Gwendolyn Clancy is probably Nevada’s most prolific documentary filmmaker. She has 70 documentaries to her credit. Probably the best known is The Man They Call Will James, narrated by actor Richard Farnsworth. She has also done documentaries on African Americans on the Comstock, Built Treasures of Rural Nevada, Gathering the Cowboy Arts and two on Native American leader Sarah Winnemucca.
In a market the size of Nevada, how do you survive as a documentary producer?
You know, I am so fortunate to actually have production be my day job, and I’ve got projects with different groups. They’re all either government or non-profit. That’s who comes to me. I wouldn’t turn the others down, it’s just that’s who’s coming. I’m able to keep my overhead low by working out of my house. I often drag my kids and my friends to either being in them or helping me with them. I have a lot of partners that are willing to [help]. … I do a lot of my own camera work. I have my own equipment. The equipment costs have come down a lot since I started in 16 millimeter film. If I’m working in Las Vegas, the county [cable access] station is willing to have maybe a cameraperson work with me.
What would the project be that a cable access outfit would want to lend a photographer to you?
I have my own camera and often I’m a one-person operation but I love to work with other people. In Las Vegas the public [access] station did a survey of the people and they asked them what they wanted. And history and culture was like second after city services. So the station manager said to me, “We love the stuff you’re doing. We can show it because we know that our population wants to be seeing that kind of programming and so we are happy to work with you to get the goods—you know, help you shoot the stuff.”
What’s the last one you finished?
It’s hot off the press—we haven’t even sent it out to the stations yet—is one for the Nevada Arts Council on the repertory dance theatre company that came through last year to bring modern dance to sites all throughout Nevada.
What’s your favorites of those you’ve done?
You know, they’re kind of like your children. You love them all. I have to say that certainly one of my favorites has been the one on the statue—creating the statue for Sarah Winnemucca [that is now on permanent exhibit in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capital]. Actually there were two in that series. I did another one with Sally Zanjani where we went around and looked at all the places where Sarah Winnemucca lived and the impact that she had on the state. And I worked with people, you know, descendants, Winnemucca family people. That’s a great one.
Oh, I’m doing something for the Nature Conservancy right now—one about the restoration of the meander, restoring the river. … It’s out at the old McCarran Ranch [in the Truckee River Canyon east of Sparks]. What they did a year ago was basically to put the meander back in the river. You know how the Army Corps of Engineers straightened it all out for flood control in the ‘60s, I think it was the 1960s. The Nature Conservancy has been kind of restoring a lot of things back to the way they were. … The Nature Conservancy, I think, is doing amazing things and so I’m doing two films for them. One is about the whole process of shifting the river. They call it “turning” the river. It’s kind of cool phrase—turning the river. And all kinds of things are coming back that weren’t here. More varieties of fish, the birds are coming back, the leopard frogs—you know, all kinds of things are happening. So that’s one that I’m really jazzed about right now.