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Walking through history

Films focus on migration of people to and from Cloquet

While researching a theme for seven short films he'll debut next week in Cloquet, Augustin Ganley drew inspiration from a French word, "cloque," defined as blister. The word features dual meanings, both the kind you get from walking in new shoes, and, when adjusted to cloqué, an irregularly raised pattern in fabric design.

"We have histories that are woven together here that are an irregular or uneven pattern," the 35-year-old Ganley said. "Some histories are raised up. Some histories are sunken down. That's a common American experience, and I wanted to explore that."

Ganley's films, under the banner title, "Blistered," will appear at Common Ground Coffee Bar & Deli, located in the West End neighborhood's old Chief theater, during a free event 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12.

The films, roughly 10 minutes each, focus on migration and people walking into and out of the land that is now the city of Cloquet.

"I imagined a night of walking cinema," Ganley said. "We're not going to walk literally; it's a cinematic journey."

The evening will include music from Steve Solkela's Overpopulated One-Man Band, popcorn, a food truck, literature, and art displays. The screening will be followed by a discussion program featuring Ganley and some of those appearing in the films, including activist Jim Northrup III.

"I'm with Jim harvesting tipi poles and he's retracing his steps; he's going down memory lane, but as he calls it, 'Muffler Alley,' this long dirt road that they grew up on," Ganley said, describing their film together. "He's reflecting on how he became who he is and how the land shaped him."

Other films include a documentary of the "1854 Treaty people," a core group of 23 indigenous and other folks who walked 100 miles along the South Shore of Wisconsin last summer.

"It was life-changing," Ganley said. "Everybody healed in some way and I could watch it every day."

Ganley never figured he'd land in Cloquet when returning to his home state of Minnesota, having spent several years in the New England region of the country.

That's where Ganley met his partner, Thomlin Swan, a theater artist. They had a daughter and became the artists they are today. Returning to his roots in Minnesota, he figured to land in Duluth, where the filmmaker would practice inside a burgeoning scene.

But renting a home on the Fond du Lac Reservation gave Ganley and his family a place to call home.

"I can feel a sense of movement, a sense of change that's happening very subtly in terms of the tribe reclaiming their traditions, and reclaiming a lot of their land and ways," Ganley said. "I'm very inspired by that."

Ganley once made a documentary about surviving a year rafting along the Mississippi River with only a "gift economy" as a guide.

"We were giving away shows for free, and receiving generosity from people we met," he said. "We lived for free for a full year in 2010. It was a wild time."

Walking with Ganley along Dunlap Island, it occurs that Ganley ti even when he's examining history - is an artist driven forward. He talks about building spaces in which to hold difficult conversations in a divided world. After debuting his new films, he'll take "Blistered" out of Cloquet, to Duluth and beyond along the Great Lakes, places like Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit and Montreal. He'll drop one movie and add a newly produced, localized film at each stop, he said. A recipient of a $1,000 West End Flourish grant to help fund his "Blistered" work, Ganley can take huge batches of footage from his trusty Sony camera and turn it into a coherent beginning, middle and end in no time.

"I'm happy to say I got to a point where I work efficiently," Ganley said. "I can edit a (short) film in a day."

In one of his other films set to debut, Ganley walks with a subject to the Carlton County Historical Society, where they review Frank Lloyd Wright and his influence on what Ganley called "the architecture of freedom."

"He's come in several times," said Carol Klitzke, Carlton County Historical Society director, of Ganley. "One time he brought in four young people and they did research for a whole morning."

Klitzke described Ganley as "a wonderful young man."

"I enjoy having him show up," she said. "He's really interested in history and Cloquet, and he talks to all of us. It's fun when someone comes in enough times they're a familiar face."

Klitzke said she'll attend the opening of Ganley's films on Nov. 12.

Ganley said he's never been happier with a project. The stories seemed to choose him, he said, grateful for the way his subjects let him into their worlds.

"I know what I'm sitting on," Ganley said of the films. "And I can't wait for people to see them."

In another film, Ganley meets with local historian and Pine Knot News contributor Dan Reed. Shot in black and white, it tells the story of the log driving boom in the 1880s, springing Cloquet into lumber town lore.

Whether it's Finnish or Anishinaabe migration, Irish or Judeo-Christian, people from throughout Cloquet's past and present figure to be represented, he said. They'll be united by stories of migration and, simply, walking together.

"Walking is fundamental, the most human mode of travel," Ganley said. "It's what our ancestors have always done. And as the future becomes more and more unpredictable and travel becomes more unpredictable, walking will always be there for us as an option."

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