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America's Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie

Tells the story of one of the most astonishing alterations of nature, the North American tallgrass prairie.

A printer-friendly version of this page 60 minutes
Directed by David O'Shields
Produced by David O'Shields and Daryl Smith
Photographed by William Carlson
Edited by Clayton Condit
Music by Brian Keane
Narrated by Annabeth Gish

"Examines the record of human struggle, triumph and defeat that prairie history exemplifies." IDA's Pare Lorentz Award citation
AMERICA'S LOST LANDSCAPE: THE TALLGRASS PRAIRIE tells the rich and complex story of one of the most astonishing alterations of nature in human history.

Prior to Euro-American settlement in the 1820s, one of the major landscape features of North America was 240 million acres of tallgrass prairie. But between 1830 and 1900 -- in the span of a single lifetime -- the prairie was steadily transformed to farmland. This drastic change in the landscape brought about an enormous social change for Native Americans. In an equally short time their cultural imprint was reduced in essence to a handful of place-names appearing on maps.

The extraordinary cinematography of prairie remnants, original score and archival images are all delicately interwoven to create a powerful and moving viewing experience about the natural and cultural history of America.

Amongst those interviewed are writer Dayton Duncan, Wes Jackson of The Land Institute, biologist Laura Jackson, linguist Jerome Kills Small, historian Anton Treuer, landscape historian Lance Foster, writer Richard Manning, and Nina Leopold Bailey and Carol Leopold -- two of Aldo Leopold's children.

Grade Level: 6-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2006     Copyright Date: 2005
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-383-8     VHS ISBN: 1-59458-382-X

"As someone who has lived many years on the earth's surface where the tallgrass prairie used to be, I've been accustomed to the snatches we see of its startling beauty, and immunized to the grief for its loss. But a prairie walk can always disabuse me of the notion that the hills are covered with monotonous grass, that the vista is boring, that the prairie is worthless. This film provides that prairie walk experience, plus much more. The colors, shapes, forms, movement of this place as it changes through the day, through the season, are astonishing. [America's Lost Landscape] will immerse you in beauty, and then, providing you with historical, cultural, and scientific information, lead you to not only appreciate this disappearing landscape, but to question our cultural role within the earthly ecosystem. With appreciation will come the tools for change. A beautiful, fulfilling film."
Dan Nagengast, Farmer and Director of the Kansas Rural Center

"Stunning photography conveys to viewers the striking beauty of the tallgrass prairie and gives them a sense of what it was like being 'out on the prairie' two hundred years ago, when it was still an intact ecosystem... first hand accounts give thoughtful insight and different perspectives from each person... The range of topics is impressive and covers the factors leading to the formation and maintenance of the prairie and the different eras of people on the prairie... [America's Lost Landscape] is suitable for many audiences. Experts will learn something new or see some topic from a different perspective, while those who have never visited, or even heard of a prairie, will be enthralled by the images and the interesting commentary... a moving story."
Kenneth R. Robertson, Ph.D., Administrative Curator of the Herbarium (ILLS) Center for Biodiversity Illinois Natural History Survey

"America's Lost Landscape examines the record of human struggle, triumph and defeat that prairie history exemplifies, including the history and culture of America's aboriginal inhabitants. The story of how and why the prairie was changed by Euro-American settlement is thoughtfully nuanced. The film also highlights prairie preservation efforts and explores how the tallgrass prairie ecosystem may serve as a model for a sustainable agriculture of the future."
IDA's Pare Lorentz Award citation

"The [Pare Lorentz] award is presented by the Pare Lorentz Foundation to one or more individuals whose work best represents the democratic sensibility, activist spirit and lyrical vision of the legendary documentarian."
International Documentary Association

