Range native holds high hopes for ‘Cold November’

A promotional still from "Cold November," a film being shot now in Northern Minnesota.

A promotional still from “Cold November,” a movie being filmed now in Northern Minnesota.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

This week, hunters across Northern Minnesota will check sights, erect stands and procure truckloads of cheese curds and jerky before opening the rifle deer season next Saturday. Most hope for that perfect shot, the big trophy and a freezer full of venison, but that’s often not the most important detail. For some, it’s the first season without dad. The last for grandpa. One child is still at war and the other moved away. Each year becomes a rite of passage from one part of life to another. Hunting, like any season, cannot pass without reflection.

That’s the emotional core of a new film being shot right now in the woods near Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. Minneapolis filmmaker Karl Jacob produces “Cold November,” about an 11-year-old girl on her first hunt after a recent family tragedy. He uses Jacob as his professional name, but locals might remember him as Karl Wiiliainen, Hibbing High School class of 1997. Cast and crew start filming today and will work through November at locations in Hibbing and in rural Goodland Township.

“We do have a unique culture that we come from,” said Jacob, who spent several years in New York before returning to Minnesota three years ago. “Stories from Northern Minnesota are underrepresented. In an effort to tell some of those stories I want to focus on personal aspects of people living here that turn into bigger explorations of the culture.”

Hunting is a well established tradition in Northern Minnesota, though often seen as controversial or even unnecessary to others. Jacob said his film seeks to help people understand the role hunting plays in culture.

Independent filmmaker and actor Karl Jacob

Independent filmmaker and actor Karl Jacob

“That whole process is confronting an animal and killing it, using it to live, I think it’s important for the development of becoming an adult,” said Jacob. “This is the thing that I don’t think a lot of people who don’t grow up in this culture understand. Maybe some people don’t go through the same thing, but it changes the way you think about things. It makes you aware of your own mortality. You have to deal with these things and respond to them.”

“Cold November” is the second of Jacob’s trilogy of films set in Northern Minnesota. The first, “Pollywogs,” was about a man returning home from a bad breakup for a family reunion at the lake where he encounters his old friend and first love. The third will also be set in this area, but Jacob hasn’t written the screenplay yet.

The protagonist of “Cold November” is a young girl raised by her mom and grandma who teach her about hunting, a departure from male-dominated gender stereotypes of hunting. Jacob said he wasn’t making a statement, he was just using what he knew.

“My mom was the one who taught me how to gut a deer,” said Jacob. “When I was raised there were a lot of women — mom, four aunts and grandma — all hunted. There were more women then men in my life when I learned how to do this.”

One of the reasons Jacob is filming “Cold November” during a live hunting season is that actual hunting is a part of the film. In one scene, the young girl field must field dress her first kill, something only possible during the season. Jacob said that an elaborate scheme has been prepared to get the deer for that shot. While other scenes are being filmed, Jacob’s real-life family will be hunting in the woods. When they get a deer, Jacob will suspend production and everyone will meet at a designated location to film the scene in question.

There’s only one hitch.

“We really hope someone gets a deer,” said Jacob. “I don’t know what will happen if we don’t.”

“Cold November,” co-produced by fellow Northern Minnesota native filmmaker Jessica Bergren of Balsam Township, is backed by a grant from the Jerome Foundation and will make use of tax rebates offered by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board for movies filmed on the Iron Range. Jacob is launching a Kickstarter campaign today to pay for remaining expenses, a process that will give people a behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process. Jacob doesn’t expect to make much money off the production, so he is also asking the community to get involved, from delivering food or hosting the cast and crew during their month in the Hibbing area.

“I’m excited about [shooting at Hibbing High School] because I get to go back to the same place where I learned photography and drama to show kids what it’s like,” said Jacob. “That kind of passion can be contagious. If I can show that this is possible, then I’ll be happy, like I’ve done my part in showing some potential young actor or filmmaker a path they can take.”

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Lynne Salonen Boll says

    Very interesting, I’ll look forward to it. For most of our parents and grandparents, who immigrated to this country, hunting and fishing was a necessity and we even had canned venison, fish and game when there was no other means of preserving it. A man’s gun, therefore, was not only a prized possession but their most valuable. For many settlers the second most prized and used, the treadle sewing machine.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful article, Aaron! Karl Jacob and I just realized we hadn’t forwarded the link for our Kickstarter campaign your way. The page is LIVE (woohoo!) and can be found here: http://www.coldnovemberfilm.com

    Many thanks!
    Stefanie Toftey
    Associate Producer
    Cold November

  3. I have been trying to describe the matriarchal nature of the Iron Range for years. Many people do not understand that, or fail to comprehend what I am communicating.

    The Benedictines shaped the Range in a profound way. Sister Lois (now the Prioress of Saint Scholastica Monastery) was herself instrumental in steering certain parishes. Those days are long gone and most parishes are now conglomerates of the older much more unique ethnic parishes that once comprised the Diocese.

    My transition to working for the Jesuits has not been without some struggle due to their much more fraternal character. The Iron Range still has Marian essence, which the Jesuits are not particularly strong at reflecting in both action and contemplation.

  4. Look forward to seeing the film. My grandmother shot and ate most anything that wondered into her backyard which was 94% garden 5% apple trees and 1% walkways thru it in the 50’s and 60’s. She came from Yugoslavia and thought nothing of dressing game. Good luck to Mr. Wiiliainin!!

  5. carol mccormick says

    My son had a close encounter with a deer last night. Meaning that it leaped onto his car at 10:30 om while he was driving home on a freeway in Minneapolis. The police came and said he could have the deer. He declined but if I had know you were worried about getting a deer….

    • I’m sorry to hear about your son’s car, Carol, but as it turns out the film crew got their deer the old fashioned way. I’m just now writing an update post. Thanks!

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