Category Archives: FFF News

FFF17 Opens Tuesday, March 21

2017 Fargo Film Festival Preview

by Kaley Sievert

Movies have this magic. An emotional pull that lures audiences into its universe. Filmgoers can get lost in stories painted in dazzling lights, electric colors and robust sounds. They mourn over the hardships of the characters on screen, experience nostalgia when a relatable childhood memory flashes in front of them, and hold their breath in anticipation for the monster lurking around the corner.

Crowds are starting to feel that pull again as the annual Fargo Film Festival approaches.

Opening March 21, the Festival continues for its 17th year. Filled to the brim with a variety of films and opportunities to meet with talented artists, the festival will be as engaging and entertaining as always.

Longtime volunteer Matt Olien thinks it is always great to meet filmmakers and actors at the film festival. One thing he thinks a lot of people may not realize, however, is that this festival, among many others, gives a glimpse into the film business that most people don’t recognize. “With the filmmaking business, what you see every year at the Oscars is a small snapshot,” Olien said. “Most filmmakers are not famous and they have to work hard, often from job to job.”

Tony Tilton says filmgoers will notice new venues for pre-parties along with new luncheons with filmmakers. The film Tilton looks forward to most is “The Hero,” starring Sam Elliott, which premiered at Sundance just a few weeks ago. “The Hero” is a comedic drama from Northern Lights Films that will be released this summer. Directed by Brett Haley, the movie is about a western film icon whose best performances may be long behind him.

Just like “The Hero,” a number of other films feature the high quality championed by the Fargo Film Festival. “Some of our selected narrative features ended up on top ten lists this year for some national critics,” Olien said.

Olien said that many of the selections come with distribution attached, making it harder and more expensive to screen at the Fargo Film Festival, but also extremely rewarding for festival staff.

Executive director Emily Beck emphasized a few choice films. On opening night, Academy Award nominee “My Life as a Zucchini” will play in an animation showcase. Directed by Claude Barras and featuring voice work from Will Forte, Nick Offerman and Ellen Page, the film is about the orphan Zucchini learning how to trust and love others with the help of new friends.

“Nana,” directed by Serena Dykman, is another must-see. Winner of the festival’s best documentary award, the film follows Dykman as she traces her grandmother’s Auschwitz survival story through Europe. Dykman will attend the festival.

In addition to the films, there will be a number of opportunities to speak with filmmakers in Q & A sessions and at lunch panel events.

On Thursday, March 23, the lunch panel is about journalism meeting real life, and filmgoers will have a chance to talk with Chris Brown, director of “The Other Kids.” This film allows the audience to take a vulnerable and intimate look at the struggles of six small-town teens about to graduate from high school. Real teenagers collaborated with Brown, telling their own personal stories.

Friday, March 24,the lunch panel is about personal stories, and director Dykman talk about her experiences. Filmmakers from “Gratus”, a moving, intimate, and revealing film about 14 individuals who come together to tell their stories about dealing with severe mental illness will also be involved in the discussion.

According to experimental category chair Jeff Kasper, experimental films can be anything or any type of film, but “utilize one or more non-traditional filmmaking technique to tell their story.”

When looking for experimental films to show, Kasper desires that a film evoke a certain sensation. “I want an experimental film to show me something I’ve never seen, heard or felt before.”

The 2017 category winner is “Gratus,” an Australian film that brought 14 people with “complex and persistent mental health issues” together to participate in a filmmaking study for 16 weeks. Kasper describes the film as “touching” and “beautiful.” He believes that everyone who experiences the film will be able to relate to it.

Receiving an honorable mention award, “The Trader” is “quirky, picturesque fun,” according to Kasper. It is about a stock trader who decides to veer from the beaten path of his career and takes a journey in search of liberation.

For both film selections, Kasper cites incredible cinematography, saying “‘Gratus’ and ‘The Trader’ are a feast for the eyes.”

Documentary Feature
According to jury chair Kendra Faiman O’Brien, as the festival has grown over the years, the quality of the films screening has improved greatly. The number of documentary features submitted surpassed 30, and O’Brien and her jury team had to narrow to 8 official selections.

When looking for films to select, O’Brien said she likes a film that is irresistible and that provides a new perspective. “I think about having films so good that I would encourage someone to leave work to attend,” O’Brien said. “A coworker of mine took a film lunchbreak a couple of years ago for a documentary feature and still remembers that film. Success!”

In addition to Serena Dykman’s “Nana,” O’Brien notes honorable mention “A Plastic Ocean,” a deep dive into an epidemic that is currently affecting the world. The film talks about plastic production and use worldwide and the reaction of the world’s oceans, food chains, and biology. “Several jurors talked about the impact this film had on their daily life,” O’Brien said.

