A Northern Minnesota movie comes home

Florence (Bijou Abas) is the central character in the film “Cold November,” a coming-of-age story written and directed by Hibbing native Karl Jacob.

Aaron J. Brown

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

No industry confounds the people of Middle America more than the entertainment business. Hollywood and New York stand as shining beacons of wonder, drawing the ambitions and hopes of our teenage thespians and aspiring new media pioneers.

But buried beneath this extravagant reverie is a truth; we are typically the rubes shelling out for tickets and t-shirts, not the ones making the movies. As a result the stories — and that’s what films are — only occasionally reflect our real lives.

That can’t be said of a film opening this week in the local Mann’s Cinema 8 theaters in Hibbing and Grand Rapids. “Cold November,” written and directed by Hibbing native Karl Jacob will premiere this Friday in the same theaters where people see the latest Hollywood blockbusters. This film pulses with the images, sounds and characters of Northern Minnesota.

“Cold November” shows us a coming-of-age story following a girl named Florence (Bijou Abas) as she embarks on her first deer hunt. But this rite of passage comes amid the uncertainty of puberty and the heavy weight of grief.

Jacob blends pitch-perfect performances with an array of shots depicting both the vast loneliness and the intimacy of being in the woods. He tells a hunting story through a matriarchal family, where strong women carry on the traditions passed down through the generations. He spares no detail of deer hunting, or of what it’s like to handle emotions quietly. We learn how closely the two can be related.

I do believe Jacob achieves a movie first in shooting a scene from inside a gutted deer. He packages this novelty within a movie that made me tear up and laugh, sometimes just moments apart. This isn’t some adorable local production; it’s one of the finest films I’ve seen recently.

Jacob was known as Karl Wiilliainen when he graduated from Hibbing High School. He now lives and works in New York. He’s excited to bring his award-winning independent feature film back to Northern Minnesota. Many people helped him with the filming in Hibbing and in the forests of the surrounding region. In addition, the IRRRB and State of Minnesota offered financial support through their now-defunct film incentive programs.

“I’ve premiered the film all over the world,” said Jacob, “and nothing is as exciting as the thought of bringing it back to the Mann Cinema, the chain where I saw my first movie on the big screen as a kid. I think it might have been E.T.”

Jacob said making a Northern Minnesota story for people here to see is an important part of cultural growth.

“There is art, life and beauty all around you,” said Jacob. “When you acknowledge that, appreciate it, and tell someone about it, it improves your life.”

The modern entertainment business is challenging, fragmented by new technology and more competition. But in this we find opportunities to make quality work for less startup cost than ever. That means the best stories and the best ideas have a chance to find audiences.

“The communal support of the people of Hibbing, Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas made this film possible,” said Jacob. “It is because of you that it exists. You should all be proud, and walk away from this film knowing that you, in some way, contributed to its existence. That’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?”

As we contemplate ways to make Northern Minnesota stronger, let’s not forget the power of storytelling and art. Jacob stuck his neck out not only to make a movie, but to produce a quality work of cinema that that tells our story creatively and honestly. We need to get involved.

First, yeah, we need to be the rubes who buy tickets. That’s how these things work. But then we must also encourage the budding creators in our midst to make art right here. As you will see in “Cold November,” Northern Minnesota offers more than its stereotypes and the sanitized history written by marketers and politicians.

Culture starts with a story passed down. To preserve our culture and our interests, we must tell our own stories. It’s how we learn. How we grow. How we relate to one another.

That doesn’t mean we need to all run out and make movies. But those of us who can should create *something* and find support for that innovation, imagination and whimsy in our communities.

Evidence may be found March 23-28 when you can see “Cold November” at the Hibbing and Grand Rapids Mann’s theaters. Nightly showings will play at 5 and 7 p.m. with an additional weekend 9:30 p.m. show and matinees at 12:30 and 3 p.m.

Jacob and Abas will host a Q&A session at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 23 in Hibbing. There will be a special introduction for the 9:30 p.m. showing that night. Jacob will lead another Hibbing Q&A Sunday, March 25 at 12:30 p.m. and an introduction at 3 p.m.

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, March 18, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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