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Friends & Neighbors - Erika Johnson

This past January, a new documentary called "New Energy" had its premiere at Detroit Lakes' own Historic Holmes Theatre.

Its creator, DL resident Erika Johnson, produced the 30-minute film in conjunction with Windustry and Twin Cities Public Television. While it already aired in the Twin Cities n February, residents of northwest Minnesota and North Dakota will finally get their chance to see it too, when Prairie Public Television airs the film on Thursday, March 29, at 9:30 p.m.

"This show will be airing in five states, and hopefully six," Johnson said. Stations in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois have already signed on to broadcast the show, and she hopes to add Iowa to the list shortly.

"It received top ratings when it aired in the Cities in February," she added.

The half-hour documentary had its beginnings in a smaller project that Johnson did for CERTs (Clean Energy Resource Teams), which focused on "what people were doing in the immediate area around Minnesota" to promote renewable energy as a source of energy security and economic sustainability, Johnson said.

"I wanted to do something that was solution-based," she noted. That small project was added impetus behind a regional documentary that Johnson "pitched" to Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) about a year ago.

They gave the project a green light, and two crews were assigned to film the documentary footage -- one in the Twin Cities, and one in outstate Minnesota.

The out-state crew included videographer Tom Tollefson of Detroit Lakes and sound specialists Phil Kerr and Jason Bedard of Fargo (Kerr also served as assistant videographer). Johnson worked with a crew from TPT in the metro area.

The result was "New Energy," which according to a press release issued at the time of the DL premiere, tells the story of how "renewable energy is playing a substantial role in energy security, economic sustainability, and integrity of our natural resources in the Midwest. It focuses on energy efficiency and renewable energy; primarily wind power, ethanol and hydrogen."

Johnson began the project with a little research -- compiling a list of experts in the field of renewable energy, politicians, business owners, CEO's of non-profit corporations, etc. -- then interviewed them and "created this story about what real people are doing to find solutions for our energy future," she said.

A short list of those people and programs appearing in the documentary includes Shane Goettle, commissioner for the North Dakota Department of Commerce; Winona LaDuke, founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project; DMI Industries in West Fargo; and Capture the Wind program with Moorhead Public Service.

Though the project had several regional sponsors, Johnson said, she was particularly pleased that two local sponsors -- Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation and Multiple Technologies -- stepped forward to help as well.

Fund-raising took up the majority of the 10 months from the project's inception to its January premiere in DL. The actual filming, editing and processing of the film into DVD form only took about two months, she added.

"This is the first project like this I've done," Johnson said -- though she has been involved in setting up a series of environmentally-themed discussion forums through Natural Innovations, a local non-profit for which she currently serves as executive director.

In addition to being aired on public television throughout the Midwest, Johnson said she also has copies of "New Energy" available for presentations in classrooms, at organizational meetings or public gatherings. For more information, contact her at 218-847-0025, or send an e-mail to

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454