Fargo Film Festival and John Hanson
The Fargo Theatre, one of the last great show halls in the region to still show movies, opened on a Monday, March 15th,1926. On that opening day the Forum newspaper ran a twelve page spread detailing the elegant structure. There was a variety of entertainment on that first day; Chicago organist Ramon Berry performed on the theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ and Norman Ostby directed the theatre’s very own orchestra. Theatre-goers also enjoyed a 15 member cast performing the musical extravaganza, “The King Cole Review” along with a burlesque number. And on screen…a newsreel, a cartoon, of course, and the main attraction, a feature film, “The Man in the Box,” starring Sydney Chaplain, Charley Chaplain’s brother. Over the years many big stars appeared live at the Fargo Theatre, including the Sultan of Swat, baseball star, Babe Ruth, and legendary silver screen cowboy, Tom Mix with his horse, Tony. The first full length talking picture to screen at the Fargo Theatre was “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson.
The Fargo Theatre has carved out it’s own niche in the area movie scene by screening a wide variety of film…many of which don’t make it to the cine-plexes. Occasionally the theatre gets its hands on a sleeper that becomes a box office hit…films like, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Each March, the theatre also hosts the Fargo Film Festival, an event established in 2001 to showcase regional, national and international films. This year’s festival beings today, Wednesday, March 7th and runs through Saturday, the 10th.
Festival-goers can choose from a variety of options when it comes to purchasing tickets for the event…from the $5.00 dollar admission cost for a single session, to the $100.00 dollar (75 for students) “Heckuva Deal Pass” that includes all screenings, workshops and festival parties.
And it just so happens that today, this first day of the 2007 Fargo Film Festival is also the birthday of native North Dakotan and filmmaker, John Hanson. In 1978, John and fellow filmmaker, Rob Nillson, released the highly acclaimed feature film, “Northern Lights.” The film, shot in North Dakota is the story of one small-time farmer’s struggle to survive the “mechanical revolution” of the early 20th century. “Northern Lights” was the winner of the Camera d’Or for best first feature at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and was screened at the first Fargo Film Festival in 2001, as the Festival honored its director, John Hanson.
By Merrill Piepkorn