Filmmaker Yuri Chicovsky has a Kickstarter campaign going for his documentary "Sage Country," which has been four years in the making and has been the focal point of his life.

Courtesy of Yuri Chicovsky

Filmmaker Yuri Chicovsky has a Kickstarter campaign going for his documentary "Sage Country," which has been four years in the making and has been the focal point of his life.

Filmmaker seeks funding for sheep rancher documentary

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Yuri Chicovsky

Albert Villard, left, stands with Yuri Chicovsky and Jim Nicoletto.

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Yuri Chicovsky displays some of the photos taken as part of his documentary "Sage Country," in a November exhibit at the Centennial Mall. Chicovsky is hosting a Kickstarter campaign this month to raise money for the film, which details the lives of Northwest Colorado sheep ranchers.

— Former Craig resident Yuri Chicovsky is seeking backing for his documentary, “Sage Country,” about area sheep ranchers. His profile, found on fundraising website Kickstarter, states that the project will only receive funding for the film’s post-production stage if it reaches a goal of $25,000 by Jan. 31. Donations ranging from $10 to $5,000 are accepted and appreciated and come with various incentives. For more information, visit kickstarter.com and enter “Sage Country” in the search engine.

— In 1997, then-18-year-old Yuri Chicovsky embarked on a bow-hunting trip in Northwest Colorado, one that changed his life forever. Being able to traverse the landscape and observe the natural splendor was one benefit, but the greater outcome was a chance meeting with the folks he has come to see as those who exemplify the spirit of the area.

The sheep people.

After four years in the making, Chicovsky’s documentary about area sheep ranchers is moving into the post-production stage. The film “Sage Country” — focusing on the lives of the family and workers of Villard Ranch — can be found as a campaign on the fundraising website Kickstarter, which allows independent filmmakers and others seeking money to get creative projects going through different avenues.

Chicovsky first started filming footage of the ranch and its people and animals in early 2010, while he was teaching photography and writing at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

If time and money were no concern, he’d still be out on the ranch with a camera.

“It’s been very hard to tell when enough is enough, and there’s so much more that I want to film,” he said. “It’s just time to be done with this part of the story.”

The years of filming have allowed the documentarian to create what he believes to be a well-rounded look at the Villard Ranch — “a complete portrait of the family, the place and, ideally, their way of life,” as the filmmaker puts it.

Chicovsky said he didn’t want to be seen as a Hollywood type distanced from those whose lives he was recording.

“I wanted to put my finger on the spirit of the American West,” he said.

His objective of integrating himself into the action worked well enough, with the people he filmed quick to adjust to his presence, according to third-generation rancher Albert Villard.

“He was easy enough to ignore,” Villard joked.

The heritage involved in the story of the Villard Ranch is one chronicled in detail on Chicovsky’s Kickstarter page, and “Sage Country” touches on how the Villards still are connected to their roots of a business and lifestyle dating back to 1928. It also poses the question of whether the Villard children — a big part of the movie — will continue their ancestors’ agricultural traditions.

“You never know if that’s going to be something they want to do,” Villard said.

Villard said he was excited about the idea of seeing the documentary come to fruition, though there is a little “trepidation” at how his livelihood will be portrayed.

Before the film hits the big screen, it has to go through the rigors of post-production, known as the most trying part of nearly any movie’s schedule because of the painstaking efforts involved in getting the director’s vision just right.

Until now, the work has been entirely on Chicovsky’s shoulders, but now he’ll bring in experts in editing and sound design, both of which could make or break the whole film.

“The sound design is a place where, if you skimp on the budget, the audience, and I think it will really limit the life of the movie after it’s done,” he said.

Chicovsky outlines many of the costs on Kickstarter for those considering contributing to the effort. His goal of $25,000 — more than $18,000 of which already has been achieved since the campaign began at the beginning of January — will provide him with “a frayed but ample shoestring budget” as he aims to finish the film by the end of 2014.

Individual contributions to “Sage Country” can be as small as $10 or as large as $5,000, and each level comes with its own incentives. A digital download of the completed movie and a message of thanks in the credits awaits those who pitch in $10, while the highest echelon comes with a long list of perks that includes an executive producer title.

Many of the incentives are uniquely Northwest Colorado, such as a bundle of dried sage from the region or an entire processed lamb from Villard Ranch.

The window of time to fund “Sage Country” is limited, and if the $25,000 mark isn’t reached by Jan. 31, the project won’t receive a dime, based on Kickstarter’s terms.

Chicovsky said he has tried not to think about the possibility of the fundraiser falling short in the next two weeks before its deadline. Yet, even if that happens, it’s a roadblock at most and by no means the end of his journey.

“There’s no way I’m stopping,” he said.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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