Guy Benoit has held many jobs, but none was more unexpected than park ranger. Benoit is an affable and quick-witted conversationalist, and you could picture him as a screenwriter, hustling in Hollywood for four years. He’s also a versatile copywriter, churning out sentences for a range of clients (including Providence Media). He could even pass for the dog-catcher or file clerk he once was. But a park ranger?
“I’m not an outdoorsy person,” Benoit confides. “I am a man of the great indoors.”
Yet, the role actually suited him well. The National Park Service (NPS) hired Benoit in 2011 to welcome visitors to the Captain
Wilbur Kelly House, a Blackstone Valley State Park museum in Lincoln that stands along the park’s bike trail. Nestled among pre-locomotive canal routes, the museum’s primary theme is the history of transportation. But the Kelly House is also symbolic of the Industrial Revolution, green spaces, wildlife habitats, and centuries of Rhode Island heritage. As visitors popped in, Benoit would regale them with facts and anecdotes about the region.
“I was an emissary of good will to the bicyclists who passed by,” recalls Benoit, who manned the museum until 2015.
Then the NPS came up with another idea, which was even better suited to the veteran filmmaker: a series of informational videos, which would explore the history and significance of the Blackstone River Valley.
A Lincoln native, Benoit studied English at Providence College and spent several years on the road as a musician. He became interested in film and collaborated with the then-unknown thriller and horror director Brad Anderson, among others. Benoit moved to Los Angeles in 2000 to pursue a career in the movie industry, and he even sold a feature-length script, Dog Days, about his work as an animal control officer. The script was never produced, however, and despite his best efforts, Benoit didn’t see himself as a lifelong Angelino.
“LA’s all about the work,” he remembers. “The people you know are the people you work with. I don’t begrudge them, but I got very lonely.” Benoit returned to Rhode Island and started afresh.
Benoit never stopped writing, but the NPS video project was a bolstering opportunity. Spearheaded by supervisory ranger Kevin Klyberg, NPS approved the proposal for a new series of videos and offered Benoit a small budget. Instead of a traditional “Ken Burns”-style documentary series, NPS has encouraged Benoit to experiment with the form.
“There’s this element of, ‘Let’s try something different,’” says Benoit, who has produced about a dozen videos in the past seven years. Each is unique: one is a traditional travelog; another mimics the free-form PBS talk shows of the 1970s; and a third – a Halloween short – is presented as a narrative story.
This diverse storytelling is in keeping with the YouTube account for the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park, which mixes dozens of visual lectures and virtual tours. As Benoit quickly discovered, the story of this region is encyclopedic in scope, even for someone who grew up nearby.
“I had a big crash course at the beginning, and I’ve tried to pick stuff up as I go,” says Benoit. His appreciation for local terrain has grown exponentially in the decade he has spent celebrating it. “You have these collisions of big iron structures in pastoral environments. It really is like walking among Mayan ruins.”
Producing the videos has been a win-win for Benoit and the NPS. On the one hand, incalculable local viewers have learned about the ground beneath their feet. On the other, Benoit is a working filmmaker once more, far from the impersonal hubbub of Southern California.
“It’s Rhode Island, so you can’t make a living [as a screenwriter],” he says, “but you can get involved in something you care about.”
For the complete catalog of NPS videos, visit YouTube.com/c/BlackstoneNPS
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