Some people make a fuss when they leave town: others just slip away.
Ryan Oestreich, who has been a pillar of what's now known as the Film Society of Minnesota for the last four years, tried the latter approach, but we found him anyway.
He says leaving the Film Society was hard.
"We probably are in the best position we have been in in the last seven years," he said this morning on the phone from Chicago.
Oestreich is heading via a roundabout route to Denver where his girlfriend is entering grad school.
The last few years have been pretty wild at what was once Minnesota Film Arts (and before that the U Film Society.) During Oestreich's time there the organization went from presenting programs at two theaters, the Bell and the Oak Street, while mounting the annual Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, to being an organization focused primarily on the Festival, to where it is now, doing repertory programming at St Anthony Main across from downtown, where it shares space with the regular multiplex fare. Then at Festival time in the early spring it takes over the entire complex.
"The film festival that just wrapped is now the biggest it's ever been," he said. "With over 200 feature films and 80 short films, and then you have year-round programming."
Oestreich says 2011 could be shaping up to be a record year for number of movies shown, very different from four years ago when he first began working with founder Al Milgrom, where he admits things were "kind of stop and go."
While he says its hard to point to one thing which changed everything, he says there is now a clearer direction to the organization and with the help of the board, and Executive Director Susan Smoluchowski's grant-writing expertise, Oestreich says the Film Society is on firmer financial ground.
"The idea was, let's raise more money with the film festival so that can influence the year round programming." Oestreich said. "What happened was the members and the patrons noticed. So the membership doubled and is now is only increasing."
He says a lot of people are discovering, or rediscovering, the Film Society.
"And suddenly you have the best outcome which is more films, more programming, more diversity," he said.
For a long time what was then the MFA was locked in an internal struggle between factions who passionately believed the organization had to focus on the Festival, and those who just as passionately believed in repertory film year-round as the foundation. There were passionate meetings and ruffled feathers.
Oestreich says time has shown a need for both.
"The idea of bringing back repertory is coming along," he said, pointing to recent programs where current releases are paired with similarly themed classics. But what had to happen first was, you sort of have to throw everything out of the house before you start rebuilding it."
"Yeah, there was probably a concern on many people's parts," he admits. "But in time everything came back around, and is sort of getting back into a rhythm that I think people recognize."
He believes the move to St Anthony Main also helped, giving a focus both to the festival and the programming the rest of the year. He says it is a product of the audience wanting a central location.
"It's a place people want to go," he said, pointing to the availability of restaurants, bars and even Segways nearby.
"It's a very strong organization again, and so it's hard to leave at this moment," he said. "And the people that are there are extremely passionate about the mission."
He said he recognizes his own passion for film in the staff he leaves behind and that makes make him feel he's leaving the organization in good hands.
He's hoping to latch onto something in film in Denver, but doesn't have anything set up yet.
When I ask him if there is anything else we should talk about as he leaves town, he counters with the true cineaste statement: "I don't know - have you seen anything good lately?"
Oestreich says he doesn't know what the future will bring, but he's not ruling out a return to the Twin Cities at some point.
Kristina Erickson of Herman brings us today's nomination for our Celebrating Minnesota Architecture series. It's a building that people in her home town wanted so badly, they were willing to steal for it, but alas, it stands in Elbow Lake.
Grant County Courthouse
Photo: Calvin Beale
Here's Erickson's nomination for the Grant County Courthouse.
The Grant County courthouse is a grand structure that sits on a hill overlooking Elbow Lake and it's the first thing you see when you turn into town from the south. Being a resident of Herman I must bring up the rather tumultuous past of the recognized seat of Grant County. At the time Herman was a far bigger town and many thought it should be the county seat - disagreement ensued and in the end residents from Herman rigged an election and made off with the court records in the dark of night. At the turn of the 20th century the current structure was built and is still in use today. The high ceilings and cool, echoing halls give one a sense of the past and occasion to remember those who have passed through the doors and the events that the courthouse has overlooked throughout its years.
Indeed, this USDA research site includes the following story about the battle for the county seat between Herman and Pomme de Terre Village:
Although Grant County was formed in 1871, it was not officially established until 1873 when the governor appointed three commissioners to organize the county. These three were Henry Sanford, K. N. Melby, and S.S. Frogner. Their first task was to choose a county seat and elect officers. The only two settlements that amounted to anything at that time were Herman (which already had rail service) in the southwestern part of the county and Pomme de Terre in the northeast. Mr. Frogner wanted Herman to be the county seat; Mr. Melby wanted Pomme de Terre. Mr. Sanford, caught in the middle, privately suggested to Mr. Frogner that a neutral site should be chosen and that it would then be easier to get the county seat moved to Herman at a later date. At least it wouldn't be in Pomme de Terre.
The men chose Elbow Lake as the county seat. It was located next to Sanford's land, nearer to the center of the county than either of the other two choices. It was not until 1878 that a courthouse was even built. Elbow Lake remains the county seat although it was not without a fight. In 1881 Herman was able to get the state legislature to name Herman the county seat if residents of the county voted in its favor. In a special election, it appeared that Herman had won. Although the voting was being appealed, a group from Herman raided the courthouse in Elbow Lake and took all the records to Herman. A courthouse was quickly built there. When an investigation found out that a number of ineligible votes had been cast in the Herman area and that the votes of one of the northeastern townships had not been counted at all, the final vote was overturned and Elbow Lake was again declared the county seat. A number of men from the Elbow Lake area in turn raided the Herman courthouse one night, returning all the records to Elbow Lake.
The present court house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1906.
Thanks to Kristina Erickson for her nomination. Got a building in your neighborhood or town that you think is worth celebrating? Send along a photo and your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.