The powerful combination of film and social media have created an opportunity for one rural community to see its story told in a way it has never seen itself before. This pairing is made even more special in that the story teller is from the other side of the globe, a Fijian-born Australian artist, who joined the community in Grand Rapids (county seat of Itasca County) as part of the 0.44% minority of African or Pacific Islander ethnicities.
Alisi Styles, along with co-producer and Itasca County native, Benjamin Braff, unveiled the first eight episodes of the Gems of Itasca short film series, produced through A+B Productions, a partnership between filmmakers Styles and Braff. The series, described by a local reporter as a "love letter" to the county, was a vision to showcase the region's unique blend of arts, culture, and history as contemporary experiences. It utilizes the community's own voices yet is presented in a way it seldom considered - with an international appeal.
Created with a small team consisting of Styles, Braff, and two assistants, the initial series was filmed over 50 days across the county, involving 200+ participants and sponsored by the generous leadership of area non-profits and businesses - the biggest supporter being the Judy Garland Museum & Children's Discovery Museum which identified strongly with the project's vision.
What stands out about Gems of Itasca is the intimate style of story telling and the rich textures of the period re-enactments. These scenes were all filmed over a weekend, utilizing actors from the local theatre group (Grand Rapids Players), dozens of business owners, volunteers across the county and additional crew members from Minneapolis.
THE ARTS EDITION
Itasca is known as a vibrant county teeming with everything artistic, hosting world famous music artists and performance groups at the Myles Reif Center, to local artisan showcases at MacRostie Art Center including monthly highlight - the "First Friday Art Walk." The theatrical community also thrives with local groups like the Grand Rapids Players who stage their vibrant productions seasonally. There are craft stores aplenty; a few that call the historic Old Central School home. The beauty of the arts community in Itasca is that it is experiential. There's something for everyone to partake in. After visiting a local pottery studio, we drop in on a local metal artisan and sculptor, who treats us to a tour of his stunning collection of life-sized sculptures displayed throughout his property.
THE HISTORY EDITION
The Itasca Historical Society is the go-to archival center of Itasca County. Their extensive b&w photographic collection is unparalleled in this county. There is an abundance of stories to discover, from Roosevelt's CCC camps, to women in the mines, to Native American tributes. The exhibits preserve the lush history of the people and places of this great county whose roots are deeply embedded in logging! Today you can experience the history of this county's origins at the Forest History Center where you are transported into the tranquil life of the forest. Inside features include exhibits, multimedia presentations, and film screenings. Going through the rear exit, we take a step back into yesteryear and encounter performers in 19th century clothing in an old logging village. This is more than a place to learn about the history of life in the forests; it is about engaging your senses in a serene environment- have a picnic, go on a hike through the marshes and reeds on elevated boardwalks, and encounter the beautiful wildlife that inhabit the 170 acre property.
THE JUDY GARLAND EDITION
Hollywood movie legend Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Itasca County. A standing tribute to this vivacious performer's Hollywood career and life, the world's only Judy Garland Museum is a labor of love by its dedicated staff and supporters. Visitors can see Garland's personal treasures, photos, props, and costumes from various films including The Wizard of Oz. Taking pride of place, next to the world's largest Wizard of Oz memorabilia collection, is the original carriage from the film (said to be worth $2 million), and once owned by President Abraham Lincoln. Every year, the museum holds the Judy Garland Festival, which has been hosted in the past by Hollywood stars like Mickey Rooney and Jane Powell. The museum also incorporates the beautifully restored (and outfitted) white house in which Garland grew up as a little girl. This episode showcases the myriad of activities staged during the festival, interviews with fans, Judy Garland experts, museum staff, and cast members of Over the Rainbow, a History Theatre (Minneapolis) production telling the life story of Garland.
THE LAND EDITION
So often, little thought is given to the upkeep of our natural surroundings and the labor of love that a given few carry out on behalf of its citizens to ensure our quality of life. The Land Edition takes the audience behind-the-scenes to tell the story of the unique Itasca landscape that we so enjoy. It explores the relationship Itasca County citizens enjoy with the natural world and the leadership the county government has provided in stewarding its most valuable 'gem' ... the natural world that sustains them so it can be enjoyed by citizens and visitors alike.