FilmNorth Expands Its Presence in St. Paul

Andrew Peterson has sponsored films and the film industry throughout his career. But the CEO of FilmNorth, a media arts lab in St. Paul helping local filmmakers realize their visions has never been so excited about the upcoming premiere.

queen. Or, more accurately, its sequel.

FilmNorth is moving into an innovative new facility it will co-own with D/O Architects, which features expanded classrooms, editing space and its own cinema/show room. Peterson hopes to see the curtain rise in the summer of 2023.

“It’s going to be a magnet,” Peterson said of the historic building at 2441 University Av. In the city’s creative enterprise district. “It will bring people together.”

Peterson said he also expects the new excavations to raise the local image of the 35-year-old organisation. While movers and naysayers of independent film know to contact FilmNorth when looking for new directors and screenwriters, Peterson said the film is popular at home.

“We’re ready to jump into the future,” Peterson said of the organization he led for ten years.

Nearly 10 years ago, FilmNorth rented space in an old mattress factory less than a mile east of her new home, designed by famed architect Clarence Johnston. Not only would the move give the organization a safer future, Peterson said, the 30% larger facility would better serve a growing number of local filmmakers, including more writers and directors of color.

For several years, FilmNorth has been a partner with the Sundance Film Festival. She also established contacts with a number of other organizations, including the New Orleans Film Society and the Austin Film Society. The nonprofit organization was founded as the Independent Film Project in 1987 and is managed by a 16-member Board of Directors. This will be the third home, all in the St. Paul area called the Creative Enterprise District.

Peterson said he’s excited about the prospects of a more robust domestic profile.

“There are 10,000 requests to Sundance every year,” Peterson said. “And every year, they call us and say, ‘Who should we know about?'” “However, I often feel that we are a hidden gem here.”

Having a “university storefront” changes all that, Peterson said.

The former Brown-Jaspers Store Fixture building is being redeveloped thanks to a combination of tax breaks and fundraising. Now empty, it was the last home of an office furniture retailer.

The new market tax credits combined with the historical tax credits will cover 59% of the $10.6 million project costs. The remaining construction credit will be split between FilmNorth and D/O Architects, according to the organizations.

Of that, Peterson said $600,000 would be enough for FilmNorth to move from Vandalia Tower to 2441 University Av. Raising another $4 million to $5 million, he said, will help pay off three years of expanded programs.

Peterson said that through fellowships and sponsorships, FilmNorth helps artists bring their projects to life. Each year, FilmNorth sponsors 50 financial sponsorship projects and operates several similar programs, including four McKnight Media Artist Fellowships. Annually, more than 250 new, emerging and established directors seek access to editorial suites, classrooms, meeting space, and filmmaking equipment.

But Peterson said the ranks of Minnesota filmmakers who could use Extended Film North could number into the thousands.

Its roster of nationally emerging filmmakers includes Renee Young Kege, Leah Hill, Lyle Mitchell Corbin Jr., Winona Willems, and Maya Washington. Rhiana Yazzie premieres in 2022 Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Festival. EG Bailey has been selected in 25 Filmmaker Magazine directors to watch.

Tahil Jimenez Medina, 28, is a Minnesota-based director from Columbia and a member of Film North. In 2021, he was one of four Minnesota-based filmmakers selected to produce their work as part of the “2020 Project”. He made a documentary about the lives of Colombian immigrants to Minnesota.

The director said Peterson’s advice on a city-produced short film helped it get accepted into the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“Just having that support made a huge difference to me,” Medina said. “FilmNorth was a place where I had a lot of support and Andrew Peterson was always so generous, letting me read my scripts.”

He got involved with FilmNorth in 2016 through an internship. He now works with the organization to mentor high school students who want to learn more about film and media.

“Working with high school students was an educational experience for me,” Medina said. “They have a lot of stories to tell. And experiences to share.”

Peterson said this engagement is key not only to FilmNorth’s future, but to the future of the film industry as a whole. At its core, the organization aims to promote and encourage new voices and new visions in cinema. The way to do this is to give them space to share ideas, as well as learn the craft.

“Directors often work in isolation,” he said. “Community is needed. A network is needed. This lab is doing it.”

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