Fargo Film Fest: A great reason to see the historic Fargo Theatre

Feature & photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Inside the Fargo Theatre.

The Oscars are tonight, and the weather is perfect for snuggling into a theater with a warm tub of popcorn. If you’ve always wanted to see some of the lesser-known nominees, such as animated shorts, you can do it this week during the 11th Fargo Film Festival March 1-5.

The event takes the Fargo Theatre’s usual focus on independent flicks and broadens it to a five-day event packed with documentaries, short films, animated films, foreign entries, talks with movie makers, and a two-minute movie contest that’s especially popular with film students.

Among the standouts:

  • “The Gruffalo” which was getting good Oscar buzz. The festival has a solid reputation for snagging good animated candidates, including last year’s Oscar-nominated “Secret of the Kels.”
  • “Made in India,” an eye-opening look at medical tourism and the newer trend of infertile couples seeking more affordable surrogates among impoverished Indian mothers.
  • “A Lutefisk Western” and “Lutefisk Wars.” How can you not be curious? If that doesn’t seem local enough with the area’s strong Scandinavian heritage, there also are films inspired by a local roller derby and several entries with Native American experiences and filmmakers.

The Wurlitzer’s sound effects keyboard.

Movie theater nostalgia

If you can’t make it for the festival, make it a goal to see the theater some other time. There are few places that tug at a person’s nostalgia quite like restored movie houses. Fargo Theatre’s blazing neon marquee makes it the flashy diva of the downtown cityscape.

For older generations, it brings back memories of the early 1900s with its Art Deco design and the Mighty Wurlitzer organ that gets cranked up for pre-show entertainment on weekends.

Chainsaw Marge

For younger generations, it feels hip and quirky with an enthusiastic staff that mans the counter with fresh popcorn and retro candies. There’s just a great vibe here.

Chainsaw Marge from “Fargo”

Anyone who needs inspiration and assurance that non-mainstream movie-makers can climb to the top only has to climb to the second floor of the Fargo Theatre. That’s the home of a chainsaw-carved rendition of “Marge” from the Coen Brothers’ cult-classic “Fargo.” The town may never live down the warped reputation it left (despite most of it being filmed in Minnesota). The twisted 1996 comedy did bring national attention to the town with the world premiere at the newly restored Fargo Theatre.

Pre- or post-show treats at Nichole’s Fine Pastry.

“Fargo” nabbed two Oscars and five additional nominations. The theater keeps reeling in the Oscar-nominated films, whether it’s Colin Firth in last winter’s “A Single Man” or the more off-beat entries of the film fest.

A theater from the golden-age of movies–rather than a shopping-mall complex–feels like the right place to savor cinema magic.

More about the film fest and Fargo:

“Grab popcorn and parka for Fargo Film Fest,” Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Fargo highlights:

“Go far in Fargo,” Midwest Living magazine, 2010.