DULUTH — The Catalyst Content Festival taking over downtown theaters this week is a time to shine for creators hoping to get their passion projects picked up and shown to wider audiences.
And more than other film and TV festivals, it’s a place where “the lines are blurred” between creatives and executives, making it easier to reach the people who can help make dreams a reality, said Dawn Mikkelson, broadcast content manager with festival sponsor WDSE.
“I think that’s by design,” she said. “As a filmmaker trying to go to a lot of festivals on my own, often you have to wriggle your way into the right place at the right time, whereas here they’re actively working to connect people.”
On Friday, halfway through the five-day independent TV festival’s first run in Duluth, screenings, readings and workshops showcased works from around the world and, in many cases, around the state.
Projects in their infancy were read aloud at the Fitger’s complex. One screenplay, for “Protect and Conserve,” was a procedural based in northern Minnesota that followed a Department of Natural Resources office looking into a headless, bloodless animal found by hikers. Another, “Butterhead,” was a dark comedy set at the Minnesota State Fair.
“It’s not really about deep-fried food on a stick, it’s not about the Midway. … What it’s about is real people showcasing real skills,” Duluth’s Jean Sramek said about her take on the fair, which included the lines “Her name is Princess Kay!” and “They’re not corn dogs!” (They’re fried, battered hot dogs.)
Some of the finished films screened this week ran on the festival circuit — some even showing at Sundance — while others made their festival debut.
Minneapolis director and actor Maya Washington was looking at a broader truth with her piece, “Clear,” about a woman released from prison after serving 16 years for a crime she didn’t commit.
Released in 2018 and shown at festivals around the country, Washington said the reception has been positive, and the fictional piece based on a patchwork of real experiences may play a role in the larger conversation about wrongful incarceration.
“This film is a stand-alone we hope to sell to a streaming platform,” she said. “A few people have said they want to see it as a feature-length film, and others say it would make a good podcast.”
Washington said she wrote the short film specifically for Minneapolis actress George Keller, who visited the Shakopee women’s prison Friday morning as part of a theater outreach program.
“As a performer, social justice — I sign up for that right away,” Keller said.
The festival comes to a close this weekend after more screenings and parties, plus a lifetime achievement award for and keynote speech by Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson. Hers is a big name, but the focus is on the small projects trying to make it big.
At Thursday night’s party, for example, Mikkelson said it was a “room full of people trying to make deals with each other while also trying to make friends.”