Thursday, December 29, 2011

PBS documentary on Kankakee River

A four-person team is working to create A PBS documentary on he history of the Kankakee River. 

Tentatively called, "Everglades of the North: The Story of the Kankakee River" the group hopes to have an hour-long presentation for WYIN-Lakeshore Public Television (Channel 21 on the Comcast Cable System in Kankakee) by April or May.

If the group hits their production deadline of Feb. 1, they hope the documentary will be picked up by other Indiana, Illinois and Midwest PBS stations.

The first 21 minutes of the film were shown this week at the meeting of the Kankakee Kiwanis Club at the Quality Inn & Suites. The plan is to eventually expand the film to an hour.

It's a film that will have a lot of Kankakee County references. The late Bill Byrns, who edited the outdoors pages of The Daily Journal for many years before his untimely death this year, is interviewed and appears in the production.

The artwork of local historian Vic Johnson, who wrote the Up 'Til Now column for The Daily Journal for many years, is shown on screen. Charles Balesi, who along with Johnson, is a co-curator of the new French Pioneer Museum in the Stone Barn in downtown Kankakee, is interviewed for the film.

The work is the brainchild of producer and writer Jeff Manes. Manes was born in Kankakee and raised in Sumava Resorts and Lake Village.

He's been around the Kankakee River all his life and "loves the area," he says.

He had worked in the steel mills in East Chicago for 25 years before being downsized in 2000. Since then he has written fiction, poetry, essays and more than 400 columns for the Lowell Tribune and the Gary Post-Tribune.

"I have some books," Manes says, "but not a film."

Pat Wisniewski, of Valparaiso, Ind., is the producer. She told the stories of Indiana World War II veterans in a film that was shown as an addition to the Ken Burns' series "The War."

Also involved are Tom Desch, who crafted a 2001 documentary, "The Field" about the proposed third Chicago airport at Peotone. A native of Kankakee County and a Kankakee River fisherman, he has also edited for the Biography channel and Animal Planet. Brian Kallies, who has worked on the specials "Seven Wonders of Chicago" and "Chicago by Boat" is helping with editing and photography.

The film follows a historical timeline, beginning with Indian times. It travels through the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The history of Gurdon Hubbard and Noel LeVasseur, both early traders, and Princess Wach-E-Kee, wife to Hubbard and later to LeVasseur, is covered.

The film also covers the removal of the Potawatomi, the primary Native Americans in the area, who were sent west in what was known as the Trail of Death.

There is also a historical note about Lew Wallace, the Civil War general and fisherman who wrote some of his best works along the banks of the Kankakee. Wallace's "Ben-Hur," made as an epic movie three times, was the bestselling fictional book of the 19th century.

There is one irony in the story. Right now, no one knows how it will end. A century ago, swamps were thought to be bad for health. The environmental movement at the time dug a deeper channel for the river, draining the swamp. That's particularly noticeable on the Indiana side of the border. The river flows east to west across the two states.

Today, the environmental thinking has reversed. Where possible, rivers and landmarks are returned to their natural state -- even going so far as to remove dams.    

No comments: