Our blog may be quiet these days, but only because we’ve been busy on and off the road since January making a feature length documentary!
Our story begins in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where we jumped in with our cameras at the tail end of OTA. What started as a passion project propelled by creative connector of people Hugh Weber and fueled financially in large part by the Bush Foundation, OTA served to enable the creative problem solvers and innovative artists of MinnesOTA, South DakOTA and North DakOTA – sensing a theme? – with the resources and possibilities they need to succeed. For the better part of a decade, OTA produced large scale events, connected and put the spotlight on creative types doing great work around the region, and weaved a rich tapestry of human stories in words and visuals in the process.
Everyone wishes they’d thought up OTA’s clever name, but the vision for this organization is distinctly that of Hugh Weber; since making his escape out of politics in 2009, Hugh’s dedicated much of his life’s work to OTA and empowering people in the region, to help them see the value of their work and to ensure they have a place — not only on the map, but at the table for conversation. You can read more about OTA here!
This film takes us on a road trip around the midwest to reconnect with some of the people whose lives have been directly impacted by the organization that was OTA, starting with Hugh himself.
We were honored and a little terrified when Hugh approached us to make a documentary about the final moments of OTA and the early days of his next project, The Potluck Society. We knew it would be an ambitious shoot – 9 days on the road in the middle of January, traveling the Midwest amidst snow storms and wailing winds to visit more than a dozen of the region’s brightest minds and most talented artists. We knew we’d be living in an overly stuffed Tahoe by day and crashing in a different OTA town every night, but we also knew at the end of it all that we’d come back with the kind of content you can’t wait until spring to create: there is something so real about the winter months here that causes people to open up about their lives. Also, we were filming during inauguration week, which added an additional layer of urgency to the discussions around creativity and community activism.
Knowing all of this, we set off to capture what Christian calls a collage of conversation.
It was a glorious success.
Image above by Rebecca Zenefski, By Rebecca Studios
It was a very fruitful shoot! We came home with more than 30 hours of content for the movie, or, enough to make a standalone film about each of the documentary subjects.
We were profoundly impacted by the stories we heard on this trip, and it took nearly a month to go through each one and decide which best told the story of OTA as a whole. We found many points of intersection between the topics of art and community, which became themes that carry viewers through the film. We loved asking the question, “does art foster community, or is it the other way around?”
The making and editing processes for this film were extremely hands-on. We work together closely to perform all of the essential roles on set; Christian directed, filmed, and edited the movie, while I (Kylee) produced, operated second camera, and provided handwritten font for the film. Both of us appear in the movie on more than one occasion.
Hugh is the executive producer but he also operated Skyriter, a drone named collaboratively with his two kids and adorably misspelled by his seven year old daughter, Emerson.
Along the way we were actively seeking pitstops to highlight the OTA states’ quirk and charm. We stopped at a few landmarks people may recognize, but were most surprised to discover how many unbelievable art installations dot the highways and interstates that connect our three states.
One of our favorite finds on this trip was The Enchanted Highway.
And in the small towns surrounding these majestic roadside works of art, there was more. The town of Regent in North Dakota feels like an extension of The Enchanted Highway, bursting with nostalgia and creativity.
Every small town has a Main!
This small town gave us a big sunset – such a gift.
We discovered Rapid City’s monumental obsession with the presidents.
And in the screen printing studio of The Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City is where we found Tyler Read.
Tyler’s story is one of redemption through artistic expression, mainly graffiti…so we asked him to take us to Art Alley
That same day we met a handful of the artists who have studios at Racing Magpie, the native art gallery and communal studio space we never wanted to leave!
We can’t show you everything we saw on this trip — there are over 20 locations in the movie! But the point is we saw things we didn’t know existed in our part of the world and met people we never would have otherwise known about, and it’s all because of this network of amazing human beings. It’s okay to say people are truly amazing when they actually are – and the people who make up OTA are nothing short of extraordinary.
On that note, there’s no way to write about making the OTA movie without acknowledging the role OTA and Hugh have played in our photography and video work, some of it being our most meaningful to date. True to his reputation, Hugh has believed in us, challenged us, and given us opportunities within OTA to grow and create. We can’t wait to work together on all the things…not something you can usually say about a collaborator after spending a week in the car together!
Another gorgeous gratuitous sunset, courtesy of everyone’s favorite small town: Milbank, South Dakota.
We’re so grateful for the chance we got to make this movie, especially at a time in the world when creativity seems to be our only recourse.
Photo by Rebecca Zenefski, By Rebecca Studios
This film was our resistance, and at once our comedic relief.
We can’t wait to share The Potluck Society: An OTA Journey with you — watch for updates here and at TheOTAFilm.com as we add information about the screenings in all three OTA states!
**UPDATE** The film premeired in Sioux Falls over the weekend of June 9th to a full room of OTAns at the SF Design Center. Several of the movie’s cast members and their families were in attendance.
There was popcorn…
…and two really adorable door girls telling people where to sit.
Here’s Hugh doing his Hugh thang. Guy can really work a room!
Never gonna be mad about a photo op. This was taken by Lola who decided this year that she wants to be a full time photographer when she grows up!
Overall, I think the screening was a success – at least, according to one little door girl!
Thanks to the Sioux Falls Design Center for hosting us, and to everyone who came from far and near to see this film in real life. We can hardly wait for our Minneapolis screening – stay tuned for updates here!