The Mennonite Historical Society of Manitoba recently received a $65,000 grant from the province, which they are putting towards the making of a film about the 1874 migration of Mennonites to Manitoba.

President of the MHS, Conrad Stoesz says, he recently learned of a film-project that needed funding to get off the ground and helped Dale Hildebrand with the grant application process. Hildebrand is a producer, director, writer, cinematographer and winner/nominee of over 50 international awards, who was born and raised in a small town in southern Manitoba, Halbstadt.  

Stoesz acknowledges there have already been many films made about the Mennonites arrival in Manitoba but says that the Historical Society is supporting Hildebrand's project of creating this documentary because it will look at the Mennonite experience of moving from Imperial Russia to Manitoba from a different point of view than the others.  

“He’ll (Hildebrand) be looking at, why did they (Mennonites) leave, what was the process for leaving and what it was like setting up communities in Manitoba in the first few years.” 

Stoesz says the script will be written by the brother-sister team of Dale Hildebrand and Eleanor Chornoboy. He says a lot of the research for the film is done, with a draft script nearly complete.  

When it comes to filming, Stoesz says they are collecting images from their archives and what they don’t have in film or photos they are going to do reenactments.    

He notes, “Hildebrand also plans on including some computer-generated work to augment what we don't have in picture or film. Exactly how that works, I don't know, that's his department, but I'm glad he's working on it.” 

Stoesz says they hope to have the hour-long film completed by the summer of 2024 in time to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mennonites in Manitoba. 

Though he’s never met Hildebrand, Stoesz says they’ve talked many times about this project and has offered to help edit the film if needed.  

Stoesz adds, “I think that we as historians need to think broader in our storytelling. We need to broaden our avenues. We've done a good job at telling our stories through print and textbooks, but many people today access stories not only in print, but visually, in images. So, we need to find new ways to tell stories, and we historians need to partner with experts who know how to create films, documentaries and graphic novels in order to tell these stories and in a way that people will be interested in accessing them. The traditional textbook style will always be relevant, but we need to expand the ways we tell our own story.” 

Stoesz continues, “I'm very grateful that people like Dale are interested in telling this story. I think there's a great interest in our story and this Mennonite story, and it's important to tell this story for our communities. I'm thankful that the provincial government has been able to provide us with a good chunk of money to work with this project, and if there are people out there who want to support the project, we're still looking for sponsors.” 

Dale Hildebrand lives in Toronto and Eleanor Chornoboy is an author, who volunteers at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg and is also well versed in the Mennonite experience. 

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