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Aug. 14, 2020 | Friday
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Documentary series highlights Historical Niagara
Peter Sacco films Historical Niagara across the region, (supplied photo)

The Niagara region is captivating for more than its world-renowned waterfall, says award-winning documentary filmmaker Peter Sacco.

His passion for “keeping the history of Niagara alive” is showcased through the documentary series Historical Niagara, which aired on YourTV Niagara and can be found on YouTube. Currently there are eight half-hour episodes in its first season. He says a second, 12-episode season is scheduled to be released in September.

In 2012, Sacco created and hosted another series called Niagara’s Most Haunted, which also aired on YourTV, as a way to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the War of 1812. The show ran for three years and was viewed by tourists from around the world in local hotel rooms. His Niagara’s Most Haunted fame brought him to several Canadian and American Comic Cons to speak about the paranormal in Niagara, he says.

But he was looking to veer away from Niagara’s haunted backstory to showcase the historic importance of the area. About two years ago with a few friends, he says he decided to begin the short documentary series based on local history. The Historical Niagara series came to life with no budget and a skeleton crew.

Sacco says he planned to simply stream the videos online, when Jack Custers, manager of programming and community relations at YourTV Niagara, suggested airing the segments on the local station as well.

“Working with the Niagara community, we try to have a wide variety of programming on our channel, but our main requirement is that it have a local (Niagara) focus. Historical Niagara certainly fits the bill – with each episode, the viewer learns something new about the history of an area of our region,” Custers said in an email response.

Sacco is part of what makes the series so “entertaining,” Custers adds.

“I know the passion and commitment he puts into all his productions, and as host of the series, that comes across on-camera,” he says.

Sacco says the documentaries were produced with “absolutely zero budget,” with much of the shooting and editing done on his own, with help from his team, which includes Daniel Rodrique, Peter Dychtiar, Amanda Walton, Ernie Reinhart and Michael Clarkson.

“It’s basically a legacy thing. It’s a way of giving back to the community. There’s so much to this area that has more than the touristy stuff.”

He says he wanted to include the local history and, more important, he wanted the people of the area to be “shown off” in his videos.

Born and raised in Niagara, Sacco says he aims to provide an honest and relaxed experience of the area through the series. As an online teacher of criminal psychology with a PhD in psychology, an author of more than 30 fiction and non-fiction books, and director of many award-winning documentaries and music videos, the 54-year-old Sacco says he knows where his strengths lie.

“I’m not an expert in history, but I know who to go to for the information,” he says.

He says he frequently connects with Donald Combe of St. Mark’s Anglican Church, and Clarkson, an award-winning Niagara author, among many others. He says it’s that connection to the knowledgeable and experienced people in the region that can makes his series special. Intensive research goes into the show because “accuracy is a must.”

“These stories are told by the people of Niagara, expanding many generations and life spans. It’s a way of linking the past to the future,” he says.

One of his favourite Historical Niagara episodes is titled "Cheers Niagara." The 30-minute documentary takes viewers on an in-depth ride through Niagara’s wine country. He showcases a cross-section of the history of the wine industry, with stops at Niagara College’s teaching winery, Pillitteri Estates Winery, Grape Escape Winery Tours, among others. He also showcases events such as the Icewine Festival and Grape and Wine Festival.

His biggest setback in producing the documentaries may hit home for many right now; the COVID-19 pandemic halted further production of Historical Niagara, causing the series to end two episodes short of the originally planned 10.

With the state of emergency in effect, being cut off from various locations and not being able to connect in person, Saccos says it’s been “extremely challenging” to move forward. But he says as establishments are slowly opening up again, he expects to be able to resume filming soon.

And his series has been serving as a way for people to virtually visit some of the alluring places in the region without endangering themselves.

Sacco says he hopes his show will inspire locals and visitors to visit these areas on their own when it’s safe to do so.

“I want people to go out and see these places, to support local businesses,” he says.

The tourism industry is going to be nonexistent this year, he says, so supporting these local businesses is one way to bring the community together.

Sacco’s list of accreditations for his various documentaries and music videos are extensive and can be found on his website at Peterandrewsacco.com.

Check out Historical Niagara on YouTube and keep an eye out for next season.

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