An Insider’s Guide To The Fargo Film Festival 2019

There’s a split second after every film ends when the storyline remains in the minds of the audience. Even as the credits roll, characters and emotions last. Unresolved scenarios rattle around like loose change.

Every year, that magical moment occurs over and over again for multiple days during the Fargo Film Festival (FFF). What’s more, inner monologues transform into real-life conversations with writers, directors, and talent from across the country. Those special moments wouldn’t be possible without the expansive team of staff, board members, committee members and volunteers that put on the festival every year.

To learn more about this year’s festival, Fargo Underground interviewed six members of the FFF team about their roles, experience and of course, which films are most anticipated.

headshot line up with names


See our full list of Fargo Film Festival Screenings and Events on the Fargo Underground Events Calendar.
From childhood favorites to recent reboots, movies have the ability to define personalities and push the boundaries of knowledge and companionship. King Kong on VHS, George Lucas masterpieces, and even deadly spider bites are all fond movie memories for these film festival insiders.

The following questions give a brief snapshot of each interviewee’s personal film interests.

What’s the BEST movie remake of all time?

GREG: The original 1958 version of The Fly is awesome, and Cronenberg’s 1986 edition is even more awesome.

TOM: I absolutely love Ocean’s Eleven (2001). There’s just no better word to describe it other than fun! 

DINAH: I don’t know about the best, but I enjoyed The Birdcage, A Star is Born (Streisand), and The Departed.

CHRISTINA: I really enjoyed the Battlestar Galactica remake.

 If you could live a day in the life of any film, as a particular character or observer, which would you pick?
CHRISTINA: I’d go all out cheese and give Morgan Adam’s life from Cutthroat Island a spin.

KENDRA: I’ll throw a party in the house from The Holiday! I’d have some movies going in the theatre and make food in the beautiful kitchen.

It’s time to tidy up your stash of VHS movies, which three would you save?

SEAN: The original King Kong (the VHS box roars when you press on Kong), and the two cassette box set of Titanic and Speed.

TOM: The original Star Wars trilogy, which was released on VHS one final time in 1995. My first interest in film, my degree from MSUM, and my career all trace back to those three VHS tapes.

KENDRA: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride.

CHRISTINA: Watership Down, Tombstone, and Arachnophobia.

What is one movie character that best represents your personality or whom you aspire to embody?

TOM: I see a lot of myself in Curt Henderson from American Graffiti. There’s something about Richard Dreyfuss as Curt that I just identify with.

SEAN: I’d love to be as kind and considerate as Paddington.

GREG: I want to have the tenacity, resolve, and iron will of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.


– Meet the Insiders –

Greg Carlson – FFF Webmaster

  • Associate professor at Concordia College
  • Film Editor at High Plains Reader

greg carlson-webmaster for fargo film festival headshot

If you could only watch one movie at this year’s festival, which film would you choose?

“One of my best friends in the world is the documentary filmmaker Mike Scholtz, and his latest feature is Riplist, about people who participate in a fantasy football-style draft of celebrities they think will die in the coming year. Wednesday night is the world premiere. You can’t beat the excitement of a debut screening with an audience.”

Why do local film festivals matter to the community?

“Well-run film festivals provide an outlet for artists to bypass the traditional means of distribution. Some of the movies end up online, but online can’t compete with the environment of the Fargo Theatre.”

When did you first get involved with the festival and what/who led you to get involved?

“Ted Larson, the first professor of film studies at MSUM, was my mentor. He died during the planning stages of the inaugural festival. I was numb and in shock, but Rusty Casselton encouraged me to become involved. He asked me to dub extra VHS screening copies of movie submissions for jurors to watch before making programming decisions. When we started, content was entered, judged, and screened using physical media. That was a long time ago!”

Christina Johnson – FFF 2019 Cover Designer

  • Freelance designer and artist
  • The Arts Partnership

christina johnson fargo film festival cover dsigner

If you could only watch one movie at this year’s festival, which film would you choose?

“I’d probably pick Riplist. Partially because I’m familiar with some of the people involved and the quality of what they’ve made in the past, and also because it’s a really fun and ridiculous idea. Otherwise I’m not very familiar yet with a lot of what’s playing, which is actually something I’m probably even more excited about. I love finding out there were movies I was dying to see that I never knew existed.”

What was your first Fargo Film Festival experience like? If you could give advice to a newcomer, what would it be?

“I first started by attending the 2-Minute Film Fest on Friday night. It was fun and ridiculous and impressive by turns, and every year since then I’ve been catching more and more of the films.

“My advice would be if you enjoy creative work in general, just go and catch whatever films your schedule/resources allow. Don’t worry about whether they’re already relevant to your interests. The screeners for the Festival do a marvelous job with their selections. I find myself both wonderfully entertained and spurred to deeper thoughts when I let their hard work play out in front of me.”

Why do local film festivals matter to the cinema industry?

“I have no idea how I’d have been exposed to the work I’ve seen at the Festival if it didn’t exist. It’s also invigorating as a creator to see so many people with so many different messages to communicate. I’ve even submitted a couple of 2-Minute Films myself now. None of that would have happened without the tremendous amount of work the FFF puts into pulling off their event.”

Tom Speer – FFF Narrative Feature Chair

  • Video Content Producer for Integrity Windows & Doors
  • Fargo Film Theatre Executive Board Member

tom spear fargo film festival narrative feature chair

If you could only watch one movie at this year’s festival, which film would you choose?

