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ND Filmmakers question process where a Bismarck producer received two state grants

Bismarck filmmaker Matt Fern at a Capitol news conference
Dave Thompson
Bismarck filmmaker Matt Fern at a Capitol news conference

It appears the North Dakota Legislature intended two grants, called “Motion Picture Production and Recruitment” grants, be given to a Bismarck filmmaker.

A group of other state filmmakers have raised concerns about the process whereby Canticle Productions received both grants, for a total of $700,000.

In the 2021 Legislature, a conference committee working on the budget for the state Commerce Department took $100,000 out of the tourism marketing grant, and created the first grant. A statement of purpose for that amendment said the one-time funding was to go directly to Canticle Productions. The company made the film “End of the Rope.”

In the 2023 Legislature, $600,000 was allocated to that grant. A footnote in the conference committee report on the Commerce budget said – quoting now – “Adds funding for a motion picture production and recruitment grant to be provided directly to Canticle Productions.”

A number of other North Dakota filmmakers have asked the Governor, Attorney General and state Procurement Officer to look into the situation. The other filmmakers say they could not apply for the 2021 grant, and the window created for the 2023 competitive grant was only six days. They said they have no problem with Canticle – they have questions about the process.

Filmmaker Matt Fern said Canticle’s application did not have essential details about what was to be done with the money, and contained no script, no timeline, no budget, and no return address.

"This could have done a lot for North Dakota filmmakers, the film industry," Fern said at a Capitol news conference. "The idea (for the grants) is to recruit filmmakers, recruit industry professionals, to help tell the story of North Dakota. Yet I do not understand who they are recruiting, by only allowing six business days to receive applications. And who are they recruiting by awarding the grant to the same company two years in a row?"

Fern said his beef is with the process, not with Canticle.

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