In 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the Homestead Act, allowing American citizens to settle on up to 160 acres of surveyed but unclaimed public land. After five years of making the turf liveable, the settlers received title to the land. The goal of this Act was to open up the West, and it worked. More than 600,000 people opted to migrate to the land of the setting sun, including Esther Strasburger and her two sisters – the subjects of a 30-minute documentary by Margaret Carey.
Shadows Across the Sun River Valley is the story of three women who took up the challenge to homestead in Simms, Montana, in 1909, and their living legacy, Esther’s great-granddaughter , who continues to live and work on the land near Simms today.
Budgeted at about US$80,000, Shadows is set to wrap by the end of March. Carey, a producer/director with Montana Public Television station KUFM-TV, is producing the documentary in association with ITVS.
Proving that the impulse to go west is still alive today, filmmaker Alex Beckstead examines his own family’s yearly pilgrimage in a one-hour one-off called Wagons West. While saddled up in the modern-version of a wagon – the RV – Beckstead’s clan expose the complex layers of family relationships and the strength of blood ties despite dysfunction and diffences.
Beckstead is a producer/director with public television affiliate KUED-Salt Lake City, and is producing Wagons West in association with ITVS. The project, which has a budget of $140,000, is also scheduled to wrap by the end of March.