Brainerd on Film

May I please direct your attention to two quite excellent films playing this weekend at the  Duluth-Superior Film Festival (previously known as Sound Unseen International Duluth) — Marvin Seth Stanley and The Hole Story. Both were filmed in the Brainerd area and both are quite funny. You’d be hard pressed to find a better regional double feature.

Marvin Seth Stanley follows a father and two sons who venture out on a very poorly planned camping and fishing trip. Suffice it to say, they fail at both of these activities. The film focuses on character, not plot, a sort of voyeuristic slice of life. Their patriarch, a sweet but struggling man, cannot relate to his grown sons, the sons can’t relate to one another and the youngest son (portrayed by writer/director Stephen Gurewitz) just wants everyone to be happy. These men aren’t comfortable or particularly capable anywhere, let alone in the wilderness, and it’s painfully funny to watch — but rest assured consistently and constantly funny. It’s a sincere and sweet film. I hear that the director and his father (who plays his father in the film) are scheduled to attend the screening — don’t miss it for their Q&A repartee, which made the screening I saw at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Int’l Film Fest all the more enjoyable. Hey, and it’s shot on actual film — a rarity these days. I really could not recommend this one more enthusiastically.

The Hole Story is a less recent film – it was released in 2006. But if you didn’t catch it when it played at the Free Range Film Fest that year, do yourself a favor and see it this time round. It shares a star with Marvin Seth Stanley — Alex Karpovsky. This was Karpovsky’s first film, and he’s become something of an independent film sensation in the years following (he has appeared in no less than 25 films since — and currently has a recurring role on the HBO show Girls). The beauty of this film is that it would be virtually impossible to predict the trajectory it takes judging from only the first five minutes. Allegedly, this was supposed to be the pilot for a show called “Provincial Puzzlers” — a series focusing on unexplained natural events throughout the United States. The episode was to focus on the giant mysterious hole in the middle of otherwise frozen over North Long Lake near Brainerd. But alas, the hole had closed by the time Karpovsky & Co. arrived, and from there follows absurd situations, sarcastic humor, existential frustration and eventual mental breakdown as Karpovsky is stuck in Northern Minnesota without a project or a purpose.  I saw this film several years ago and it still vividly sticks with me, which is a rarity. It is proof that great filmmaking does not have to involve a large budget, crew, expensive equipment or even a plan.

Two other films playing the fest that I haven’t seen but am greatly anticipating are Northern Lights and Wildrose, directed by John Hanson, a filmmaker who currently lives in Bayfield. Northern Lights won best first feature at Cannes Film Fest in the late 1970s, and it is not an easy film to track down. Rare festival showings such as these are the only opportunity. Wildrosewas filmed on the Iron Range in the 1980s, dealing with sexism and domestic abuse in the mining country — on the heels of the 1984 lawsuit that was also made into the film North Country. Hanson will be attending both screenings. Do not miss.

Marvin Seth Stanley — Friday, June 1 / 7:30 p.m. / Zinema 2
The Hole Story — Friday, June 1 /9:15 p.m. / Zinema 2
Northern Lights — Saturday, June 2 / 5:20 p.m. / Zinema 2
Wildrose — Friday, June 1 / 5:20 p.m. / Zinema 2
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