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Minnesota Film Maker Series debuts at the Grand

NEW ULM – The audience at the Grand Center of the Arts will have a chance to see a new documentary film entitled “Jug Band Hoku” on Thursday evening.

The film chronicles the quirky characters that competed in the 33rd Annual Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands.

The Battle of the Jug Bands is a two-day event that takes place every February in Minneapolis. The contest may be the largest jug band competition in the nation, and it brings in bands from across the country. The grand prize is a broken waffle iron called the “Holliwood Waffle Iron” trophy.

“I am a huge music fan, and it’s a great tradition,” said Jack Norton, director of “Jug Band Hokum.”

Norton feels the strangeness associated with the Battle of the Jug Bands is related to cabin fever. “People get a little crazy in Minnesota from the weather, and by February they need to let off steam.”

Norton is from Minnesota, and his decision to create this documentary was rooted in his desire to make a film that felt like his home state. He wanted a film that showed the cold, the snow and the quirky vibe of its people. His hunch was the Battle of the Jug Bands would bring out a collection of eccentric people, and that instinct proved accurate.

Norton shot 1,000 hours of footage for the documentary, which was filmed over a year’s time. That footage needed to be edited down to 90 minutes.

In the end he had to focus on a few members of two bands. One of the bands he followed is a jug band made up of yoga enthusiasts. “They don’t take anything serious except spirituality,” Norton said. The band’s leader believed a victory in the Battle of the Jug Bands was its ticket to success – which is at odds with the competition because the top prize is still a broken waffle iron.

Norton premiered the film last year to positive response. “Most people thought it would be a history on jug bands, but it’s more of an off beat comedy.” The trick for Norton was to avoid directing the people he was filming and let them behave naturally.

Norton is proud to say the final cut of the film features mostly Minnesota-based footage. Although the bands featured in the film are from all over the country, Norton typically began following them after they arrived in the Midwest. Roughly 90 percent of the documentary was filmed in Minnesota. Longtime Minnesota residents will recognize popular locations including Paul Bunyan Park and appearances from Garrison Keillor.

The film is being brought to the Grand by the New Ulm Film Society as part of the Minnesota Filmmaker Series.

The intent of the series is to bring more events and showcase the art of cinema in New Ulm, according to New Ulm Film Society members Jack Beranek and Steve Sherman. Specifically, they wanted to highlight filmmakers working in Minnesota.

“Through this Minnesota Filmmaker series, audiences will be able to see films that were shot in Minnesota and also have the opportunity to talk with the filmmakers and learn about the filmmaking process,” Sherman said.

“It will be something different from a standard night at the movie theater. The Grand is a great venue. Drinks will be available, and having the filmmakers in person showing work that was shot here in Minnesota will be a lot of fun,” said Beranek.

Other upcoming films the Society will bring to the Grand include the thriller “Heart of Wilderness” on May 5, the coming-of-age fantasy “The Unearthing on June 23,” experimental documentary “Sveit” on July 21 and “Sweet Land,” which features Ned Beatty, Alan Cumming and Lois Smith, on Aug. 25.

The screening of “Jug Band Hokum” starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 28 at The Grand. Door open at 6:30 p.m. with admission of $5. Norton will be on hand at the screening to take questions from the audience following the film.