The Rural We: Stan Hirson
Stan Hirson started his professional career as a documentary filmmaker in Boston. He covered the civil rights movement in the South and made film portraits of James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Hirson joined the documentarians Maysles brothers and was involved in films such as The Beatles in America, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and numerous other documentaries. As a result of his films about the workplace, he was awarded a fellowship to the Graduate School of Management at UCLA and left his film career to practice organizational consultation. He currently lives and works in Pine Plains, New York, where he has consolidated his careers to make documentary video websites.
My wife, Sarah Jones, first brought me up here 22 years ago as a weekender from NYC and now it’s 15 years that we are living here full time. Being a transplanted documentary filmmaker, I started making video vignettes and portraits of my new neighbors. I felt that there were a lot of people overlooked in our rural community; they never really got their story told. I first became really intrigued by a couple who came over and took down a tree that was leaning over a swimming pool. They were very interesting, watching how they take down a tree by climbing it and sawing it from the top as they climb down. And then there was a local family dairy farm that I filmed before they sold their herd. It was very emotional; the farmers are very attached to the animals.
Like many small towns proximal to urban areas, Pine Plains was divided between locals and urban recreational. I wanted to bridge the two cultures to allow people to share experiences and interact with each other through media, if not in person, by creating a virtual town website, Pine Plains Views.
I film all public meetings, building and planning boards, and they become part of the archives, which includes several years of meetings. I record on a Thursday evening, and it’s up on my website Friday morning for anyone to see. This is a rural area with very scattered cable coverage, so it doesn’t really help to broadcast them on cable. I am creating a transportable template other smaller communities could use. Pine Plains Views has now grown to over 50 video stories, a comprehensive collection of community links and resources, and a video archive of community meetings.
When visitors come to our area for the first time, we drive them to the top of the hill behind our house to show them what made us come here. We love riding our Icelandic horses right from the house; we can go for hours in the countryside in different terrains, but our favorite rides are on old rail beds where the ride is as smooth as the old iron rails. They remind us that at one time Pine Plains had the highest number of train stops per capita in the U.S.
Living in a rural area so close to metropolitan markets, we work to preserve a vital community and at the same time stimulate a thriving economy. People confuse “change” with “development,” but it took centuries to develop the open landscape and community that some people now want to change.