"America's Lost Landscape beat out a film you may have heard of: March of the Penguins...The first temptation may be to view this as a huge upset of sorts. But Betsy McLane, chairwoman of the awards committee, said O'Shields' film was selected because it best exemplified the spirit of Lorentz, whose Depression-era documentaries looked at the relationship of people to the land. 'One of the strong things about Tallgrass Prairie is that it tells its story very well with great craftsmanship in a short period of time,' she said."
Des Moines Register

"The breathtaking cinematography, original music and moving narrative created a powerful viewing experience."
University of Northern Iowa Foundation

"America's Lost Landscape: the Tallgrass Prairie, captures the beauty and wonder of America's most altered region... Voices tell of the meaning of this landscape in their lives, and then they tell of its loss. The power of the opening sweeps one along to understand the nature of the prairie, how it has changed, and how it could be recovered... The film makes good use of its biologists, historians, farmers, and other prairie experts... The encounter, misunderstandings, and conflicts between the Native peoples and the American armies and settler populations are conveyed in the wonderful, often painful paintings and archival photographs... Whether the sun is setting or rising is an open question--we've got a long way to go from the five percent that's left. This film should convince everyone it is worth the effort."
Deborah Popper, Co-author of The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust, Associate Professor of Geography at CUNY's College of Staten Island

"This timely documentary on the Tallgrass Prairie presents an accurate and engaging fusion of natural history, human history and science in depicting the decline of this primeval landscape to a small fragment of its pre-settlement vastness. Insights and interpretations of man's impact on this fragile grassland are skillfully presented by biologists, Native Americans and others who know the story of this diminished ecosystem. Set in the rich culture of the prairie's human history and the great natural beauty of it flora, fauna and landscapes, America's Lost Landscape speaks of the value of our prairie heritage and begs us to learn from the past and see the possibilities of the future."
Dr. Thomas Eddy, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Emporia State University

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
includes scene selection for teaching; interview outtakes (more than one hour in total length) with 15 subjects including Dayton Duncan, Wes Jackson, Laura Jackson, Richard Manning, Nina Leopold Bailey, Carl Leopold, Daryl Smith and John Miller; 8 minutes of background shooting at 18 prairie locations; and 40 production stills.

America's Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie the movie's website
New Light Media the producer's website

Awards and Festivals
Pare Lorentz Award, International Documentary Association Awards
CINE Golden Eagle
Best Eco-Cinema, Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival
Katherine A. Knight Award, EarthVision International Environmental Film and Video Festival
Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Original Music, Best Film, Wild Rose Independent Film Festival
Merit Award, International Wildlife Film Festival, Missoula
Best of Festival List, Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Festival
CINE Focus Award, Montana CINE International Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival
"Stories from the Field" United Nations Documentary Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Vermont Internaitonal Film Festival
American Conservation Film Festival
Omaha Film Festival
Siskiyou Environmental Film Festival
Brownfields Conference Film Festival

American Studies
Earth Science
Endangered Species
Environmental Ethics
Native Americans
Natural Resources
Western US

Related Titles

Biomimicry: Learning from Nature - Part 1
Using natural processes as the model for agriculture and business.

The Buffalo War
The battle over the yearly slaughter of America's last wild bison outside Yellowstone National Park.

Wind River
The battle over water rights on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

The controversy surrounding the decline of the prairie dog.

... more Reviews

"Employing spectacular cinematography, archival photographs, and poignant narration, the filmmakers artfully tell the story of this forgotten landscape... A beautiful and moving addition to classroom or library collections for high school students."
School Library Journal

"[The film] superbly encapsulates the story of this intricate ecosystem from historical, cultural, biological, and agricultural perspectives...America's Lost Landscape gives a powerful overview of a region that will continue to test and define our relationship with the land."
Science, Books and Films

"This film is Highly Recommended for junior high school through college and adults. It should appeal to groups interested in ecology, agriculture, U.S. western migration, horticulture, and gardening. It is an excellent tool for teachers who are interested in thought-provoking classroom discussions."
Elise Torre, Reed Library, Educational Media Reviews Online

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