Growing up in a rural community in North Dakota, Daniel Stenberg never thought of himself as a professional storyteller.
But that’s exactly what he’s about to become.
Daniel has been working with Prairie Public Broadcasting (North Dakota’s PBS affliliate) to shoot a documentary about 6 World-War-II-era brothers who grew up in Watford City, North Dakota. (You can see his Kickstarter project page here.)
The project is scheduled to begin shooting in June, when the background shots of the rolling Dakota prairies will be green and lush, the crops will be well on their way, the birds will be chirping and prairie roses will be blooming—and locals are reminded once again of why they choose to live in North Dakota. (After many months of a cold, Canadian-style winter, June can be a helpful month of reminders for this.)
As for background research, Daniel already knows his topic very well. His grandfather, Chris Stenberg, was one of those 6 brothers. Born into one of the many farming communities in rural North Dakota, the brothers—Arnold, Casper, Chris, Henry, Ray, and Selmer—were born into an era when ordinary people were called upon to live through extraordinary times. Only two of the boys had the opportunity to finish high school (born in 1916, Daniel’s grandfather himself—by all accounts an intelligent, richly-gifted man—never had the chance to go beyond eighth grade.)
This is a story of good times and bad, of faith and doubt, of vulnerability and steel-sided determination. The family knew its share of sadness: during 1941, the youngest boy, Selmer, died of appendicitis at age 9, and within 8 months, sons 3 and 4 (Chris and Henry) went off to war. Only one of them returned: after serving for four long years, Henry was killed only one week before WW II ended. The news took over a month to reach the family.
Daniel speaks of discovering and reading the letters home from war that his grandfather wrote to his family as being one of the pivotal moments in his realization that this story needed to be told. The letters spoke of the ordinary and immediate—how’s the weather? how are the crops coming along?—while also articulating the universal, timeless themes of what it means to be human in a broken, inhumane world (about the war, Chris’ letters wondered aloud as to why it was necessary at all: “why can’t we all just get along?”)
And Daniel realized that he was going to need to be the one to tell it.
So he took an 18-month sabbatical from his career and started on the fundraising, the meetings, the grant proposals, and all the details that make up the planning stages of such a monumental undertaking.
After spending a number of years in his early 20s working in Washington, D.C. in various capacities (yes, starting out as an intern), he returned to North Dakota a couple years ago with a renewed vision for appreciating and telling the unique stories of his home state.
This is the first installment of that series. When asked what his next project will be after this, Daniel laughs out loud. “I can’t say that I want to be a professional film-maker for the rest of my life,” he muses. “But I know that I want to tell this story. If other stories come up that I want to tell, then maybe.”
Daniel’s fund-raising efforts have been unusually successful so far. With his mother’s rhubarb jam, homemade krumkake, and other delectable farm goodies as some of the rewards available for different levels of donations, his Kickstarter campaign has been brisk.
There is still time to get in on the ground level for this amazing project, and since Daniel’s mother—farm wife Gayle Stenberg—is known in the community for some fine cooking and baking, you may want to check out Daniel’s campaign ASAP. The opportunity to take in some fresh-baked or fresh-grown goodies is a rare opportunity to experience North Dakota hospitality while also taking part in the telling of a really good story.
You can find more information about Daniel and his documentary here.
The 6 Brothers documentary project can also be found on Facebook.