A chance discovery unhearths vintage rural electric film

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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Scott Moore was rummaging through old boxes in his office at FEM Electric Association when he came across several worn film canisters. They included old cartoons and other shorts that might have been shown at social events in a rural community a half-century ago.

But one title caught his eye: By the People for the People, a single-reel 16-mm print accompanied by a grainy set of instructions identifying it as NRECA’s first film.

“It hadn’t been used in about 40 or 50 years,” says Moore, CEO of the Ipswich, S.D.-based distribution co-op.

Turns out By the People for the People was produced around 1955, about a decade after NRECA was established. It highlighted the challenges electric cooperatives faced in their formative years and their rapid expansion after World War II.

“Sometimes private companies built lines—‘spite lines,’ they were called—parallel to already constructed farmer-owned lines,” the narrator says. But the 26-minute film stresses the faith farmers and ranchers had in cooperative organizers and their ability to get things done through collective action.

“Us farmers can do anything we set our minds to, if we do it together,” says a farmer identified as Bill in the film. “I make a motion that we start a cooperative, so we can borrow from the government and build our own electric lines.”

The movie, made by Film Productions of Minneapolis, was distributed to NRECA member cooperatives and their statewide associations for use at annual meetings and other member outreach events.

Included with each copy were instructions on how it should be presented and talking points designed to encourage group discussion and member engagement after viewing. The notes said electric co-ops served 14 million rural people, contributed significantly to local tax bases, provided employment, and helped increase agricultural production.

“The better equipped we are to inform the uninformed, the more likely we are to resist the attacks of those who would profit from our dissolution,” NRECA said in the notes.  READ MORE...

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