This year, 17 films were selected to represent the animation category for the Fargo Film Festival. Jury chair Trina Spaeth said all the films were extremely diverse and came from all over, including Louisiana, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico City, Cyprus, California and South Dakota.

Spaeth looks for a number of techniques that determine the quality and success of the films, as well as the type of animation of the films. Spaeth and the animation jurors focus on craft, technique and storytelling through animation. “The committee understands the amount of time animators devote to their projects and we can tell if they have accomplished their goals and delivered a message to the audience.”

According to Spaeth, she and the jury were lucky to view 2D hand-drawn, 3D computer animation, claymation/stop-motion, and studio quality films.

2017 animation winner “Taking Flight” is a short film is inspired by the life of Antonio Pasin, inventor of the Radio Flyer wagon. Spaeth said “Taking Flight” reminds the audience what it was like to be a child. “It is heartwarming, beautifully animated, and the viewer really connects with these characters.”  

Honorable mention “White Out,” by Cable Hardin, comes from close to home in Brookings, South Dakota. The film brings the audience to a cold, dark planet where a lone pilot faces isolation. According to Spaeth, the film exhibits the independent spirit committee members like to find. “The animation style, original music score and editing really worked together,” Spaeth said.

Cable Hardin will be at the Fargo Film Festival on Tuesday, March 21, for the opening night animation showcase. Festivalgoers can enjoy a Q & A with Hardin after the screening of his short films.

Narrative Short
According to chair Tom Speer, when watching a narrative short film, it’s really about “expecting the unexpected.” Out of 95 submissions, the jury and Speer observed 95 dramatically different films. Only 33 films were selected for the festival. The selections focused on different types of characters and utilized many elements of production. According to Speer, some of the films had little to no dialogue, emphasizing focus on the characters in the film.

Speer highlighted two films that will be featured on closing night of the festival. Winner “Bon Voyage” “stopped me in my tracks,” Speer said. This story takes its audience through waves of fear, surprise, anticipation and desperation as two sailors travel through the Mediterranean Sea and find an overloaded refugee boat in the middle of the night. The film will be followed by a Q & A with actor Jay Abdo.

Honorable mention “Rated” is a film that is highly relevant and can make you shake with laughter. Maggie, a wife and mother of two, wakes up with stars floating above her head. Every adult in the world now has a “Yelp-like rating” for everyone to see. “‘Rated’ also asks the question of how people generally treat each other. These stars now serve as labels, and no good comes from that,” Speer said.

Speer will receive the 2017 Margie Bailly Volunteer Spirit Award from the festival.

Narrative Feature
Of 58 submissions, the narrative feature category is screening 11. According to chair Brittney Goodman, the high number of quality submissions continues to rise each year.

When selecting films for the festival, Goodman and the jury pay attention screenwriting, cinematography, quality of acting, audio recording, score, and soundtrack. Goodman especially looks for a film that touches her on a personal level and that is relatable to the audience. “So many things can make a film rise above the rest. It could be a unique way of filming. It could be compelling acting that makes the audience forget that it’s a movie and not actually happening in real life,” Goodman said.

The narrative feature winner is “Always Shine,” directed by Sophia Takal. The movie follows two struggling actors, but competition and jealousy often comes between the close friends. “It’s a tense psychological thriller in the style of David Lynch,” Goodman said.

The two women are played by Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald. According to Goodman, the chemistry makes it hard to look away from the screen. “I hope many people will show up to view this fresh take on ‘frenemies,’” Goodman said.

Goodman also highlighted “The Other Kids,” calling it a “standout.” “You almost feel like you are really there with these students, peeking into their private lives,” Goodman said. “Forget ‘reality television,’ this is much, much better.”

Student Films
The student section has narrative comedy, narrative drama, animation, experimental, and documentary films under a single category. It also has films directed by students representing the U.S., Israel, Australia, China and Turkey.

Out of 54 submissions, chair Karen Olson and the jury selected only 15 for screening. “Sometimes people will see the word ‘student’ and think unprofessional or lesser quality, but the ones that get in are professionally done” Olson said. Many of the films can compete successfully with more established filmmakers and Olson finds hope and opportunity in seeing such immense talent at the entry level.

“The Search” was a finalist for the Student Academy Awards. In this film, the audience follows a grandmother searching for her grandchild 37 years after her daughter was kidnapped and murdered in the Argentinian “Dirty War.” “It’s one of the most moving films I have seen in the festival in all of the years I have been involved,” Olson said.

