What do fun, healthy snacks have to do with a television documentary about Texas? Both are on a mission toward inspiring people – and especially kids – to seek and pursue their passions, no matter where they’re from, no matter their lives’ circumstances.
Starting in January 2014, PBS viewers will be treated to an eye-opening exploration of places you might already think you know or that you’ve merely passed by on your hectic trajectory. Each episode of One Square Mile: Texas takes a gently objective approach to neighborhoods, towns, and cities all over the state, interviewing residents about where they live and why they live there. Co-creator Betsy Crum, who grew up in east Texas, thinks the vignettes will promote a sense of connection, “that everyone, everywhere has some struggles and good things, too.”
That’s where WOATS Oatsnack’s founder, Justin Anderson, chimes in. “The mission of our company is simple: Believing that everyone wants to contribute something to their community or just to life, we want to channel our success toward opening windows for kids. We want them to see it’s truly possible to give it a shot – whatever ‘it’ is – and persevere to get better at it.”
Anderson, who was only 16 years old when he started his own food brand, Anderson Trail, from his family’s southwest Houston home, met the Crum’s at a film festival nearly 10 years ago. “Our products have sort of grown up together, you might say,” he explains, “so it was an easy connection when Carl and Betsy started seeking sponsors for this project. And our missions are so parallel, it’s a great fit for everyone.”
When Betsy and her husband, Carl Crum, initially created the Emmy award-winning web series, One Square Mile: America, they found that people in every type of community share a kind of isolation about their experience.
“Whether you’re rich or poor, life is difficult. But if children can be shown that among all of our wide-ranging differences – and there really are some striking variations in lifestyle within Texas – we all have aspirations and challenges,” Betsy reflects. She recalls how the media’s focus on big city events left her feeling like she was missing out on life as a child in small-town Texas, but interestingly, the Crum’s found that disconnected feeling to be widespread among the residents they interviewed.
“There are so many misconceptions about Texas, in particular, all over the world, and unfortunately even Texans often have no other choice but to believe the stereotypes and myths they see perpetuated. It’s a tough state to see up close in its entirety!” So Carl says their goal is to show what it’s like to live in El Paso, for example, and not see it through a tourist’s eyes. “Our guiding question was, ‘What’s the beating heart of this square mile?’”
And since the documentary is independently produced, Carl adds, “We had no agenda, so we did our best to present what we saw objectively, as residents are really experiencing life there.”
The series appeals to all ages, and especially to children who are taking social studies classes. One Square Mile: America, which started filming in 2007 in Fort Worth and eventually highlighted locales from all across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska, not only is used in American Studies curriculums all over the world, but also won three Emmys for the filmmakers’ ability to document the small microcosms of life with intimate, first-person storytelling. All of the initial series’ episodes are available for viewing online at OneSquareMile.tv
For One Square Mile: Texas, story locations were selected with the help of viewers who nominated square miles via PBS online. The huge swell of results were then curated by the Crum’s so that their coverage was as diverse as the state itself. Carl remarks that the whittling down of Texas’ 268,820 square miles to 45 stories taking place in nine representative square miles required “a little bit of serendipity and a whole lot of research.” Houston’s square mile was found in Montrose, where the team found “a small town feel” within the urban community. Among other “Montrosians” interviewed is Jill Jarvis, writer of the blog Big Kids, Small City and mother to four-year-old “Garbage Joe,” who has already made a name for himself as the littlest sanitation engineer. Fellow entrepreneur Justin Anderson got a kick out of meeting and chatting with Joe about “the journey of following your passion.” Speaking at schools and other youth gatherings is a dedicated part of Anderson’s calendar.
“Not every kid is going to be a business builder, but everyone has a dream. I felt compelled to get behind Carl and Betsy’s dream because I can see the enormous potential it has for igniting sparks among so many others.”
All 12 PBS stations in Texas will begin airing One Square Mile: Texas in mid-January, starting with El Paso’s episode, and Houston PBS is still working on a timeslot as of this writing. Until then, you can stay updated and watch trailers from each episode on the website, http://OSMTX.com (where you can also see still shots and aerial views of each locale) or at the One Square Mile: Texas page on Facebook.