to expose the Ojibway point of view on historical events such as treaty signings and what that has meant to their communities.
Bringing the research to the screen involved writing story outlines, creating detailed scripts, choosing which scenes to re-enact and planning the re-enactments. Constrained by a three-hour limit, script writer Zach Melnick was challenged to choose which dramatic scenes to tell the story, necessarily leaving out many points of interest from the vast history of Bruce County.
Between September 2016 and January 2017 the project team conducted over 50 research interviews to determine which stories would be told and who would appear on camera to tell them.
The outlines of the project began to emerge. It would start with the Saugeen Ojibway and their struggle to keep control of their ancestral lands and fisheries. Métis and Europeans arrivefur traders, missionaries and fishermen. Then settlers pour in and create farms, towns and industries. In a third episode the Bruce experiences the impact of tourism, nuclear power and the conservation movement.
Based on the brainstorming, the research and the interviews, the script highlighted the main historical points and told Bruce County's unique stories, while holding the series to three hoursactually, three 50-minute episodes, as required by broadcaster TVO.
On March 27, 2017 Zach presented the 125-page script to the documentary steering committee at a table read. The committee, chaired by Ross Lamont, past president of the historical society, approved the script, noting the emphasis on the indigenous perspective. Zach provided a platform for Ojibway voices to speak about the history of the Saugeen traditional territory, part of which became Bruce County.
Much work lay ahead to draw together the threads of the film-to-be: interviews, location filming, historical re-enactments, making maps and motion graphics, and finding archival photos and film.
The Ontario Visual Heritage Project was guided by its principle of making each documentary a community effort. This production model provides local historians, volunteers and students with a platform for telling their stories and bringing their history to lifeand introduces them to the world of professional filmmaking. By volunteering for positions, local people gain experience and develop skills in film production.
In late March the "Actors Wanted" call went out:
The producers of the three-part series are inviting actors of all ages to audition for over 50 roles as the area's most celebrated, and notorious, historical figures. No experience is necessary and volunteers will receive a complimentary copy of the project on DVD. Filming will take place throughout the year, but mostly on summer and fall weekends. A commitment of one day is all that is required for most roles, with costumes, meals and refreshments provided. Honorariums will be provided to those with an extended commitment.
Yvonne Drebert and Director Anthony Grani held auditions for 200 would-be actors on April 11 and 22 in Southampton and April 23 in Tobermory. In May Yvonne, Zach and Director of Photography Alec Bell set up a studio in Wiarton and filmed interviews with 33 historians, knowledge keepers and elders.
As word of the project spread, additional volunteers materializeda total of 179 volunteer actors appeared on camera and 102 more helped behind the scenes.
The logistics of filmed re-enactmentsfinding actors, props, costumes and locationswere complex and called for a lot of help, from theatre groups, car clubs, retirement clubs, the county, provincial and federal parks, and countless other organizations. Locations must be scouted. Costumes must be sized to fit the actors, and made to look timeworn by applying mud and rubbing with sandpaper. They also had to be appropriate for the time period, whether for an 1836 treaty signing, a 1908 bush fire or a 1958 meeting on nuclear power. Yvonne Drebert worked with Wardrobe Consultant Lisa Gilbert on the costume research, examined period paintings and drawings, and consulted with experts such as re-enactors.
The schedule called for 24 days for filming re-enactments, from June through December 2017. The first day, "Methodist Missionary", was typical. Filmed June 28 in the log schoolhouse at the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, the scene showed missionary John Benham (Fort Papalia of Kincardine) waiting for the Saugeen Ojibway to arrive at a service, but no-one shows up because they are out fishing. The crew for this shoot were Yvonne Drebert, producer/costumes; Anthony Grani, Director; Zach Melnick, Director of Photography; Alec Bell, Director of Photography; Gillian McLeod, Camera Trainee; Ben Gundrum, Sound Trainee; and Chas Nuhn, Production Assistant. A smoke machine created period dust in the air and accidentally set off the fire alarm. The museum was evacuated and a fire truck pulled up, but was reassured it was a false alarm.
When not filming re-enactments, the project team captured events and landscapes throughout the county. In total the team logged 40 terabytes of footage4,500 shots filmed, including 500 drone shots. Rather than actually shooting film, Zach Melnick recorded scenes with a Red Epic Dragon camera onto 256 GB cards. Aerial shots were recorded with a DJI X5s camera on a DJI Inspire 2 drone using 500 GB cards. Scenes were shot in 6K, edited in 4K and reduced to lower resolutions for DVD and Blu-ray release and TVO broadcast.
On Oct. 28, 2017 Yvonne and Zach presented the one-minute trailer for the documentary at the annual dinner meeting of the Bruce County Historical Society, to much applause and requests to show it again. The voiceover intoned:
On the shores of Lake Huron there's a place of towering cliffs, pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. It's where the Saugeen Ojibway fought for over 150 years to maintain their right to fish. [Ojibway speech] It's where thousands of economic refugees vied for the last piece of southern Ontario's coveted farmland. [Gaelic speech] It's where nuclear power changed everything, and where nature still thrives because of the bold actions of a few. The Bruce, a three-part series, coming soon.
As is the practice for OVHP productions, the film was set to air on TVO and be for sale in DVD and Blu-ray formats. The DVD will be distributed free to every library in Bruce County, and to every school, along with a course guide aligned to the school curriculum. The uncut video interviews and their transcriptions will be donated to the Bruce County Museum.
How to order
To order the companion book, The Bruce, use the form below. Mail with your cheque to:
421 Clarendon St., Southampton ON N0H 2L0
Please send me ___ copies of the book The Bruce ($35 each).
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I enclose a $_____ cheque to "Robin Hilborn".
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