Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


And, action!...

Posted 5/19/20 (Tue)

Over the course of North Dakota’s history, there have only been 11 movies filmed here and most of us should be familiar with at least three of them.

As we all know, the biggest being Fargo, wasn’t really shot in the state, except for the opening scene. The rest was filmed near Bemidji, Minn., yet North Dakota takes the credit for it.

There’s no doubt it was a good movie and it helped a lot of people in the rest of the nation finally figure out where Fargo is.

The other big one was Wooly Boys with Kris Kristofferson and Peter Fonda.

The movie was good, but the actors were most likely what sold this film and made it popular.

Unlike Fargo, however, Wooly Boys was filmed almost entirely within the state’s boundaries.

The third movie most of us should know is Northern Lights, a 1978 independent film that dramatizes the beginning of the Non Partisan League.

That movie won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and many locals were used as extras in the film.

The rest of the reels are either obscure or were total flops at the box office. However, the documentary Welcome to Leith, picked up some accolades at the Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on Prairie Public Television.

It’s hard to know without doing a lot of research whether or not North Dakota is a friendly state when it comes to filming movies and TV shows.

Instead, it isn’t difficult to find out that other places create incentives for film crews to set up and shoot their scenes without a lot of government oversight.

It’s more likely red tape than it is lack of people or scenery that keeps actors from coming here to portraying other characters.

In sharp contrast, the small farming community of Roleau, Saskatchewan was home to the most popular sitcom on Canadian television in 2002 through 2007.

Corner Gas became an instant hit because of its silly comedy. The town of Roleau in real time, was changed to “Dog River” for the show. Main Street was often seen in the show and you can rest assured, Roleau is a mirror image of any small town in North Dakota.

Some of the scenes were shot in nearby Regina, but most were filmed right in Roleau, or Dog River.

And when the half-hour comedy started to fizzle out, Corner Gas the Movie was filmed on location, according to the Dog River Howler newspaper.

Roleau, like any other North Dakota small town, is located just 136 miles north of Crosby.

Theoretically, movies could be a big industry in the state. We have the space, we have the scenery, we have the livestock, we have the buildings now that downtown Fargo has a set of skyscrapers and we have water and lots of it.

These are things the industry needs. The actors will come to the right places and given the right script, people like Kris Kristofferson and Peter Fonda will work in North Dakota.

We’ve also had some success, albeit severely limited. Three, and sometimes four films, depending on who you are asking, is a good start. Those shows should certainly be a template for future productions that could become as popular at the box office as their predecessors.

What are we waiting for? The live theater in the state is there but doesn’t get enough recognition. Ironically, this state is producing a lot of good actors who could star in any movie.

Yet very few of them are getting a chance to prove themselves. Perhaps if there was an industry here, they could.

I look at it like baseball once was. Today, there are numerous Major League baseball players who either grew up in North Dakota or spent their summers here playing baseball.

When I was a kid, Roger Maris was “the” guy, the only North Dakotan to break into the Majors. Years later, along came Darin Erstad, Rick Helling, Travis Hafner and the list goes on.

Perhaps the movie industry could be just like that in coming years and could start piggybacking like baseball did.

Wooly Boys and Fargo should have been the opportunity to showcase our state in Hollywood.

That can still happen, but it’s almost like re-inventing the wheel.

We all know that movies make a lot of money. Sometimes we can’t even imagine the amounts of money they take in at the box office.

Why not bring some of that money back to North Dakota. The time has come for the movie industry to make its move here. We certainly have a starting point.