‘Great Basin’ zooms in on forgotten lands that need freedom

“These are strong and resilient people. They don’t consider themselves a charitable case.

With that one quote, the New York-based director Chivas DeVinck showed that he understood the residents of White Pine County, Nevada better than most Denver audiences for his film, “The Great Basin.”

In 2016, DeVinck was on the beautiful road from California to New York along the “America’s loneliest street,” Nevada’s US-50 in the middle. After chatting with locals at a gas station near the Utah state line in Ely, Nevada, he knew he wanted to come back to tell their story.

“And these are the people who yearn to tell their stories.”

And so he returned in January and February 2020, for them to tell his story.

The most prominent was Hank Vogler, a local sheep rancher, who led a decades-long battle against the pipeline that carries much of the state’s water down to Las Vegas. It was a battle that still rages to this day.

At a meeting of the local water union, we met Delaine Spilsbury, an elder of the Shoshone Tribe in his 80s.

Then she told us about how her mother was orphaned when her village was massacred and about the Indian Schools, where it was hoped that the Indians could forget they are Indians.

Ely hosts several legal brothels in the state, where missionaries gently try to share their message with working girls. The county commission debated repealing the largely ignored pet licensing law but must also work with the city.

Nearby McGill boasts old clocks and a large Polish-owned mine. White Pine hosts the New Age School of Natural Order, but is also home to a state prison with an execution room.

Those same people can protect their water and reject climate change. Vogler conversed with his Basque shepherds in fluent Spanish and was married to a Chinese woman. Spilsbury is not hiding in reservations, but is active in the anti-pipeline coalition.


There is only one false warning about its inclusion and location. It begins with a shot of a “No Shooting” sign, which, naturally, is riddled with bullet holes. From there, Hank goes on to briefly discuss the Second Amendment and how it keeps us free.

The scene disconnected me from the rest of his narrative.

I asked DeVinck about that scene after the screening. He says it aims to fit in with the general theme of freedom, but also how Hank’s conception of that freedom is rooted in nostalgia and memories of his youth.

“To some extent, I think that’s true for all of us.”

That was certainly true of Spilsbury, who recalls wistfully the more expansive White Pine County of his youth.

The movie can be slow and uneven. It opens near Baker, Nevada, at Lehman Cave, where tour guides turn off the lights and explain that the cave dwellers have evolved to fit their environment.

The film’s epilogue returns to Baker and the new age School of Natural Order. Neither has much to do with the main topic, but we spend the first and last few minutes on each.

Cinematographer Yoshio Kitagawa lets his camera linger across the vast, beautiful country between basins and mountain ranges, sometimes a little too long, but it shows just how empty the place is.

As Hank was filling up his truck with gas and stockpiles, he said if you got in trouble, there wouldn’t be a 7-Eleven across the street to help. It repeat what writer Mark Hemingway said five years ago about rural Oregon similarly:

“If your car breaks down from going the wrong way, at the wrong time of year, at the wrong time of the night under four feet of snow, you could die. People out there have a more 19th-century naturalist view of nature where you have to respect it and also fear and loathe it when necessary.”

The freedom that DeVinck perceives is what makes living in such a place so pleasant and rewarding. If you need resources to make a living, or even to survive, you need to have the freedom to use those resources as you see fit.

If not, what’s the problem?

And there are many ways to lose that freedom, whether it’s distant officials imposing land-use policies on land they’ve never seen before, or the Southern Nevada Water Authority using money. tax to buy your neighbor’s farmland in exchange for the right to return home.

For example, my state of Colorado has recently seen urban and suburban voters put ranchers’ cattle at risk of re-emergence, and rural areas of the state today. feeling more and more commanded by Denver and Boulder.

During the discussion after the screening, one audience member expressed surprise at how inclusive everyone was there. I was the only one laughing at the sign that popped up. And a question about donating the film’s proceeds to the community prompted DeVinck’s comments about their strength and dignity.

Many urbanites who have never been to the central part of the country can learn something about freedom, with all the messy contradictions it entails.

Joshua Sharf is a Free Market Senior Researcher Independent Institute, focusing on public pension and public finance issues. By day a web developer, he also found time to run for the state legislature, becoming the state editor for WatchdogWire, writes for the Haym Salomon Center and produces a local talk radio show. He holds a BS in Physics from UV, and a Master’s degree in Finance from the University of Denver, and lives in Denver with his wife, Susie, and their son, David. His work also appears frequently in Complete Colorado and American greatness.


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