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Sunday, April 29 at 10:30 p.m. – Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison

(Rochester, NY)Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison, an Independent Lens film, is the far-reaching and complex history of human relations with the largest land mammal in North America. One of the most enduring and iconic images of the West — once numbering in the millions — bison have been reduced to a few pockets of remnant populations, and the land “where the buffalo roam” no longer exists. Confronting the chasm between the myth and the reality of the American West, Facing the Storm introduces viewers to the rich sweep of human sustenance, exploitation, conservation, and spiritual relations with the ultimate symbol of wild America. In a post-Manifest Destiny culture that has repeatedly brought the species to near-extinction, the film asks: Can we let bison be bison? Or are they destined to “range” only in zoos or ranches as a reminder of the once-wild West? Featuring rare archival images, original animation, and stunning wildlife photography of these magnificent animals, Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison premieres on WXXI-TV/HD (DT 21.1/cable 1011 and 11) Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 10:30 p.m.

Facing the Storm tells the story through the voices of its three main characters: the American bison, the Americans who understand and care about them, and the landscape they both inhabit: the American West. The film reveals the bison’s behavior — in and out of their natural habitat, and in relationship to one another and to humans — helping us to understand and care about the
life of this symbolic giant. Called “Faces the Storm” by Native Americans, bison were observed to turn and walk into snowstorms in order to get through them faster. And while the bison can’t speak for themselves, their story is told by their modern-day heroes: Native Americans, biologists, ranchers and bison advocates who are collaborating in a visionary effort to re-establish bison in their native habitat. Finally, the omnipresent character of the American West
— real and mythical — the landscape in which the story unfolds, adds its own distinctive voice to the struggle for survival and ecological balance that continues to this day.

To understand the current crisis, the film touches on the most significant points in the history of bison survival, including the tragic trajectory of the 19th century, when commercial hunting for prized buffalo robes and hides evolved into a deliberate program of bison eradication. By the end of the century, Plains tribes were forced onto reservations and bison herds were reduced to
less than 1,000 animals from the original 30-60 million that once grazed in North America.

Once brought to the brink of extinction, bison have survived, but myriad political factors keep their status as truly wild animals in question. Much like the old divide between ranchers and sheepherders that fueled the plots of Western movies, those who support cattle ranching are at odds with Native Americans, conservationists, park rangers, and others who would like to see thbison roam. When bison cross boundary lines — when they wander outside of Yellowstone National Park for example — they unwittingly morph from protected wildlife to livestock, and can be hunted down and killed. Others are working to domesticate the species, herding them withhelicopters and trucks on large industrialized farms, breeding out the genes that kept the animal
wild in an attempt to turn bison into an easier to handle meat source.

Pictured: Close-up of lone bison in Yellowstone National Park.
Photo credit: Courtesy of High Plains Films

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