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Barbara Coffin, Executive Producer

Barbara began research and development of Minnesota: A History of the Land in the Fall of 1998 in her capacity as Coordinator of the College of Natural Resources’ Center for Continuing Education, University of Minnesota. She has worked for over 25 years in program leadership of conservation biology-related programs for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of Minnesota. She served as Director of the Minnesota Peat Program and the State’s Natural Heritage Program and was co-editor of Minnesota’s Endangered Flora and Fauna and Patterned Peatlands of Northern Minnesota. Barbara’s career has been devoted to promoting ecological understanding through research, conservation, and educational outreach.  Barbara received her BA in Anthropology and MS in Plant Ecology from the University of Minnesota.



What was your interest in producing this series?  
Why did you think it was important?
We started developing the idea of Minnesota: A History of the Land in 1998. It has been an incredible six-year journey of learning and creating. My colleague, Lansing Shepard, and I believed that a visual medium would be a powerful way to bring to life the epic story of the people and landscapes of Minnesota.
This project is an initiative of the College of Natural Resources, University of Minnesota. "A History of the Land" marks a new approach to continuing education for the College.  We’ve focused most of our offerings on targeted workshops and conferences for natural resource professionals.  This project is certainly for them, but it’s also for a broader audience.  This is the 21st century, we get a lot of our information in a visual way, be it from television, movies or the internet.  We asked ourselves, can we reach people with content-rich material through engaging, visual storytelling.  We think the answer is "yes," documentary video can be an effective outreach and teaching tool.


What is a favorite moment/anecdote in the process of producing the series?
Filming Minnesota from the vantage point of an open-door helicopter is one of my favorite memories.  It is an amazing experience. The image of our videographers hanging by harness as they captured prized shots (to the unrelenting wishes of our producers) will linger in my mind for many years. The sweep of landscape features below us and the fingerprint of humans upon the land is both grand and revealing.  The use of aerial footage in the series offers viewers an entirely new perspective on this place we know as Minnesota.


Why should viewers watch the series?
What can viewers expect to learn?
Our hope for the series is that viewers come away with both a better ecological understanding of the land and our relationship with it, and their role as its steward.
The land has provided us with great opportunity, we are rich with natural resources in Minnesota, and we have made great use of these resources.  However, there have often been unintended consequences associated with our actions.  We have much to learn from these stories of our past. History provides an important lens for examining the state of our environment.


What has been the most challenging aspect of working on this project?
Selecting the stories to be told in the series was one of our greatest challenges. Which handful of stories best tell the environmental history of Minnesota?  How could we effectively move through time from 16,000 years ago to the present? It was a difficult task.  Unlike other documentaries, such as the Lewis and Clark expedition, there was no book to serve as a guidepost. Many hours of research filled the first years of this six-year project.

What was the most gratifying part of the job?
Seeing it all come together.  The production team that has worked on this project have been amazing!  They have developed a new template for the nature/history documentary. The series features stunning nature videography, historic footage, state-of-the-art animations and historic re-creations.  Elements of a NOVA production, a National Geographic Special and a traditional historical documentary are woven together for very effective story telling that is both a human story and a scientific story.



Barbara Coffin
Executive Producer


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