Monday, June 8, 2015

Albert Milgrom's Dinkytown Uprising Connects with Viewers in Duluth

Director Albert Milgrom
In November Albert Milgrom will be 93 years old, numbering him among the oldest emerging film directors in the world, if not the oldest. His first film, Dinkytown Uprising, aired this weekend as part of the DuSu Film Festival (DSFF). In the question and answer period afterwards it was apparent that the film did more than get people thinking. It stimulated conversations and stirred emotions.

Dinkytown Uprising is a documentary about an incident that took place in the spring of 1970. This was the time of Vietnam war student marches and protest actions around the country. In Dinkytown the student-led activism had a twist. The protest was against a corporation coming in and disturbing the community feel of a section of town that housed a collection of small, local businesses. In some ways, this became a battle against the times we live in where bigger, well-financed powers impose there will on smaller powers, whether it be communities or countries as in Southeast Asia.

The film was introduced by Richard Hansen, founder of the film festival here in the Twin Ports. It's a film Hansen himself had a hand in fifteen years ago when he helped Milgrom convert the raw 16 mm footage to a digital format. Hansen was honored to help bring this film to the DSFF in part because, "He (Milgrom) is my mentor and taught me everything I know."

Milgrom, who was founder of the Mnpls./St. Paul International Film Festival, like many directors had an early interest in photographer and learned to develop film at the age of ten. From the first his photography exhibited an artistic urge. After WW2 the film Rashamon made a huge splash and the power of early Kurasawa films made an impact on Milgrom, who was doing journalism at the time. These and the new wave of French directors showed the power of film as a form of literature, Milgrom stated in a poat-film interview. "The Ffties... if you were half alive you couldn't help be aware of what was going on in film." Italian neo-Realism was another source of inspiration as well as Cinema Verite.

As a result of these influences Milgrom founded the Film Society in 1962. "I wanted to see a lot of these films myself," he said. Eight years later he would take footage of the Dinkytown Protest using techniques internalized from his heroes of film making.

Rallying community support for the students.
The film follows the story of the two month confrontation between protesters and police by following seven protagonists in a then and now story. Being the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War this seemed an especially good moment in time to reflect on the events of that time.

There are many Duluth connections in the film. Bob Dylan, who was born here, lived above Gray's Drug Store in Dinkytown for the short time he attended U of MN when he left his Iron Range home before heading to New York. One of the protesters followed in the story later went on to found a domestic abuse intervention project in Duluth that has now become a worldwide model for dealing with the issue of domestic violence.

The film excelled in reflecting the times that birthed it. Youthful ideals met the powers that be head on, and though the battle was lost there were many things gained. In the discussion period afterwards someone expressed the feeling that the film made fun of the kids' idealism. Another defended the film maker stating that the words "unrealistic idealism" came out of the mouth a character, and was not necessarily the assessment of the film maker.

The music used in the film worked smoothly, especially Dylan's Dear Landlord. "Please don't put a price on my soul," he appeals as we see footage of the struggle in a moving sequence.

Dan Geiger, who served as an assistant on the Coen brothers' Fargo, was the fourth editor to help tackle the project. Geiger was also on hand to answer questions. Two years ago he was asked to pick up the ball after it had stalled again and from August to present he worked 24/7 to complete this undertaking.  He stated that he believed the film is a valuable record of the times.

I think that this assessment will stand as more people have an opportunity to see it.

For more information on Al Milgrom and his Dinkytown Uprising, visit

1 comment:

CiCi said...

Great story, Ed ... Lively discussion indeed! Amazing to see haunted images from the past.