The Marine Film Society in Marine on St. Croix, Minn. has received a grant from the Metro Regional Arts Council for the upcoming 2020-21 season.
The society is operated by Paul Creager and Gayle Knutson and has been hosting screenings of documentary films in the Marine town hall for seven years. The films they show are all either made in Minnesota or have a connection to the state and the surrounding area. Creager said the screenings have grown substantially since they began and are a great community bonding event.
“We pushed the idea of the film series with the notion that it was going to look great and be really well organized,” he said. “They’re very special and one of a kind. You cannot just watch it on YouTube — you have to be there.”
The Marine town hall is a large part of the allure to the film series. The building is the oldest functional town hall in the state and was built in 1888.
“There have been modest updates but for the most part the town hall is a snapshot of 1888,” Creager said. “It’s a very unique and inspiring space and I think that’s a part of our experience.”
The Metro Regional Arts Council grant is awarded each spring, and the Marine Film Society has received the grant six out of the seven years of their operation.
“We never take it for granted,” Creager said. “Grant writing is like intellectual gambling. You’re shaping an idea and seeing if people think it’s a winner.”
Creager and Knutson use the grant money in part to pay the filmmakers for the right to screen their projects, something that’s unusual in the film circuit world.
“It’s really rare that you get any money for screening your film,” Knutson said. “So we pay our filmmakers to come in and it’s great for them. I don’t know an indie filmmaker who isn’t in debt or could use a little money.”
They also oftentimes pay to have the filmmakers travel to the screening and speak after the film. Knutson said this gives the audience a completely different experience. The society recently screened a film called ‘Risking Light,’ a film that partially focuses a Minnesota woman who becomes close friends with the young man who murdered her son as a result of gang violence. They got to know each other while he was serving his prison sentence and became next-door neighbors after he was released.
“(After the film) I introduced the filmmaker, and then I introduced the mom and the man who murdered her son, and they came walking up the aisle,” Knutson said. “That’s what makes this different and really powerful.”
Creager said they hope to raise an audience for each film they screen and in turn promote the survival of the art form. He compared the notion to the principles of conservation.
“People will protect wilderness areas if they understand wilderness areas,” he said. “The same goes for Minnesotans and the arts. If we build an audience for an art form, that audience will more likely protect it, and maybe even propel its growth.”