TU Professor Filming Documentary on Cowboys From Different Countries but Similar Worlds

Friday, May 14, 2004

Susan Smith, freelance documentary filmmaker and instructor in TU’s communication department, is filming a new documentary about the cultural exchange between the pastoral, cattle raising Maasai, native to Kenya and Tanzania, and the Malpai Borderlands Group, a group of cattle ranchers with land in Arizona and New Mexico.

The groups met in April to share experiences of cattle ranching and land conservation. Both groups face pressure from their governments to modernize cattle farming practices by grazing on smaller pieces of land, a process that can lead to overgrazing.

The groups first met in Africa in 2002 after applying for grants from the same organization and realizing they shared a similar struggle against a deteriorating way of life and land. Both groups now hope to benefit by joining Kenyan traditions with modern American agronomics.

Smith, who has worked with the Maasai for several years, read about the exchange in an article in an East African newspaper while vacationing in Kenya. Smith was chosen for the documentary because of her previous experience with the Maasai and because she could provide a small camera crew that would be less intrusive to the work between the groups. Smith was able to raise travel expenses for the film project through The University of Tulsa.

“Coming from Oklahoma, I might have known something about cowboys, but I didn’t before this,” Smith says. “Going to the Malpai land and learning about the ranching culture was a very foreign experience. In addition to cattle ranching and land conservation issues, Smith says she was interested in the social and cultural exchange between the groups.

“The Malpai’s land is some of the last open grasslands in the United States,” she says. “In a way, both groups are stewards of these lands.” The two groups will likely meet again in Africa in the Spring of 2005 and Smith is planning to make the trip.

For more information, including photos, call TU or Susan Smith at (918) 631- 3464 or see www.malpaiborderlandsgroup.org or the African Conservation Center at www.conservationafrica.org.