Being a Wisconsin
native and living portions of several years in the Driftless Area of
SW Wisconsin, essentially the quadrant of the state between the Wisconsin
River and its mouth where it enters the Mississippi at Prairie du Chein,
I am familiar with the Mississippi in its more northern watercourse.
Though I return occasionally, it's been some years since I've returned
to the area with close and local attention. The following might be of
1. There's (I hope
its still there) a fish smokehouse along the river in Dubuque, if memory
serves me, just south of the Wisconsin-Iowa bridge. It's an unusual,
grubbily-wonderful place in that one can get all kinds of smoked trash
fish--buffalo, gar, sturgeon, carp & probably steel-belted radials--and
the food is surprisingly tasty.
2. That area, on the
Wisconsin side particularly, was home to a 19th century mining boom
and still reflects the Cornish and Welsh settlers. Though some 30 miles
east of the River, the town of Mineral Point is a place where the original
Badger identity of the state was shaped, named after the low sheds,
burrow-homes and lead mining digs of the immigrant populations. There
are interesting reconstructions, historical collections and folk culture
elements (bakeries offering pasties come to mind) in and around Mineral
3. From La Crosse
south the culture is Scandinavian, and the little river towns are notable
for Norwegian festivals and tschatkies(?).
4. The mouths of the
major Wisconsin rivers (St Croix, Chippewa, Black & Wisconsin),
where they flow into the Mississippi are spots of beauty and history,
often of towering cliffs. I'd have your researcher check with local
newspapers, libraries and historical societies for times & places
of scheduled events. You'll get good footage and goofy stories.
5. Galena (Illinois)
just a few miles south of the Wisconsin border was the home of General
U.S. Grant. In the lead mining area mentioned above , it's a hotbed
of Victorian homes and antique culture, and is just a couple miles east
of the Mississippi on a smaller river I can't recall the name of. Check
it out--its an eerie bottomland with too many cemeteries.
6. Eagles and paddlefish
are a couple of notable species in this area. The 50 pound+ prehistoric
paddlefish swim up the tributary rivers to the first dam where they
leap and congregate.
7. Old line German
breweries. Leinenkuegel in La Crosse & others, though Anheiser-Busch
has for years been Budweisering the originals.
8. I suspect you know
Wisconsin Death Trip, Michael Lesey's incredible book about Black River
Falls in the 1890's, made into a documentary film by James Marsh. BRFalls
is just up the Black River from its mouth at the Mississippi. There
are still very strange, isolate areas in this part of the northern Mississippi
Valley and the unglaciated landscape creates many narrow runs and dead-end
roads, with all the cultural cut-offs they suggest.
9. If you film in
the summer, go to the local softball and baseball games in the evenings.
The parks and ambiance, damp air rising in mist above the light pylons,
and ease of it all is quite wonderful. First read Richard Hugo's poem
on Missoula Softball Tournaments with its refrain something like, "the
wives, wives, the beautiful wives."
10. Because the bluffs
are so sharp and high in this upper midwestern river valley, there are
several different recreational & transport systems squeezed along
or within the river--trains, roads, barge traffic, migratory routes,
hang gliding (where the currents blow up the bluffs), lots of bikers,
kayakers and canoeists. I'm not sure it qualifies as art, but you'll
make it that if it's of interest.
11. mIEKAL aND lives
about 40 miles east near the small town of LaFarge. He's part of Dreamtime
Village, an anarcho-eco community in the Kickapoo River Valley. He publishes
Xexoxial Editions [10375 Cty Highway A; LaFarge WI 54639; http://cla.umn.edu/joglars/xe;
email@example.com]. When I saw him last summer
he spoke of traveling anarchist circuses & other madness--check
the site. He's an engaged and fascinating eccentric.
12. A little off the
track is the Dickeyville Grotto, in the town of Dickeyville.
The more I ramble
on the more that comes to mind, so stay in touch if I can be of some
One other Mississippi
River thought: I've long held in mind doing a book on rope swings that
hang from trees & bridges over swimming holes and for years would
seek them out, try them out and take a few snapshots. The book's never
materialized, but it might be a motif to follow in your documentary.