Arts & Entertainment, Film, and Lakeshore

Documentary to spotlight town’s history

Holland Film Group working on film about city’s immigration, entrepreneurship, public-private partnerships.

December 30, 2016
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Holland Film Group
Louie Schaefer works the camera and Dave Lowing handles the lighting for an interview with Louis Hallacy II, former Holland mayor. Courtesy Moondog Productions

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A collection of leaders on the lakeshore think Holland has something special, and they want to shine a light on it.

The Holland Film Group, which was formally established in September, consists of 11 educators, journalists, historians, businessmen and documentarians, most of who have ties to Holland.

The group came together under the leadership of executive producer and retired businessman Howard Veneklasen, who said he devised the concept of making a documentary film while traveling.

“My wife and I were in Ketchikan, Alaska, a couple years ago, and we walked into the community center, and they had a film running that had been done on their city,” he said. “The thought occurred to me that Holland didn’t have anything like that.

“Maybe about 20 books have been written on it, but nobody has ever tackled the film aspect of it.”

So, Veneklasen gathered a collection of professionals he knew would be able to help make a film: Production is headed by Emmy Award-winning director Rob Byrd, of Moondog Productions; the scriptwriter is Ben Beversluis, former Grand Rapids Press and Holland Sentinel writer and editor; and other group members include former mayor and city councilman Louis Hallacy II; documentary filmmaker Milt Nieuwsma; former Holland Museum executive director Chris Shires; historian and author Robert Swierenga; former Holland Sentinel editor and author Randy VandeWater; former television news anchor Tom Van Howe; Black River School educator Greg Dykhouse; and library director and longtime Holland City Council member Bob VandeVusse.

The group is working in cooperation with the Holland Museum and the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area. The committee intends for the documentary to be a resource for students, business, tourists, local government and the community. Filming is scheduled for early this year with a premiere set for December.

So far, the project has raised about $45,000 of its estimated goal of $120,000.

Beversluis, who currently is working on the script, said the film’s working title is “Immigrants and Entrepreneurs.”

“It’s going to focus on what Holland is today as an economic base, a growing community, an increasingly diverse community and how did it come to be that way,” he said. “We don’t want it just to be a dry history; we want to look at these themes that helped create Holland and make it what it is: hard work, entrepreneurial drive, community participation, public-private partnerships.”

He said 19th-century Dutch Reformed clergyman Albertus Van Raalte, widely considered the father of Holland, “created this thread that has endured over the years.”

Beversluis said the film won’t just focus on the first Dutch immigrants. It will be about a “successive wave of immigrants from other countries and from around the U.S. who have contributed to an entrepreneurial bent.”

He cited, in particular, the Hispanic community that has been growing since the 1950s.

Some examples of public-private partnerships include the establishment of the original Holland Economic Development Corporation, the formation of Lakeshore Advantage and the creation of a municipal board of public works, which Beversluis said has fostered low-cost reliable energy and has attracted battery-maker LG Chem and an upcoming gas-fired power plant to the city.

“Now, we’re cooperating to become this world-class energy efficient city,” Beversluis said. “It’s all these themes we’re trying to weave together. Old and new are all kind of flowing together, and our task is to show how those things are connected over time.”

Veneklasen and Beversluis said they are in the process of identifying 20 to 30 interview subjects from diverse backgrounds who will be able to speak to the themes in the documentary.

“(We want) people who can speak to those threads: business people, workers, first- and second-generation immigrant families, the Hispanic community, people of faith to talk about the faith community, philanthropists and so on,” Beversluis said.

Once the film is complete, the group aims to show it to school groups, economic developers, community organizations, businesses and the visitors’ bureau. After that, it will be placed on a continuous loop at the Holland Museum.

“It’s also being made to fit broadcast specifications just in case — 56 minutes long that PBS and some others require,” Beversluis said.

Beversluis said he hopes viewers walk away from the film with a deeper appreciation for what makes Holland “a pretty special place.”

“We really want to show the many pieces and the diversity of people and ideas that make Holland what it is,” he said. “It’s known around the country for its downtown, its innovative snowmelt system, its competition for the energy presence — and it’s no accident all of those things came together.”

Veneklasen said 2017, which is the 150th anniversary of Holland’s formal establishment, will be the perfect time to show the film.

“It will certainly create a higher sense of pride in what Holland is,” he said. “It will also act as a booster for our visitors’ bureau. Hopefully, it’s an educational tool.”

Beversluis said the group has discussed possible future projects once the documentary is finished, but nothing has been formalized yet.

“We want to get this project — as a broadcast-quality, hour-long documentary — done, and that’s going to take much of (this) year,” he said.

For more information about the film, visit hollandfilmgroup.com.

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