“The Search” director Melina Tupa will be at the festival to talk about her film and her experience making it.         

“The Little Dictator” is a comedy set at a family celebration. The lead character, “a Caspar Milquetoast type of guy,” has half of his mustache shaved, making him look like Hitler. Comedic chaos ensues when he arrives to the party.

Documentary Short
Documentary shorts can vary greatly in view point. “This can include fly-on-the-wall works, where the filmmaker is largely invisible; more personal journey-type films, where the filmmaker is more front and center; and films based in reality, but with a more experimental approach,” says category chair, Aaron Baker.

When looking for films, Baker enjoys something that isn’t afraid to highlight the unfamiliar or take on a unique perspective. “I like to see movies that cover lesser-known, perhaps even esoteric subject matter,” Baker said.

The category winner is “Refugee,” directed by Joyce Chen. The film follows a New York woman from Mauritania desperately trying to get her children into America. “It’s safe to say it’s pertinent to the state of the country and the world today,” Baker said.

Baker also mentioned a favorite of his, “These C*cksucking Tears,” directed by Dan Taberski. This film tells the story of an openly gay country band, Lavender Country, who released an album in 1972. “The band’s leader, Patrick Haggerty, is a prickly, utterly fascinating character, and the movie wrings some really strong emotion out of its subject matter,” Baker said. The audience may also recognize director Taberski from his popular podcast “Missing Richard Simmons.”

Five Days of Film
Along with visiting filmmakers, lunch panels, evening showcases, and more than 100 movies, the Fargo Film Festival also invites attendees to go bowling at All-Star on Thursday evening following the screening of a showcase of shorts and the presentation of the Ted M. Larson Award, the festival’s highest honor, to film studies professor and High Plains Reader film editor Greg Carlson.

Carlson also produces the popular 2-Minute Movie Contest, which will screen on Friday night, March 24, at 9:30 p.m. following the special presentation of “The Hero.” Producers Erik Rommesmo and Jeff Schlossman will join Carlson and Matt Olien for a Q & A following “The Hero.”   

In just five days, the Fargo Film Festival will take you around the world from the comfort of your seat in the gorgeous Fargo Theatre. In addition to the many movies mentioned above, there are dozens more to be discovered. A complete screening schedule can be found at and tickets are now on sale at the Fargo Theatre box office.

FFF17 All-Star Bowl Party


Come abide with Fargo Film Festival volunteers, friends, and filmmakers at All-Star Bowl on Thursday, March 23 starting at 9:00 p.m.

All you care to bowl and shoe rental is only ten bucks, and the event is open to achievers of all ages. No charge for non-bowlers.

We will look forward to a real heart-to-heart, some sarsaparilla, and maybe even a White Russian or two.

FFF17 Welcomes Filmmaker Serena Dykman

The Fargo Film Festival is proud to honor Serena Dykman’s “Nana” with this year’s Bill Snyder Award for best documentary feature.

“Nana” follows Dykman as she retraces her grandmother’s Auschwitz survival story through Europe.

The film will be shown on Saturday, March 25 at 3:00 p.m. at the Fargo Theatre and Dykman will participate in a conversation with the audience following the film.

Festival tickets are on sale now at the Fargo Theatre box office.

FFF17 Tickets On Sale at the Fargo Theatre Box Office

Tickets for the 2017 Fargo Film Festival are on sale exclusively at the Fargo Theatre box office.

All Access Pass
$100 General,  $75 Student
Includes admission to all film sessions and parties.  Luncheon tickets may be added to the All Access Pass for $5 each.

All Movie Pass
$75 General, $50 Student
Includes admission to all film sessions.

Evening Party & Movie Pass
Includes admission to one evening’s party and 7:00 film showcase.

Luncheon Ticket
$10 each
Grants admission to one luncheon/panel discussion at Dempsey’s Irish Pub.

Morning or Afternoon Single Session Admission
$7 General, $5 Student

Evening Session Single Admission
$9 General, $5 Student

Regional Premiere of “The Hero” at FFF17

The Fargo Film Festival is thrilled to announce that Brett Haley’s Sundance hit “The Hero” will be screened at the 2017 Fargo Film Festival prior to its national release.

Starring Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, and Katharine Ross, “The Hero” marks writer/director Brett Haley’s (I’ll See You in My Dreams) return with another sharply observed exploration of aging.  Lee Hayden (Elliott) is a Western film icon with a golden voice, but his best performances are decades behind him.  He spends his days reliving old glories and getting high with his former-co-star-turned-dealer, Jeremy (Offerman, Parks and Recreation).  When Lee receives a surprise cancer diagnosis, his priorities come into sharp focus.  He soon strikes up an exciting relationship with stand-up comic Charlotte (Prepon, Orange Is the New Black) and attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Ritter, Jessica Jones).  All the while, Lee searches for one final role to cement his legacy.

