Bakken reporting team meets funding goal, hits the road

Bakken Gang

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

A little before they left town Thursday, with just their film, video and audio equipment left to stow, members of the High Plains Heritage Project gathered outside their rented RV. They are, from left, Pete Tolton, Tarek Fouda, Jessica Jane Hart and Stan Parker.

And they’re off.

A team of four young journalists, who plan to document the changes sweeping Eastern Montana and North Dakota as a result of the Bakken oil boom, hit the road Thursday afternoon.

Pete Tolton, Stan Parker, Jessica Jane Hart and Tarek Fouda plan to spend three weeks gathering materials for a documentary film, and they will be posting frequent updates, video clips, articles and photographs on their website, High Plains Heritage Project.

They are traveling in a rented RV, a Dodge Neon and a Chevrolet Trailblazer. The idea is to use the RV as a base of operations and work station, and to use the other two vehicles to go out on reporting and filming forays.

They have already reached one important milestone — surpassing their Kickstarter goal of $11,750. They reached their goal two days before their deadline last week and are still raising money, with $12,175 pledged as of Thursday afternoon.

Hart, a professional photographer who grew up in Billings, said she and Parker, a freelance journalist and filmmaker who was born and raised here, had been talking for a long time about some kind of reporting project in the Bakken.

Last fall, they joined forces with Tolton, a freelance writer and editor from Billings, and Fouda, a radio and sound editor, originally from Connecticut, who met Hart when both were living in New York City.

Hart and Fouda did a reconnaisance trip to the Bakken region last September, spending a week making contacts, gathering story ideas and shooting some film and still photographs that were used for their Kickstarter campaign.

Tolton and Parker made a similar five-day trip in March, laying more groundwork for the larger project. Though they have some stories lined up, they will continue looking for new stories to tell.

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Tolton said they are not going into this with any preconceived ideas and will tell their stories from the perspective of the people whose experiences they document.

“I think of it as a portrait of the places, told through the people spending time there now,” Hart said.

Hart said they were told that the Bakken oil fields are expected to continue producing for 30 years, so one of her goals is to go back every five years or so to document changes to the landscape and the people.

As part of that plan, she and Fouda photographed and logged GPS coordinates of 50 to 75 locations in Montana and North Dakota, and Hart hopes to go back and shoot the same locations every five years.

Fouda had never been to Montana or North Dakota before last year. He said he knew next to nothing about the region, and so had no stereotypes or mental images of it.

“It was completely off my radar screen,” he said. “The first thing that struck me was the emptiness of the landscape.”

Parker, for his part, said one thing he was struck by, and didn’t expect to find, was that the bars and restaurants in the Bakken region have the feeling of ex-pat communities in a foreign country.

“Everyone there’s from somewhere else,” he said.

You can start looking on their website as early as Friday for progress reports from the field. We also hope to feature some of their work on Last Best News.

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