For the past 10 months, a professional filmmaker from Michigan has been traveling back and forth on U.S. Highway 2 from Williston, N.D., to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gathering information and stories for a documentary he plans to pitch to CBS, he said.
Dirk Wierenga’s goal is to give the rest of the country a more accurate picture of rural America, he said.
He plans to tell the story through the lives and accounts of people who live along a 1,000-mile stretch of Highway 2 and those who, more than a century ago, settled in the area the highway serves today.
The Grand Forks area is part of the plan.
Wierenga, who has talked with several people in this area, including author Lela Peterson, of rural Reynolds, N.D.; Blue Weber, executive director, Downtown Development Association; Jonathan Holth, JLG Architects; and members of Grand Forks Young Professionals and city staff.
“A lot of people don’t know about Highway 2,” said Wierenga, who lives in Grand Haven, Mich. “The rest of the country has not discovered this route.”
“This 1,000-mile stretch has such a rich history of boom and bust,” he said, adding that its economic prospects are “incredible.”
“The opportunities are crazy,” he said. “The only thing people have against it is the weather.”
History, however, will serve only as background, he said. His documentary “will focus on the stories of real people -- because people connect with people.”
In his meeting with Weber in Grand Forks, Wierenga was impressed by the efforts to involve and support young people so they can be successful, Weber said.
"He wanted to talk about the investments being made in downtown Grand Forks and how we connect with smaller communities in this area,” Weber said.
“We filmed for one-and-a-half hours at The Ember,” he said. "He took footage of me with construction on DeMers (Avenue) going on in the background."
Wierenga plans to return to Grand Forks early next month to film more interviews for the documentary he’s titled, “Route 2 Elsewhere,” with the “2” shaped like a road sign, he said.
The people he is meeting in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan feel misrepresented by major media outlets, he said. Others, especially many of those who live in large metropolitan areas on the nation’s coasts, discount the Midwest as merely “fly over” country.
At a stop in Minot last month, Wierenga picked up Peterson’s book, “Selma,” which gave a detailed account of her relatives’ emigration from Sweden in the 1800s and their struggles to establish a new home in America.
Wierenga was struck by the personal stories and the depth of Peterson’s research for the book, which he praised on his website.
Even though the book contained no contact information for Peterson, he eventually connected with her, and the two met and talked for a couple of hours last month at the East Grand Forks Campbell Library, she said.
Peterson was impressed by the extensive research Wierenga has already done on the state.
“He knows all of North Dakota -- better than a lot of people who live here," she said.
Along this corridor of Highway 2, he’s gathering original stories from people for the documentary, which will “give credence to this area,” she said, “and show the worth, the value and the intelligence of this area.”