S.D. festival drawing filmmakers to middle America
ABERDEEN, S.D. — It’s a Friday night on Main Street in the small northern South Dakota town of Aberdeen, and it’s supposedly a hopping one with the marquee event of the annual South Dakota Film Festival being held at the Capitol Theater.
And yet the street is nearly empty. The chirping of crickets is only occasionally disturbed by passing cars or pedestrians. Cannes or Sundance, this is not.
Some might consider it an unfortunate side effect of being in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota, in a town hugged by corn fields and the closest “big cities” — Fargo, Bismarck, Sioux Falls and Pierre — each being about three hours away.
But Tom Black doesn’t see it that way.
“We’re not the middle of nowhere. We’re the middle of everywhere,” said Black, a co-producer of the South Dakota Film Festival, which is in its sixth year this weekend.
Looking at a map, he’s just about right. As long as film goers don’t mind that cattle outnumber local residents, Aberdeen is pretty close to being smack dab in the middle of the country.
And it’s that central location that has grown the small-town festival into a filmmakers’ favorite, consistently drawing hundreds of people into the quaint-but-spacious theater each of the event’s four days.
It’s gotten so big, in fact, that organizers said they might need to spread to other downtown locations in the next year or two.
“It’s charming here. It’s a great theater,” said Mike Scholtz, 42, of Minnesota, whose latest documentary, “Wild Bill’s Run,” has won awards at the South Dakota and Seattle film festivals. The “arctic crime caper” also has been accepted into the better-known Mountain Film Festival in Canada’s Banff, Alberta.
“A lot of festivals are in hotel conference rooms, or just spaces that aren’t as nice for film watching. This is a really nice space for it,” Scholtz said.
Indeed, the Capitol Theater is the stuff of theaters past. In the lobby is an ornate chandelier and restored 1920s organ. The theater itself is adorned with turn-of-the-century embellishments and balcony seating. The screen pulls down over a true stage, one that’s used for live performances by the Aberdeen Community Theatre.
It’s a space Penny Stolsmark, of Pierpont, S.D., has known since childhood, but Friday marked the first time she and her husband have visited for the film festival.
“We had to come,” Stolsmark said. “We’re big moviegoers. I’m thinking if we really like it tonight, we might VIP it next year.”
What drew Stolsmark to this year’s festival wasn’t a new film, but one celebrating its 20th anniversary, “Thunderheart,” starring Val Kilmer and Native American actor Graham Greene. Greene is best known for his role in another South Dakota-filmed movie, “Dances With Wolves,” for which he was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award.