~story and photo by Ryan Stacy
For documentary filmmakers, success can be bittersweet. On the one hand, you’re glad when your work calls attention to a problem you see in the world; on the other, you’d much prefer that the problem wasn’t there to document in the first place. For Nashville’s John and Hannah Boggs, it’s their love for the people and the land in Brown County—and not the accolades their documentaries continue to earn—that drives Colab, the video production company the couple created together.
Saving Yellowwood, their short documentary on the sale of almost 2,000 old-growth trees by the state Department of Natural Resources in Brown County’s Yellowwood Forest last fall, wasn’t undertaken with front-page newspaper coverage and film festivals in mind. John and Hannah say they felt obligated to act when the Indiana Forest Alliance approached them about “just getting some footage” of the logging activities. “They knew we had a video company, so they asked us to come out. But soon we had hours and hours of footage,” John says.
As public response to the Yellowwood plan grew in size and intensity, it became clear that a powerful story of community was emerging, and a viable documentary project began to take shape. Soon, Hannah says, she noticed that the concern for Yellowwood went beyond the environment among the people who gathered to protest the logging. “This wasn’t just tree-huggers—it wasn’t just about the trees. There were all kinds of people, from every walk of life,” she remembers. John agrees, adding that everyone from hunters to scientists, to people simply looking to preserve the landscape in which they hike and walk, were in the crowds he spoke to.
So far, Saving Yellowwood has been well-received, scoring top billing when it premiered at the Bloomington stop of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in January at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. “Now it’s part of the national tour, showing all over the country—it’s a real honor for us,” says John. “And the audience really connected, people were yelling at the screen, they were that into it.”
An encore presentation of the film also took place on February 24 at the Brown County Playhouse, so people closer to home could see Saving Yellowwood on the big screen.
Ultimately, the anti-logging crowd lost its fight last fall. But John and Hannah say they don’t see their video as a story of defeat. “Seeing all those clear-cut trees hauled away on trucks was disheartening. And seeing the acres of stumps that are left is still a shock,” John says. “But our community was inspired to speak out. People felt strongly enough to take action. Maybe future proposals about clear-cutting will be influenced by what happened here. And if people who watch the film realize that they have a voice too, that’s the real reward for us.”
Adding value to Brown County through this spirit of connecting with others permeates everything Colab does: even the company’s name was chosen because it’s short for “collaboration.” While John and Hannah continue to pursue their plans for wider distribution of Saving Yellowwood, they’re also developing new projects—always centered around concerns close to their hearts. The children of military service members, they’re especially excited about one of their latest projects focusing on the wartime experiences of combat veterans.
“This one’s really powerful for us, and for the veterans, it’s almost therapeutic,” relates Hannah. “We just let them talk about their experiences in their own words, which they don’t always get to do. Sometimes they’ll tell stories their own families don’t even know.”
For John, who grew up in Brown County, Colab is also a way to reach out to the young people here. “There’s not a lot going on for a lot of kids, especially for the ones living far out of town,” he says. “And youth who aren’t engaged can get in trouble. We need better role models, more inclusiveness, to give them opportunities to be part of stuff like filmmaking. They’re talented, they’re bright; they just don’t have anything to reach for sometimes.”
Both halves of the couple agree that they’ve found the ideal filmmaking partner in each other. “We love making videos together,” Hannah says. “We’ve got a super creative synergy.” John likens their working relationship to “having a second brain.” Whatever it is that puts the heart into Colab’s documentary projects—the topics they explore, the community they represent, or just the ability of their creators to leverage their talents—it’s clear that John and Hannah Boggs have a promising future as a major voice in Brown County culture.
You can reach the Boggs at <colabconsulting.org> or