“The Hero” will be shown at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 24 at The Fargo Theatre.

A conversation with producer Erik Rommesmo and executive producer Jeff Schlossman will follow the screening.

Tickets and Fargo Film Festival passes go on sale Monday, March 6 exclusively at the Fargo Theatre box office.

FFF17 Official Selections and Category Winners Announced

The Fargo Film Festival is proud to announce the official selections and category winners for 2017. Congratulations to all the moviemakers for their remarkable achievements.

Winner: Taking Flight
Honorable Mention: White Out

Official Selections
The Invisible Truth
Lingua Absentia
The Massage
Panic Attack
Quitting Time
Trial & Error
Witch Doctor


Documentary Feature
Winner: Nana
Honorable Mention: A Plastic Ocean

Official Selections
24-Hour Comic
The Nine
Swim Team
Walk with Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith


Documentary Short
Winner: Refugee
Honorable Mention: Throw

Official Selections
All the Presidents’ Heads
Bacon & God’s Wrath
Being Seen
The Boxer
The Collection
Death and Life
Finding the A.J. Goddard: A Tale of Modern Discovery
Henny’s Opus in B Minor
Rats: A Documentary
Riding the Highline
These C*cksucking Tears
Uncle Albert
We’re Not White


Winner: Gratus
Honorable Mention: The Trader

Official Selections
A Chimerical Illusion
Circles: A Poem in Three Parts
Dancing Queen
London NGC 6744
The Mountain Funeral
Moving Pictures
Toogies Trip to Bukuokuka


Narrative Feature
Winner: Always Shine
Honorable Mention: It Had to Be You
Honorable Mention: Josephine

Official Selections
Adult Life Skills
Claire in Motion
Donald Cried
The Master Cleanse
The Other Kids
Rebellious Girl


Narrative Short
Winner: Bon Voyage
Honorable Mention: Rated

Official Selections
The Backroom
Black Ring
Cold Storage
Duffy’s Jacket
The Great White Storm
Kill Your Dinner
The Last One
Like a Butterfly
Millennium: Eternal Sunrise
Mister Massive and the Super Squad
Nkosi Coiffure
Sixty-Five Drive
Thanks for Dancing
They Will All Die in Space
Thunder Road
Under a Different Sky, Your Sky, My Sky
Walking Home
What Remains


Winner Best Student Narrative: The Little Dictator
Winner Best Student Documentary: The Search
Honorable Mention: None of That

Official Selections
The French Revolution
Happiest Place on Earth
Light Drifter
Lotus Gun
No Cleaner Threads
An Object at Rest
Rabbit Blood
The Servants
Silentium Dei
Wall, Crevice, Tear

2-Minute Movie Contest Returns to FFF17

The 2-Minute Movie Contest returns to the Fargo Film Festival on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.

Admission is two dollars.

Submissions to the 2-Minute Movie Contest are open until Friday, February 24, 2017.

Moviemakers may submit only one film for consideration, and there is no guarantee of exhibition.

Flash drives with a self-contained movie file can be dropped off at the Fargo Theatre box office or contestants can email a link to a downloadable Vimeo file to gregcarlson1[at] by 5 p.m. on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Total running time may not exceed 120 seconds, including any credits.

Submissions Open for FFF17


Submissions continue to arrive for the eyes, ears, and minds of our hungry judges. The Fargo Film Festival’s late deadline of October 1, 2016 is fast approaching, and we offer an extended deadline of November 1, 2016.

After that, juries will complete viewing assignments and make decisions about our March 2017 lineup.

All submissions must be completed online using Film Freeway or Withoutabox.

FFF16 2-Minute Movie Contest Winners

fff16dinosaur1The Fargo Film Festival congratulates Ning Cheng as the 2016 first place winner of the 2-Minute Movie Contest.

Cheng’s animated short “Dinosaur” was chosen by judges as the winning work from nearly fifty submitted movies. Cheng is a graduate of Cal Arts.

The second place movie, “Sport in the Land of Plenty,” is director Matt Reynolds’ surreal animation featuring music by Nacho Cano (a.k.a. Twin Cabins).

Third place went to Cassie Passantino’s “Flowers Can’t Talk.”

Thanks to all the moviemakers who shared their work for the showcase. The 2-Minute Movie Contest will return in 2017.