By MATTHEW HALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — The shaping of the Great Lakes’ geographic, economic and cultural history by ice is revealed in a documentary set to be finished in late April.
Producers of “Project Ice” used high-definition cameras to capture spectacular scenes of ice on the lakes, as well as intimate portraits of residents’ connection to the wonders of winter, said William Kleinert, executive producer and director of the film.
“Ice has been involved in so many aspects of the Great Lakes, right from its original creation from glaciation, on through the present and the development of its culture, economy, shipping, navigation and commerce,” Kleinert said.
He began the project two years ago to document the historic car ferries on the Straits of Mackinac. But it evolved into something bigger and more illustrative of the entire Great Lakes region.
Film editor Kevin Kusina, a Charlevoix native, went to college with people who’d never been to the Great Lakes, didn’t know what they’re about and didn’t care to know. As a result, he said, “I wanted to open people’s eyes, quite literally, on this spectacular place, a beautiful area worth saving on many levels and worth coming to see – the whole Michigan/Midwest way of life that is so much more different from the East Coast.”
Dogsledding, ice climbing, wind surfing, winter tourism and ice fishing is just the tip of the iceberg in the film.
Kleinert said ice also impacts the region’s economy, in ways large and small.
For example, the documentary depicts commerce brought to the United States through the Soo Locks by 1,000-foot commercial vessels like the Paul R. Tregurtha, bulk carrier freighter that is the flagship of the Interlake Steamship Co.
It features ice-breaking boats like the U.S. Coast Guard’s Mackinaw, which clears passageways through ice-clogged shipping lanes to facilitate that trade.
But it also shows small impacts, like that of the ice bridge connecting St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. Snowmobilers and other tourists have crossed the bridge for generations in a long-standing tradition.
“When they deem it’s safe, they do what they call ‘brush the trail,’ which is where they take old Christmas trees and they stick them in the ice every, I don’t know, 100 feet or 200 feet, and mark a trail that they deem to be a safe path,” Kleinert said.
Althea Middleton-Detzner, the post-production coordinator for the film, said, “One of the things that’s surprising is how much of the historical tradition is still alive today in social practice in the region.
“It’s really cool to see those practices being carried on today,” Middleton-Detzner said.
But Kleinert warned that climate change may endanger such traditions. “As our interviews evolved, we began hearing people from all walks of life mention climate change to us.”
The film’s adviser on climate science is Henry Pollack, a University of Michigan geophysicist who worked with United Nations-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize award with former Vice President Al Gore.
Pollack wrote the book “A World Without Ice” and is featured in two of the film’s 25 interviews.
But the film isn’t about science alone.
Other interviews are with members of a family that uses ice fishing as a bonding experience.
Kleinert said, “There have been many places where ice has not formed now. That has disrupted otherwise normal cultural heritage and ability to get out and enjoy the lakes in winter.”
Another scene features ice climbing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula.
“We had the good fortune to be invited to go with one of the top ice climbers in the world and see how the sport works, and it was really, really fascinating,” he said.
Most camera operators would be reluctant to scale an ice-covered cliff with $150,000 worth of equipment, but Kusina got footage by climbing a cliff himself.
“It was great,” Kusina said. “I got to use some of my old Boy Scout skills.”
Most of the production crew grew up in the Great Lakes region, enjoying what the icy season offers.
Kleinert said, “It can be a truly beautiful and spectacular place to experience in the winter. Unfortunately I think that there are many residents of the Great Lakes basin, about roughly 40 million residents, and many of them have never experienced these aspects of winter. So we hope this will introduce some people to things that are available to them right in their backyard.”
Matthew Hall writes for Great Lakes Echo.