DULUTH – The Catalyst Content Festival is returning to Duluth venues this fall, this time with a global reach and local focus.

"The more that we talk to artists, executives and people in the industry around the world, they're telling us they're looking for a new place to live, work and shoot their future projects," said Philip Gilpin Jr., executive director of the nonprofit Catalyst Story Institute that runs the festival. "So we're telling them that is Duluth. Come to Duluth."

Catalyst moved to Duluth from Vermont in 2019 after starting life as the ITV Fest 15 years ago in Los Angeles. The festival's aim is "discovering the world's best episodic shows and talent" and building relationships between creators and the executives who can make their dreams come true.

The fest's first year here drew hundreds of attendees over several days of screenings, workshops and networking.

Last fall's event was completely virtual due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, but Gilpin stayed busy advocating for a $1 million film and TV production incentive in St. Louis County and began a collaboration with the U.S. State Department.

"Duluth has been marketed via the U.S. Embassy as 'America's home of independent storytelling artists,' " Gilpin said. "That's a really big deal."

The State Department's Innovation Station: Creative Industry Lab works with the industry to create new avenues for storytelling, according to the lab. With Catalyst, that means providing new opportunities for episodic (TV and short-form digital) storytellers around the world.

Ten countries were selected this year to connect with Catalyst, and hundreds of submissions have come in so far, Gilpin said.

Duluth Sister Cities International has also partnered with Catalyst to "infuse energy into the growing cultural and economic momentum of Duluth's creative sector while also extending Duluth's creative momentum outward onto a worldwide stage," the group's executive director, Ben Thwaits, said in a statement.

The festival will run Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 at venues including Zeitgeist, the NorShor Theatre, Kitchi Gammi Club and Fitger's. Gilpin said he's trying to work in a block party with local musicians and artists to "really show off the Duluth arts scene" but said the focus will remain on building lasting relationships.

"The festival is coming back, but the shift has been away from just a festival event to more broadly this global story institute, for which Duluth is the home," Gilpin said. "When it comes to making Duluth known on a global stage for independent storytelling, that's where the partnerships and year-round institute come into play."

St. Louis County's $1 million production incentive program that was established last year also aims to "foster the local organic growth of the production industry talent and workforce," according to the Upper Midwest Film Office, which runs the program.

"We are absolutely getting on the map," said Riki McManus, the organization's director. "What Catalyst did for our area is get all these eyes that are put on the region, and we are benefiting from that right now. And the reach is even farther with this international piece."

The Minnesota Legislature has set aside $500,000 annually in a bill for statewide production incentives, which advocates say need to be increased to lure productions here. Minnesota missed out on hosting Disney's new "Mighty Ducks" series in part because of a lack of such tax breaks or refunds.

"It really puts us on the same playing field as other states," McManus said. "This is the fastest form of job creation post-COVID there is."

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496