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Shifting Sands: Documentary rocks Indiana Dunes area

Barb Labus' artwork is just part of the ensemble artistic effort in the documentary, ``Shifting Sands on the Path to Sustainability.''

GARY, Ind.–Lee Botts got right to it Thursday evening at the world premiere of “Shifting Sands on the Path to Sustainability.’’

After producer-director Pat Wisniewski pulled 19 people on stage to thank them before the documentary showed in the Berglund Auditorium at Indiana University Northwest, Botts, the executive director, said, “Bottom line? This project turned into a community project. Now it is time to show it.’’

Times changed radically in Northwest Indiana, especially the wild spaces.

Sprawling sands dunes with uniquely diverse ecosystems to the varied fisheries of perch, steelhead and smallmouth bass to the heavy industrial stamp of steel mills and smokestacks, Northwest Indiana embraces the great anomaly of modern urban wild spaces like few other areas.

“Shifting Sands” nails that anomaly of the Indiana Dunes region. Or rivets it, connecting not only the conflict between heavy industry and natural wonders but also why “this region is known as the birthplace of ecological science in North America.’’

While the premier was Thursday, “Shifting Sands’’ debuted the next day (Earth Day) on Lakeshore Public Television (WYIN). It will be nationally distributed by American Public Television. A special showing/discussion will be held at the Field Museum at 10 a.m. on May 7th.

Celebrating the ensemble that made ``Shifting Sands'' possible at the premiere Thursday. Credit: Dale Bowman

Celebrating the ensemble that made “Shifting Sands” possible at the premiere Thursday.
Credit: Dale Bowman

There’s tons of talent and years of experience behind “Shifting Sands.’’ Botts is a noted area environmentalist with decades of work to her credit, especially on Lake Michigan.

Producers include Wisniewski, Tom Desch and Rana Segal. Wisniewski and Desch worked on “Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh,’’ a documentary I raved about during its production and when finished.

Segal has an extensive resume around the world and Chicago. Another “Everglades of the North’’ vet, Brian Kallies, was an editor/story consultant.

“This documentary is full of love,’’ Legacy Foundation president Carolyn Saxton said.

And more. Dr. Kenneth Schoon’s companion book comes out shortly. Chris Kustusch, Jennifer Davies and Mitch Crawmer work on a curriculum for 6th-12th grades.

Anyone who fishes the southern Lake Michigan shore or drives to either Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore or Indiana Dunes State Park knows that stark contrast between the industrial history and the unique wild history of the dunes.

“Shifting Sands’’ sets up that contrast nicely, then brings in the resolution of the last couple decades when industry and environmentalists reached working accords and brought real change..

What I found most interesting was the people I met in “Shifting Sands,’’ both figures from history and talking heads.

There’s botanist Henry Chandler Cowles (who mentored many in ecological science), author/artist Earl Reed, artist Frank Dudley, Dorothy Buell, Stephen Mather and the Prairie Club.

The best sound in “Shifting Sands’’ came from Dr. Mark Reskin, listen for it.

There’s a wonderful story about Illinois senator Paul Douglas and President John F. Kennedy in the Rose Garden.

As Wisniewski collected another two dozen people (she gathers collaborators like a magnet pulls iron filings) on stage after the viewing, Botts looked at kids, actors in a final scene, and said, “We are counting on you.’’

“Shifting Sands’’ is filled with faith and hope. I wonder if in another 30 years those kids will find that faith and hope justified.

For information or to donate to the project find “Shifting Sands movie’’ on Facebook or go to the Legacy Foundation — Shifting Sands Documentary site.