The promise and perils of attracting film projects to MN

There’s been a renewed push lately to attract film projects to northern Minnesota. Yesterday, the IRRRB approved an $800,000 incentive to attract movie projects to the Iron Range. News that the Minnesota Film Board was working with a production company for a 2013 movie made for headlines recently as well.

Of course, the region had a taste of action seven years ago when Niki Caro’s “North Country,” starring Charlize Theron, was filmed at locations around the Iron Range. The film project brought a small economic boom to the area’s hospitality industry as cast, crew and extras flooded the area’s small towns.

Repeating that magic, though, has proven difficult and most of the recent projects have been small, independent films by filmmakers from the coasts. For example, a San Francisco filmmaker made a small splash when he recently announced a Kickstarter project to make an independent movie in Duluth. Small caveat: the movie’s title is “Duluth is Horrible.” Now, in fairness, the guy doesn’t actually think Duluth is horrible, that’s just the pathos of his story, for which he chose Duluth at random.

We’ll see if he raises his money, and perhaps there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Film is, at its best, the transmission of a creative message through illusions of authentic feelings or images. Northern Minnesota really does provide fertile ground for this sort of thing. Harsh winters, beautiful summers — greens, reds and blues you won’t find elsewhere. A people and story that charges right down the line between comedy and tragedy.

Maybe these tax incentives will work, I don’t know. But I’d rather see a strong push by the region to produce not just a film site, but an area that produces filmmakers. As “Duluth is Horrible” shows, outside filmmakers might enjoy the aesthetic appeal of our region in telling their stories but they don’t come here to tell our story, to honor our people. Only we can do that.

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