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Community fills theatre to view TID history film
irrigationist pic1
About 1,100 people filled the Turlock Community Theatre on Friday and Saturday for three showings of The Irrigationist, a film commissioned to commemorate the Turlock Irrigation Districts 125th anniversary. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

The red carpet wasn't only in Hollywood this weekend.

The Turlock Community Theatre played host to a gala film premiere of its own Friday and Saturday – the unveiling of the Turlock Irrigation District's “The Irrigationist.”

The film, commissioned at a cost of $219,200 to commemorate TID's 125th anniversary this year, drew about 1,100 people to three showings.

“We've heard so much positive feedback from those who attended the screenings,” said TID spokesman Herb Smart. “The film's central themes of innovation, service, and sacrifice have resonated well with viewers.”

The 62-minute film opens with sweeping, high-definition vistas of landscapes throughout the TID watershed, from snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the raging Tuolumne River and blossoming Stanislaus County almond orchards. Historical reenactments and old photographs, turned 3-D through filmmaking, place viewers at important bygone crossroads – like early days when wheat was the only viable crop in the seasonably-dry Stanislaus County.

“The Irrigationist” goes on to trace the life of the Turlock Irrigation District, the first irrigation district in the state, the first to bring water to customers, and the first to bring electricity to clients. It's because of the district and all of the hard working people who made irrigation possible, the film posits, that Stanislaus County is the thriving agricultural Mecca it is today.

“This is TID's moment,” said Michael Frantz, chair of the TID Board of Directors, before the film began. “But it isn't just TID's moment. It's all of ours.”

The premiere drew representatives of every local office — assemblyman, state senator, and congressman — with resolutions in hand from the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress recognizing TID's anniversary. Members from the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors and every nearby irrigation district were in attendance, too.

But the vast majority of the audience was made up of average TID customers, interested in learning a little bit more about the district which provides them with irrigation water and electric power.

“I’m excited to see the movie, especially how they built the dam,” said Ted Brudger, a TID customer since 1963.

“I served as an electrical apprentice in the 1980s in a town in New Zealand and wanted to see the story (of TID),” said Ron Hurst.

And even TID employees were drawn to “The Irrigationist,” a film which brings to life the sort of rich history which doesn't come up in the day-to-day operations of the District.

“I’m a TID employee and I wanted to see the history,” TID Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian said.

According to “The Irrigationist” producer Michael Everett, employees like Kavarian have said they were amazed at the depth and scope of that history.

“It’s a good story. It needs to be out there, it needs to be told,” Everett said. “Even people who’ve worked for TID for generations and said they know all about it learned something.”

Beginning Thursday, copies of “The Irrigationist” will be available for purchase at TID's Turlock, Ceres, and Patterson customer service locations. DVDs will cost $5, and Blu-rays $15; the district said the price solely reflect costs to reproduce discs.

Turlock Journal Editor Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.