Congrats to Michael Smith @AIFISF on being awarded the Frank Blythe Award for Media Excellence!
Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge exposes viewers to a positive, fresh perspective of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Hosted and executive produced by 24-year-old New Yorker Chris Bashinelli, Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge follows Bashinelli as he drops in on the day-to-day lives of local residents to find out about life on Pine Ridge, their stories and how they see themselves in the larger context of the world.
“It seemed like the most famous Reservation in the United States, the one that was most talked about on the news, the one that had the most negative stories,” Bashinelli said. “I thought, this would be a great challenge, let’s flip this negative story on its head, let’s put a story of hope out there.”
Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge is a new installment of Bridge the Gap TV, an internationally recognized documentary series that aims to change the world for the better through intercultural communication and understanding. Bridge the Gap TV follows Bashinelli as he takes viewers to locations around the world that are often negatively portrayed by the media as bleak and destitute.
“Our goal is to entertain, educate and empower, and we do that by creating these stories of everyday life from around the world, and bringing them to life in an entertaining way,” Bashinelli said.
Bashinelli’s work on Bridge the Gap TV has taken him to Uganda, Tanzania, Haiti and the United Arab Emirates.
Bashinelli chose to feature Pine Ridge in the Bridge the Gap TV series to expose viewers to Lakota culture, including the positive characteristics and life philosophies of Pine Ridge residents that anyone--particularly young people--can learn from.
“I wanted to do something... to bring that positive side of life--the cultural elements, the richness of humanity--to young people in the U.S. in a way that was entertaining and educational,” Bashinelli said.
In the six segments that comprise Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge, Bashinelli meets and accompanies Pine Ridge residents from different walks of life.
In one segment, Bashinelli spends a day on a ranch with a 23-year-old Lakota ranch hand and helps move hay, cut wood and check for pregnant cows by sticking his arm into the rear of a cow.
“With 8.5 million viewers for one Jersey Shore episode, that’s what young people are watching... how do we get young people to learn about Lakota traditions and what it means to be Lakota? By me sticking my arm up a cow’s butt,” Bashinelli said. “That’s entertaining, and from there we can sit down, and once viewers are watching, then we can learn and have the really in-depth conversations.”
In another segment, Bashinelli spends the day re-roofing a house with Martin Bad Wound, a Lakota elder who provides day-labor work to Pine Ridge youth.
Bashinelli also spends an afternoon looking for buffalo with Alex White Plume, the former tribal president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. During their exploration, White Plume’s vehicle breaks down, and they head home to fix the broken radiator. After finding a replacement by digging through old car parts White Plume has collected for these kinds of repairs, Bashinelli comes to understand the benefits of being resourceful, a value he believes many Americans have replaced with consumerism.
Curious about the respect the Lakota have for Buffalo, Bashinelli joins a group of Pine Ridge residents on a Buffalo hunt.
“So rarely does anyone from Brooklyn see where their food comes from or actually kill their own meal,” Bashinelli said.
Not afraid to include sensitive and uncomfortable subjects, Bashinelli devotes a segment of Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge to the issue of suicide. The suicide rate in Pine Ridge is 400% higher than the national U.S. average, Bashinelli said. Many of the individuals affected by suicide are in their youth, resulting in the creation of suicide prevention programs in Pine Ridge.
In the suicide prevention segment, Bashinelli spends an emotionally charged afternoon at a youth suicide prevention program, participating in group activities and listening to stories and experiences.
“It did start on a funny note, they dressed me up in a Barney costume but it got very serious once we started hearing some of these young people sharing stories about how they tried to commit suicide, why they did it and why they ultimately stopped,” Bashinelli said.
Bashinelli studied acting in college and received a B.A. in Theatre Arts (Cum Laude) from Marymount Manhattan College. When he began producing Bridge the Gap TV, Bashinelli learned the skills necessary to host and produce from his own experiences.
“I filmed my first interview and it was really bad, and then (slowly) I got a little better at it,” he said.
Although Bridge the Gap TV is currently only available online, Bashinelli said he expects the series to be broadcast on national television in the U.S. within a year.
“I think from there it’s going to start a movement,” Bashinelli said. “There are going to be other shows like Bridge the Gap TV.”
Written by Ben Kreimer.
Interviews conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer.