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ANNABETH GISH NARRATES DOCUMENTARY (April 2004)


Annabeth Gish is "stuck" in Florida.

The actress and Cedar Falls native had hoped to attend Friday's premiere of the feature-length documentary she narrates, "America's Lost Landscapes: The Tallgrass Prairie." Instead Gish will be in front of the camera, filming scenes for her new movie, The Celestine Prophecy, on location in Ocala, Fla.

The film premieres at 7:30 p.m. at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus. A reception follows the premiere. There is no charge to attend, but reservations are necessary by calling 273-6078.

Daryl Smith, professor and director of UNI's Native Roadside Vegetation Center, co-produced the prairie documentary. It was written, directed and co-produced by David O'Shields of New Light Media.

"I really wanted to be there because working on this project was a wonderful experience --- but my parents (Robert and Judith) will be there for me," Gish said in a phone interview. Her parents now live in California.

Smith contacted the actress through her father, a former UNI professor. She was thrilled by the offer. "I had known Professor Smith and his wife, who taught my seventh-grade earth sciences classes at Price Lab School. I thought it was an important way to give voice to the Iowa landscape and the environmental need to reconstruct our prairie landscape," explains Gish, who recently has appeared on NBC's "The West Wing."

She appears in a cameo on "CSI: Miami" on CBS Monday at 9 p.m., and a new film, Knots, opens this year. Gish also starred as agent Monica Reyes on "The X-Files."

"America's Lost Landscapes" uses cinematography, original music and Gish's narration to trace the prairie's transformation from natural landscape to farmland, beginning in the early 1800s, when Iowa as cover by 28 million acres of tallgrass.

Smith and O'Shields interviewed writers, historians and scientists across the nation, compiling factual information and commentary about the history of human settlement of the tallgrass prairie by Native Americans and Euro-Americas. Letters, diaries and other works of nonfiction add authenticity.

O'Shields worked with Gish in Los Angeles on a two-day taping, and a second session in Minneapolis.

"The first time I didn't have the visual imagery to give my voice to, but the second time I had the movie to watch and speak over. It really infused my feeling and vocal attachment to the project," Gish said.

She studied the script in some detail and particularly enjoyed watching interviews with people featured in the documentary. "I was so moved and impressed. Just the dedication people have given to the study of tallgrass prairies and the passion and poetry in people's lives because of that dedication, it was really inspiring to me.

"They call our part of the country the 'heartland' for a reason. For me the experience of speaking over images of my homeland, the place I grew up, that reconnected me with Iowa," Gish added.
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