North Dakota Film Society announces 2020 award winners

The North Dakota Film Society has announced their winners for the 2nd NDFS Awards. The organization entered its sophomore year by honoring its members’ favorite films of 2020.

Their top picks included:

Best Picture: “Nomadland”
Best Director: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”
Best Actress: Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”
Best Actor: Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”

“Nomadland” won five awards out of the 15 categories, the most for the year. 

Nominations were announced January 8, with David Fincher’s Herman J. Mankiewicz biopic “Mank” garnering the most nominations (eight). A few of the films and performances that won were not as popular during the nomination round.

Four of the five Best Picture nominees were directed by women, three of which were also nominated for Best Director.

“I was pleased with ‘Nomadland’ winning, I think it’s the best film I’ve seen this year,” said Matt Olien, an NDFS founding member. “I think it captures a mood and time – that post-recession period when the economy was coming out of the doldrums.”

Olien also enjoyed Zhao’s use of nonprofessional actors. McDormand and David Strathairn are the only two actors in the film.

“That movie spoke to people not only because we live in this region, but what resonates with people is the idea of how people thrive while balancing the loneliness that we all feel right now,” said Scottie Knollin, the NDFS co-founder.

The North Dakota Film Society was created in 2019 by Knollin and Greg Carlson. The organization comprises of filmmakers, theater owners and exhibitors, educators and members of the press in and around North Dakota. Nineteen members were eligible for voting in 2020.

Knollin, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and then Los Angeles, California, arrived in North Dakota two years ago and wanted to organize a film community after running into smaller film groups.

The Fargo Theatre, a historic gathering place for local film lovers | Ingrid Harbo

“We recognized North Dakota doesn’t have the numbers needed to form a critics society that more populated cities and states have,” said Knollin, “but we do have a dynamic group of people who are living and breathing film who don’t have a platform outside their local communities.”

“The idea is to give them not only a voice in the state to further their mission as artists, but to also be the official North Dakota voice to the greater industry nationwide.”

Carlson, whom Knollin said “became the bridge to building this niche group of people,” believes the transformation that started years before last year’s drastic shift in how audiences watch movies is how film sparks interest in even the smallest corners of America.

“The availability of the Internet in rural North Dakota means that if you’re a kid growing up in Kulm, you could find out about Akira Kurosawa even if there’s not a book in your school library about Akira Kurosawa,” said Carlson.

“Now that we have a whole year as a new organization, I’m really proud of the work that Scottie has done to raise awareness about the appreciation of film statewide,” said Carlson. “Extending beyond appreciation, he champions the value independent theaters bring to smaller communities.”

To read more about the North Dakota Film Society and for a full list of winners, runners-up and nominees across 15 categories, visit

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