“An amazing experience, across the board.”
This was how senior Danny Houseman described his internship at the Fargo Film Festival, an annual event that showcases work from all over the world. From March 19 to March 23, the festival presented over 100 movies at the historic Fargo Theatre, bringing together critics, moviemakers, and die-hard fans—all out of a shared love for film.
This year marked the festival’s 19th showcase, and it has grown dramatically since its debut in 2001. Although the event only received 30 submissions that year, it currently averages over 300 submissions from 35 states and 20 countries. The festival’s growing popularity has encouraged it to showcase a variety of events, including director Q&As, a two-minute movie contest, and sessions with additional special guests.
Although Houseman firmly believed that every event of the week was incredible for its own reasons, he admitted that his personal favorite was the March 19 screening of “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” a 2018 work that won the festival’s award for Best Documentary Feature. The comedic documentary explores the history of industrial musicals–shows that are performed internally by companies for their employees in order to either educate or entertain.
“It was the first event I was able to go to, and it meant a lot to see months of hard work come together. The subject matter was also really interesting, because it combined my interests in musicals and business,” he said.
At the conclusion of the week, winners were named in seven different categories—Animation, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Experimental, Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, and Student Work. Best in Show awards were also featured, including overall Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.
Greg Carlson, the director of film studies at Concordia College, talked about how important the festival is as an experience for movie watchers. With streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu on the rise, many people question the value of going out to see movies anymore. However, Carlson opposed this sentiment.
“At a film festival, you get to see amazing world-class content that may never get displayed on television streaming services. There’s a lot of experimental and student work that gets shown, and it’s a completely different feeling to share that experience with other people in a unique location. The dynamic is incredible,” he explained.
In recent years, the festival has become known for hosting a number of Oscar-nominated filmmakers. One of this year’s important guests was four-time Academy award winner Richard Edlund, a visual-effects producer who has helped make some of the most memorable scenes in film history. From the “Star Wars” trilogy to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he has been involved in a number of famous pictures.
Edlund was chosen as this year’s recipient for the festival’s highest honor—the Ted M. Larson Award, which is given to those who have had outstanding careers in film production or education. The 78-year old came to speak at the Fargo Theater on the night of March 22, giving the audience insight towards his remarkable life and career. Given the fact that Edlund was born and raised in Fargo, the award meant even more.
“I’m honored to be remembered as a Fargo native,” he said at the discussion, which was hosted and conducted by Carlson.
Carlson recognized this conversation as a personal career highlight, acknowledging how Edlund helped shape his ambition to become a filmmaker.
“It meant a lot, not just because he was so proud of his hometown, but also because he’s partially responsible for my career. What he contributed to ‘Star Wars’ lit a fire in me that led me to where I am today, here at Concordia,” he said.
Other special guests included actors Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez, who starred in 2004’s popular indie film “Napoleon Dynamite,” a movie that became an instant classic for both parents and children alike on account of its quirky humor, memorable characters, and number of quotable lines. While filming the picture cost less than $4,000, it brought in over $44.9 million worldwide. The festival hosted a screening of the movie on March 21 and was followed by a discussion at the Fargo Theatre with the stars.
Festival director Emily Beck commented on the movie’s significance before the discussion.
“It’s become one of the most-quoted films of the generation,” she said. “It really is the little indie film that could.”
Houseman spoke about how the festival and its guests help bring more attention to Fargo’s community and culture.
“We have submissions from all over the world, and there are lots of people who come from other countries too. There are also special guests like the cast of Napoleon Dynamite and Richard Edlund—all of these important people who are investing in our community and solidifying Fargo as an area that values arts and film,” he said.
“The Fargo Film Festival is one of the best opportunities that our community has for arts and entertainment,” Houseman concluded.
It’s intriguing to contrast the event’s current size and influence against its humble beginning in 2001, and it will be even more interesting to see what unique improvements are made over the next 19 years. For now, however, the festival stands strong as one of Fargo’s most anticipated and essential events.