Local filmmaker talks about Denison Dam documentary

Local filmmaker Gene Lenore gave a presentation Friday at the Sherman Museum on his new documentary about the construction of Denison Dam and the creation of Lake Texoma. Lenore spoke as part of the museum’s monthly lunch lecture series.

The documentary writer and director spent nearly three decades working for newspapers, magazines and television stations in Texas, Arizona and Washington D.C., including a stint as a local KXII anchor. He said he’s been working on “Denison Dam: Taming the Raging Red,” for about two years and showed a 13-minute concept video he uses as a fundraising tool.

“It’s one of those things where you do a little research and then you come up with other stuff to hopefully put some money in your pocket,” Lenore said. “I hope to get this done as rapidly as I can. I thought about bringing this out this summer, but on the other hand, next year is going to mark the 70th anniversary of when the dam was completed. So I’m toying with the idea it might be worth postponing until 2014 to tie it in.”

The narration of the concept video explained the documentary tells “the dramatic story of how Denison Dam and the lake it creates turns thousands of acres of farm and ranch land in the Red River Valley into a driving force in the area’s economy.” The excerpts shown from the documentary featured interviews, movie footage and still photography of the dam’s construction, beginning with Denison pioneer George Moulton’s journey to the future home of Hoover Dam. Moulton returned to Denison with a dream to see a dam built across the Red River near his hometown.

“Doing documentaries, when you get to using a lot of archival footage, it gets to be a very expensive project,” Lenore said. “Some of the archival footage I’m using, I’ll have to buy the rights to put it in the completed project. Some of that video runs anywhere from $20 to $60 a second to acquire the rights to use it.”

The director explained that the process to clean and restore some of the color film from the 1940s and 1950s can also cost as much as 60 cents per foot of film.

“These are really massive projects,” he said. “You don’t realize how much work goes into one of them when you stop and see one Ken Burns has done that runs on PBS. It’s unbelievable how much works goes into these things.”

A newspaper article from the 1940s that was sent to Lenore alerted him to the existence of 3,500 feet of film shot by an Army Corps of Engineers’ photography unit during construction of the dam, but he hasn’t been able to locate the footage.

“I have tried for several years to track that down,” the director said. “I called up to the Corps office in Washington and talked to somebody on their history staff up there. They said, ‘Yeah, it’s probably around here somewhere.’ What I envision is, it’s in a box like that final scene in the first ‘Indiana Jones’ movie, where you’ve got this huge warehouse with all these little boxes.”

While putting the film together has proven to be quite a bit of work, Lenore said it’s a story he feels needs to be told.

“People who live here don’t realize it didn’t just pop up one day,” he said of the dam. “There were people involved. There were people killed, they don’t know how many, but there were people who died in the construction of that. It totally changed this area. You can imagine what this area would be like without Lake Texoma.”