In this still from “Ocean of Grass,” Laron McGinn interacts with cattle on his family’s 135-year-old ranch.
Film profiles family of sandhill ranchers
For more than a century, enterprising ranchers have dug in against relentless weather and rural flight to raise families and establish their legacies in the Nebraska Sandhills.
Many of the area’s multigenerational cattle ranches can trace their roots back to the homesteaders who settled the prairie in the late 1800s when the Great Plains were still the nation’s frontier.
Now, the story of one of those ranches is coming to theaters, thanks to Lincoln, Nebraska-based independent filmmaker Georg Joutras.
Joutras’ film, “Ocean of Grass,” follows the McGinn family of cattle ranchers as they make a living off the land and display the same grit that built America into an agricultural giant.
The movie will screen at Holyoke’s Peerless Theatre next Tuesday-Thursday, March 26-28. Showings will be at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.
CHS Grainland is sponsoring the film’s Holyoke run and paid the license fee on behalf of the theater.
Golden Plains Recreation Center/Peerless Theatre board member Tricia Michael said the film was requested by patrons after three January showings sold out in Julesburg. Joutras claims the film has sold out 26 shows since its run began last year.
Although Michael hadn’t yet seen the film, she recognized that its celebration of hard work, animal stewardship and family appear to resonate with audiences across the Midwest.
“We do have a lot of ranching here as well, and I think it would really hit home,” she said. “It’s kind of our lifestyle, I guess.”
“I think it translates to the rest of the Great Plains in general,” Joutras said. He explained that the film strives to be apolitical while exploring the lives of the people who made and continue to make the country great.
Joutras’ efforts to document the McGinn Ranch began in 2003 when he floated the idea of a photography book to Laron McGinn, son of family patriarch and ranch operator Mike McGinn.
Joutras later went on to publish a book of photos documenting life on the ranch. But a decade later, he found that he still had more to share about the McGinn family and the lifestyle of rugged simplicity they enjoy.
Joutras spent four years crafting the film, handling all aspects of production, including shooting, directing and editing. Virtually the only piece not made by Joutras was the score, written by University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Tom Larson.
When he wasn’t filming, Joutras “earned his keep” on the ranch by helping care for the cattle.
He said that, more than the story of the ranch, the film is meant to convey its “feeling” and profile a place that has become Joutras’ home away from home.
“They’re kind of like my second family, I guess you could say.”