A behind-the-scenes shot of the filming of Guardians of the Grasslands on location at the Waldron Ranch Grazing Cooperative in the foothills about 80 km southwest of Calgary. Photo submitted

Bashaw filmmakers produce striking short film

Documentary showcases how a unique ecosystem is surviving

A brother and sister team from Bashaw have created a short documentary about a delicate part of the Canadian prairie.

Ben Wilson and Sarah Wray, owners of Story Brokers Media House, produced the 13 minute film called Guardians of the Grasslands, which premiered to a small audience in Calgary last October and the shown Jan. 24 at the Bashaw United Church as part of an evening dedicated to short films.

Wilson explained the project came about quite quickly this past summer, with the partnership of three organizations — Canada Beef, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

”While we were doing some filming for another project at an incredibly beautiful and pristine ranch in southern Alberta, Sarah came up with the idea that the story of the grasslands ecosystem — one of the most endangered ecosystems on the entire planet — would make a great documentary film subject,” he said.

“We were blown away by what we learned while filming at the Waldron Ranch Grazing Cooperative for two days, and felt inspired to share the important story of the grasslands and the role that cattle play in the delicate balance of the endangered ecosystem.”

Wray added, “When we found out that the grasslands in Canada are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the entire world, it really shocked us. Coming from a ranching background myself, I was surprised that this information was not better known throughout our community.”

The film focuses on the landscape and what some perceive to be a problem but is really a solution with cattle ensuring the prairies last well into the future.

“The amazing, picturesque location that is 65,000 acres in size, of which most is still native prairie. It was the perfect setting to highlight these iconic landscapes and the sheer number of plants and animals that call them home and rely on cattle ranchers to keep them intact,” Wilson said.

Other facts in the film include that 74 per cent of Canada’s grasslands have already been lost forever, mostly to urban and agricultural land conversion, and that the native grasslands that remain are home to many of Canada’s most endangered wildlife species, cooperatively sharing the landscape with grazing cattle or bison as in the distant past.

The initial screening in Calgary in front of more than 100 people, representing the media, educators, ranchers and conservation organizations, was very well received, Wilson said.

“So far, the documentary has been screened in Ottawa, Toronto and at many beef industry events and meetings,” he added.

“Recently, the film was accepted into the Toronto Alternative Film Festival where it received the Best Director award and was also nominated as a finalist for Best Film. It will also be an official selection at the Elements Film Festival in Vancouver, the Digital Griffix Film Festival and the Toronto Short Film Festival.”

The showing back home in Bashaw had an audience question and answer session, allowing them to learn more about the story and how it was produced.

On the immediate horizon, both Wilson and Wray will be part of a question and answer of a panel of filmmakers at the Elements Film Festival, while Wilson will take the film on a tour of culinary students this month as part of a guest lecture series at post secondary institutions in Montreal, Toronto, Kitchener, London (ON), Brandon and Calgary.

“The opportunities that this film has created for us have been incredible already, and we’re so excited about the response it’s getting, especially from people outside of the beef industry who maybe weren’t as aware of how beef is produced in Canada,” added Wilson.

While the film isn’t due for official release until later this year, screenings can be requested through the website (www.guardiansofthegrasslands.ca) with Wilson stating more than 150 screening requests have been received to date.

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Ben Wilson and Sarah Wray spawned Story Brokers Media House to combine their work on websites, social media and film production after working on the side of agriculture for a decade. Photo submitted

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