The Wilds is the largest endangered species preserve in North America. That in itself is a remarkable story, but the story of that place in eastern Ohio goes so much deeper.
Before its 10,000 acres became home to herds of rhinos, giraffes, and many other species, it was roamed by the world’s largest coal shovel, which stripped the land to unearth coal to operate electricity generating plants in the American Electric Power system. And before that, it was farmland and woods.
The 10,000 Acres documentary, directed by Doug Swift, a filmmaker and writer, and professor of Journalism and
English at Denison University, includes numerous written stories, photos and immersive short documentary films that show what it is like to work at The Wilds and manage the animals living on and reproducing at the facility.
A series of premiere events included a stop on Nov. 16 at the Twin City Opera House in McConnelsville, southeast of Zanesville in Morgan County. Two other premiere events were held to correspond with the online publication of the documentary in November: The first was held on Oct. 27 before a packed auditorium in the Boyd Science Center at Muskingum University in New Concord, and the latest was on Nov. 1 in Slayter Auditorium at Denison University in Granville.
The project also tells the story about mining for coal on the land, and the operation of the Big Muskie, the largest dragline ever built. It tells the story of the farming community that existed before the mining. And it traces the origins of this community back to pioneer days.
It tells the story of the Lett Settlement, a mixed-race community that thrived in the region before the Civil War, even though they had to sue for rights to education and voting. And we learn the history of Indigenous Americans, including mound builders, who lived on these 10,000 acres thousands of years ago.
All the short documentary films are scored by West Virginia composer Matt Jackfert. Some historical films are animated with paintings by Zanesville artist Mary Ann Bucci.
Major funders for the project are the Ohio Humanities Council, the Ohio Arts Council, and Denison University.
Premiere events are open and free to the public. The director will guide the audience through the website for those who are new to interactive documentaries. Several of the short films will be shown, and refreshments will be served.