UNI and New Light Media prairie documentary to air on IPTV

March 7, 2005

Daryl Smith, director, UNI Native Roadside Vegetation Center, (319) 273-2388
Vicki Grimes, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273- 6728


CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- 'America's Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie,' a film co-produced by a University of Northern Iowa professor, will air on Iowa Public Television (IPTV) at 8 p.m., Friday,

March 11, during 'Festival 2005.'

'Festival' is IPTV's annual two-week fundraising special and the documentary is one of the premium programs being featured. Viewers are eligible to receive copies of the film in exchange for donations made to the station. 'America's Lost Landscape' previously aired on Sunday, March 6, and 137 pledges, totaling $17,000 were made to IPTV during that broadcast.

The film premiered at a special showing at UNI last April, and made its Des Moines debut in December. Daryl Smith, UNI biology professor and director of the UNI Native Roadside Vegetation Center, was the executive producer and co-produced the feature-length documentary. The film was written, directed and co-produced by David O'Shields of New Light Media.

Clayton Condit of Minneapolis, formerly of Marshalltown, was the film's editor. Annabeth Gish, Cedar Falls native and critically acclaimed actress, was the narrator. Gish, seen most recently as President Bartlett's older daughter on NBC's 'The West Wing,' also starred as agent Monica Reyes on 'The X-Files.' Her feature films include 'Double Jeopardy,' 'Nixon,' and 'SLC Punk.'

According to Smith, 'America's Lost Landscape' uses breathtaking cinematography, original music and moving narrative to trace the prairie's transformation from natural landscape to farmland, beginning in the early 1800s, when Iowa was blanketed by 28 million acres of tallgrass.

'At the time of settlement in the 1830s, about 240 million acres of tallgrass prairie was a major landscape feature of North America,' Smith explained. 'But in one of the most astonishing alterations of nature in human history, most of the tallgrass prairie was converted to cropland in less than 80 years.'

Today, where modern machinery cultivates rows of corn and soybeans, there once was a sea of tallgrass, inhabited by bison and elk. 'For the most part, Americans have no idea what the Midwest was like 150 years ago,' O'Shields said. 'The tallgrass prairie is a national treasure. If we think it is important for people to understand tropical rain forests, their demise and the global impacts, how much more important is it for us to understand that a major ecosystem in the heart of this country is nearly gone? We must understand what was here and embrace and preserve what remains.'

To tell this rich and complex tale, Smith and O'Shields interviewed writers, historians and scientists across the nation to put together the film. 'Each provided factual information and insightful commentary about the history of human settlement of the tallgrass prairie by Native Americans and Euro-Americans,' O'Shields said. 'Quotations from letters, diaries and other works of nonfiction add authenticity and connect the viewer to the story.'

Gish said working on the project was not just a moving experience, but a chance to learn as well. 'The message behind the film is stirring and important for everyone to know: The essence of the prairie is still alive, but it needs to be fought for, restored and appreciated to continue to sustain us.'

The film is available on DVD/VHS through www.newlightmedia.tv. For more information and to view a brief clip, visit www.uni.edu/~lostland.