Onalaska Praise!

29 Oct

Film crew finds what’s right about U.S. in New Amsterdam

By JO ANNE KILLEEN | joanne.killeen@lee.net | Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 11:15 am | No Comments Posted

buy this photoCo-directors Rogier van Eck and Rob Rombout and director of photography Ben Wolf, from left, prepare to shoot a scene at Kit and Kate Mayer’s home in New Amsterdam. They are making a documentary about the places in America named for Amsterdam.

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Two filmmakers from Brussels, Belgium and their crew set out to cross the North American continent to paint a picture of its back roads in any location named Amsterdam or New Amsterdam.

The Coulee Region’s New Amsterdam and Amsterdam Prairie was one of the 16 of 20 targets for the five-man Saga Film crew for their documentary, “Amsterdam Stories USA.”

The U.S. has 16 of 20 such communities worldwide. The film crew started their exploration of Amsterdams in America in June 2010 and Wisconsin is part of the fourth and final leg of the journey.

Little did they know that hidden between the grasslands of Amsterdam Prairie, preserved by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, and the Mississippi River, the film crew  would find a small hotbed of political activism along with everything that’s right about America, according to some of the crew members.

Rob Rombout, co-director of the documentary along with Rogier van Eck, said the Wisconsin part of the film focuses on three characters: Tim Jacobson, executive director of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy and his efforts to preserve the landscape; Katie Frise, a Lincoln Middle School teacher who brought her students to the Amsterdam Prairie Grasslands for them to collect prairie grass samples; and Kate Mayer, an Irving Pertzsch Elementary school teacher and her husband Kit, a musician also deeply into working in theater.

“All three have very different ways of seeing things, but all three are very passionate about their jobs and their environment,” Rombout said. “They are very proud of the quality of the lives they have built.”

The film crew was struck by the openness and friendliness, contrary to what they had heard, of Midwesterners. “There is a misconception about the Midwesterners being very closed, but we didn’t see it,” van Eck said. That includes the three subjects of the film.

“He’s very talented, very serious and passionate,” Rombout said about Jacobson. “He’s full of information about nature.”

He’s also a pilot and took the crew up for an aerial view of the Amsterdam Prairie and to Grandad Bluff for a view of the valley. “To see the whole view was amazing,” van Eck said.

Rombout said he was impressed with the hospitality of Kate and Kit Mayer. The filmmakers were looking for two types of people to interview, someone involved in music and someone involved in politics. They found both with the Mayers.

It was almost dark by the time the crew had a chance to stop by the Mayers’ New Amsterdam home last Sunday night. Kate said she was watching the Brewers game when her two dogs started barking and four gentlemen pulled up and got out of their car.

They announced they were looking for Kit Mayer, but she informed them he was in London.

Kate said she felt very comfortable and at ease with them and soon they were sharing stories over beers.  “They talked to me about politics, life in general, just about everything,” Kate said.

They called back and asked her if they could interview her for the film and Kate said yes.

“I very much enjoyed their questions,” Kate said. “They were poignant questions about how I was raised, things that may have happened to me that  had an influence on the woman I have become, why music is so important to me, where did I get my sense of what’s right or wrong.

“A couple times, just by the way they asked the questions, I teared up; I surprised myself,” Kate continued. “I think they have collected many interesting stories due to their demeanor.”

Kit returned home from theater work in London Thursday, so the filmmakers agreed to come back. Thursday night they arrived, as did the rest of the Mayers’ bandmates in Middletown, including Nancy Stoll, Mike Caucutt and Brian Beard.

Pretty soon, Middletown and the film crew set about filling up reel time recording a jam session of songs calling for solidarity  and workers’ rights.

Van Eck said he wasn’t surprised about the political activism since he is accustomed to it in Europe. What’s different, he said, is the lack of a social safety net. “We have a social net in Europe,” he said. “Here you are very fragile. When you lose your job or your home, you lose everything. The social net is very fragile.”

Van Eck said it was nice to see America for himself and not be confined to any preconceptions drawn from his European background. He said to him America means people, landscapes, feelings and situations.

“Wisconsin is part of the gentleness of America,” van Eck said. “It’s about the American people we met in all these small towns away from the highways, at the dead ends. What we think are dead ends are in fact rich with lots of living going on.”

Matthew Menter, a sound engineer and logicstics expert with the crew, was amazed that New Amsterdam had such a diversity of people. Born in upstate New York, Menter has seen most of America become homogenized, he said.

New Amsterdam is what small towns are all about, he said. “La Crosse was incredibly original, Onalaska was great. Amsterdam is one of the neighborhoods of America we all want, what America is trying to be — where kids can play in the streets and not worry, where all kinds of people can coexist. What makes America great is that we’re all different.”

This is the fourth U.S. trip for the crew, one trip in each season. They started in New York City in June 2010 and will conclude their explorations of Amsterdams in Missouri. From there they will travel to Kansas and Nebraska and finally do some filming at Mount Rushmore just because of its historical and iconic significance.

Read more: http://lacrossetribune.com/courierlifenews/lifestyles/article_5e889cda-00aa-11e1-b219-001cc4c03286.html#ixzz1cDoo22ez


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