“If ten different people asked me this question, I honestly think I’d give ten different answers!  But since I was the Narrative Feature Jury Chair, I’ll mention our Best Narrative Feature winner Little Woods.  The film was written & directed by Nia DaCosta, an emerging filmmaker whose next project will be produced by Jordan Peele. 

“Little Woods also features a brilliant performance by Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Men in Black: International).  Both DaCosta and Thompson are seeing their careers take off right now, and deservingly so.  Their talents are on full display in this film. Little Woods also takes place in North Dakota, which should appeal to a lot of viewers.”

What was your first Fargo Film Festival experience like?

“I first attended the Fargo Film Festival back in 2004.  Even in the early years of the FFF, my expectations were blown away.  What immediately struck me (besides the films) were the conversations.  The opportunity to see a film from the festival circuit, and then have a conversation with the filmmaker was so inspiring.”

Why do local film festivals matter to the cinema industry?

“There’s something rather interesting about local film festivals.  If they’re done right, they don’t stay local for long.  The Fargo Film Festival has seen tremendous growth over the past 19 years, attracting films and talent from all over the world.  That growth provides ample opportunities, not only for the festival’s audience, but also the artists and filmmakers.  

“The FFF has become a premiere film festival for this part of the country.  With that, comes a higher regard when an artist’s film becomes an official selection or wins an award here.  I truly believe the future of cinema will always rely on independent filmmakers.  New voices and fresh ideas get noticed on the film festival circuit, and that’s vital to the growth of the film industry.”

Kendra O’Brien – Documentary Feature Jury Chair

  • Director of Customer Projects and Relations at FBS – Creators of Flexmls

kendra obrien documentary feature chair

If you could only watch one movie at this year’s festival, which film would you choose?

“I’m so thankful that’s not the case!  I’m excited for our opening night showcase, Bathtubs Over Broadway. It’s a great film, and I look forward to seeing it in the beautiful Fargo Theatre, with an audience, and having the filmmakers here to discuss it. You should go, too.”

When did you first get involved with FFF and what/who led you to get involved.

“In 2002, I read an article in the High Plains Reader about a filmmaker who would be in attendance representing the narrative feature “Do It For Uncle Manny.” I bought a festival pass, attended lots of screenings, and have attended every year since, even flying back when I lived out of state.”

What was your first Fargo Film Festival experience like? If you could give advice to a newcomer, what would it be?

“My first Fargo Film Festival experience hooked me for life! I saw films I remember to this day, I talked to filmmakers from around the world, and I discovered the pure joy of a morning movie screening, coffee in hand.  My advice for a newcomer is that the film festival is for you!

“There is something for everyone in the programming. Also, use the online guide to narrow by films that have a filmmaker present. Hearing the artists talk about their films is part of what makes the festival great.”

Sean Volk – Animation Jury Chair

  • Nashville Film Festival Programming Team
  • Substitute Teacher

sean volk animation jury chairIf you could only watch one movie at this year’s festival, which film would you choose?

“You’d be crazy to miss Weekends, directed by Trevor Jimenez; the short animated film was just nominated for an Oscar and it is a moving look at a young boy adjusting to life after his parents get divorced. Another film I recommend checking out is an animated short called Hybrids; I don’t want to say much about it, but it’s like a dystopian Finding Nemo and that should be enough to sell you on it.”

When did you first get involved with FFF and what/who led you to get involved.

“I worked at the Fargo Theatre during my undergrad at Concordia, so I got to experience the FFF as a theatre staff member starting in 2009. It was so cool to meet visiting filmmakers and get to know audiences members. Festivals are so special because they make movies come alive. You get to see the movies on the big screen and then speak with the artists who made them.

“Since my first year a decade ago, I’ve gone on to work in multiple positions at the theatre and I’ve served on the Documentary Feature and Narrative Feature Juries for the Festival. This is my first year working as a Jury Chair and I have loved seeking out the best works of animation and bringing them to Fargo. The Animation Program is so special this year and I can’t wait to start planning for next year!”

What was your first Fargo Film Festival experience like? If you could give advice to a newcomer, what would it be?

“During my freshman year, my communication professor Greg Carlson (a FFF hero) encouraged students in his Analyzing Film class to attend the Two-Minute Movie Contest. I had never attended a festival, but I was excited to see what it was like. I got a group of friends together and we had a blast. I’ve been attending the festival, or working it, ever since.”

Dinah Goldenberg – Volunteer Coordinator

  • Recently retired from Fargo School Board after 12 years
  • Alliance Health Education Initiative Chair

dinah goldenberg volunteer coordinator

If you could only see one movie at this year’s festival, which would it be and why?

“That’s a hard one, there are too many great films.  One of my favorites is Zoo.  It’s family friendly, hopeful story and some well known familiar faces in the cast.”

What was your first Fargo Film Festival experience like? If you could give advice to a newcomer, what would it be?

“I just love seeing such a wide variety of amazing films.  My advice is, come when you can and enjoy the feature films.  If you’re available to attend any of the lunch panels, they are a great opportunity to get additional incites into the films and meet visiting film makers.”

When did you first get involved with FFF and what/who led you to get involved.

“I’ve been attending the Film Festival for years and have been a volunteer for five years.  Six years ago Karen Olson, a volunteer. sat down with me at a Festival event.  After our visit she suggested I consider joining the volunteer team.  The rest is history as they say.”

fargo film festival group photo
Fargo Film Festival Team 2019

To learn more about the Fargo Film Festival, visit or download the schedule here for a full list of film showings from March 19-23.