Extraordinary Film Documents Wagon Journey from Canada to Mexico
Saint Augustine is supposed to have said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
Few people have heeded Saint Augustine’s advice with as much devotion as American Long Rider Bernie Harberts, for he has read the world and delivered a tale such as few have done.
After sailing around the world alone, Bernie rode “ocean to ocean” across the United States. Then he set out on a remarkable journey in search of the “lost sea” that once covered America’s Great Plains. What he found was a nation awash with contradictory beliefs, a people longing for emotional stability, and an environment facing catastrophic changes.
Plenty of people make trips which result in the creation of DDD, 'dreary daily diaries,' written by people who travel far but have say little of value to say afterwards. Bernie Harberts isn’t one of those and the documentary film he made is worthy of attention for a wide variety of reasons.
It's certainly true that the film relates how Bernie travelled 2,500 miles alone in a tiny wagon from Neptune, Saskatchewan to Fort Hancock, Texas. But this story is about a lot more than a man, a mule and a wagon.
Hollywood typically depicts the “Old West” as being populated by buffalo and long horn cattle. Yet Bernie met various people, including a paleontologist, a rancher and a Native American who showed him dinosaur fossils they had discovered in different states where the Lost Sea had once been.
On a superficial level it's easy to sit back, watch the pretty landscape, enjoy seeing the antics of Polly the mule, wonder at the colourful people Bernie meets and take in the sights second hand.
What sets this story apart from the vast majority of equestrian travel tales is its maturity. This is a documentary film that is different because there are important emotional, social, cultural, religious, political and spiritual threads interwoven into the tale.
The American states Bernie travelled through have traditionally been associated with hardy pioneers, resilient ranchers and enduring farmers. Yet Bernie discovered that large portions of the interior of the USA are becoming increasingly depopulated.
He filmed a house buried by tumbleweeds. He witnessed small towns dying. He spoke to lonely survivors. And he documented how the country’s most vital water supply, the Ogallala Aquifer, is being emptied by aggressive industrial-sized agricultural practices that are draining away the nation’s underground water at an alarming rate.
The editor of a small Kansas newspaper asked Bernie, “Will the water run out before the population runs out?”
The landscape may still be magnificent but what this film also shows is the shocking de-population of the interior of America.
During an in-depth Question & Answer interview with the Guild, Bernie discussed his journey, the film he made single-handed, and the unexpected discoveries he made along the way.
What is revealed is the story of a man who represents the ideals that once defined America around the world: principles not profits, integrity not ego, truth not deception, personal courage not ethical cowardice.
Bernie Harberts may be an American Long Rider but his story has a global message and this documentary presents an authentic view of the country - culturally, spiritually and environmentally.
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