Three months of traveling throughout Canada.
Ten thousand kilometres of rail ridden.
Dozens and dozens of interviews.
Two years of visualizing, formulating, shooting, and editing.
All of this culminated in the sold out premiere of Dan Nystedt's documentary, De-Railed: The National Dream, at the Grand Theatre this past weekend during the 13th annual Shadows of the Mind Film Festival.
De-Railed follows Nystedt as he travels by train, interviewing key rail proponents and highlighting Canada's short-line rail infrastructure which is deteriorating, and being abandoned and dismantled at an alarming rate.
The 70-minute documentary is the second for the local filmmaker, his first effort being Ken MacDougall: The Enjoyment of Form in 2008.
"There was really nothing out there looking at the state of rail in Canada, or even looking at the state of rail in North America," Nystedt told SooToday.com. "I heard news of Huron Central being possibly abandoned and it sparked an interest in me. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that the situation was dire all the way across our country."
So Nystedt packed his gear and set out to see for himself and speak to those in the know, including Harry Gow of Transport Action Canada, Amtrack President and CEO Joseph Boardman, former Sault MP Tony Martin, artist and environmentalist Robert Bateman, Nick Heap of the David Suzuki Foundation, Laurentian University economics professor David Robinson, and Travis Long (general manager) and Kevin Friesen (president) of Manitoba's Boundary Trails Railway, to name a few.
"I didn't come away with any better feeling about the situation of our short-line rail," Nystedt said of his travels. "All I came away with was the fact that it's way worse than I ever could have imagined."
He said the large amount of rail that's been abandoned and dismantled has resulted in a number of communities becoming ghost towns, especially in the Prairies.
"The day the rail started being lifted out of these communities, there was a definitive economic and cultural shift, and within a year or two those communities had disappeared," Nystedt explained.
He paralleled the demise of these Prairie communities with what might happen in Sault Ste. Marie should our rail line be discontinued.
"A lot of our industry, like Essar Steel, relies on rail. It doesn't take too many dominoes to fall before Essar Steel closes and our community collapses. That rail line, to a certain extent, keeps that industry alive."
De-Railed: The National Dream explores the politics and motivations behind the abandonment of our nation's short-line rail system, and cautions against allowing the trend to continue, siting the environmental, sociological, and economic implications.
For those who missed the Shadows of the Mind premiere, Algoma University will screen De-Railed in the Great West Life Amphitheatre on Saturday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $8 each and may be purchased at Storey Home Furniture, located at 274 North Street, starting on Friday, March 9.