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Award-winning films screened at The Grand

NEW ULM — The 2017 Minnesota Filmmaker Series continues Thursday night at The Grand with a screening of six short films by filmmaker Tom Brandau.

The screening begins at 7 p.m. with Brandau’s awarding-winning documentary “Whales, Ltd.,” followed by “Bill & Meriwether’s Excellent Adventures,” “Heavenly Sight,” “Mr. Brown,” “The Cleaning Lady” and “Home Delivery.”

Brandau is a professor of Film at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. He is an award-winning writer, producer and director with 25 years experience working in film and television.

“It has a lot to do with where I grew up and when I grew up,” he said. Brandau was raised in Baltimore during the Civil Rights era of the late 1960s and 1970s. Baltimore had a large African-American population.

He said if you are telling a story that takes place in an area with a healthy African-American community in that era and don’t take into account the African-American experience and the topic of discrimination, you are just lying.

“I believe your best work comes out of personal experience,” Brandau said.

The first film in the screening, “Whales, Ltd.,” is a documentary on the political and environmental issues surrounding Iceland’s only commercial whaling company. The film was shot in 1982 and was released the following year. The film was made in the wake of the International Whaling Commission’s efforts to eliminate all whaling by 1986.

At the time the Iceland whaling company harvested a small number of whales compared to other countries and many in the industry were upset their business was threatened by anti-whaling laws.

The film won a Regional Student Academy Award, but Brandau admitted it generated controversy at the time. Today the film is a unique look back at whaling attitudes from 30 years ago.

The next film, “Bill and Meriwether’s Excellent Adventure,” is a comedic look at the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the film Lewis and Clark’s entire expedition was fabricated.

The script was written as a one-act play and was submitted to a festival in Grand Forks commemorating the expedition. Brandau said the play was rejected for satirizing Lewis and Clark. Rather than scrap the script, Brandau adapted it into a short film. In the 12 years since making the film, the story has never had a full stage adaptation, but Brandau continues to hope for a live performance some day.

“Heavenly Sight” was released in 2006 and tells a story of a young boy attending his grandfather’s funeral and noticing his grandpa looks different because the funeral home misplaced his grandpa’s glasses. Brandau said the film is autobiographical. The story is based on something that happened at his grandfather’s funeral. The only change is the main character is a young child rather than a man in his twenties.

Brandau’s 2008 film “Mr. Brown” is a biography of Jim Brown, an African-American who grew up in Minneapolis during the 1930s and 1940s. Brown faced many obstacles and indignities due to discrimination, but accomplished a great deal, including becoming the chief engineer in the Military Sealift Command.

Brandau created the film as part of the Minnesota Greatest Generation short film competition. Originally he planned to make a film about baseball player Roy Campanella, but in researching Campanella he met Brown.

“Halfway through the interview with Brown, I changed my mind and decided to do the film about him,” Brandau said. “He was from the area and he had a fascinating life.” The film ultimately won the competition.

Two years later, Brandau released the short film “The Cleaning Lady,” which tells the story of an African-American cleaning lady in Baltimore who is caught in the chaos following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. Brandau said this film is also based on real events. Brandau remembers the assassination of MLK. He was 7 and living in Baltimore. At the time Baltimore was evenly divided between white and black people, and the assassination caused extreme unrest.

“I remember National Guard troops camped out near our home and patrolling,” he said. “I remember my dad meeting with other fathers in the streets asking each other if they had enough guns and ammunition to defend their families.”

Brandau’s family employed an African-American cleaning lady, and after the assassination she was caught in the middle of the turmoil.

The film “Home Delivery” takes place in 1974 Baltimore and tells the story of the struggles between two delivery boys, one white the other black. As with previous works, there is an autobiographical component. Brandau was a paperboy in his youth and he often saw paperboys from rival newspapers including a paperboy for the African-American newspaper. In addition, Brandau has memories of his brother getting into mischief with friends.

“If they had caught wind of an African-American kid walking through the neighborhood, they would have harassed him,” he said. “I made the story about what if this African American kid was the paper boy delivering the African-American paper and the relationship I have with him.”

Of the six films Brandau is screening, four are period films, taking place decades in the past, and three of the films tackle themes of racial discrimination.

The screening is facilitated by the New Ulm Film Society and is free to the public. Doors at The Grand will open 6:30 p.m. on Thursday with the first film starting at 7 p.m. After the screening, Brandau and fellow filmmaker Janet Haak will be on hand to answer questions about the films and other topics related to filmmaking.

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