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Robert Morast column: Fargo gets ready to fete 'Fargo'

This illustration provided by H2M shows how the film "Fargo" will be projected on the Radisson Hotel in downtown Fargo. Special to The Forum

Few things are as polarizing to Fargo-Moorhead residents than "Fargo," the 1996 movie that reminded the rest of the world how we speak.

Many of us hate the film because it branded us as a pack of slow-speaking yokels who live in a permanent winter.

On the flip side, there are those of us who dig "Fargo" because, well, it's a pretty damn good movie that's given our city more exposure than any natural disaster could provide.

Regardless of your position, the debate's going to intensify as Fargo the city feels like it's ready to fully accept "Fargo" the movie as part of its DNA.

Of course, the Fargo-Moorhead Conventions and Visitors Bureau has the famous "Fargo" wood chipper in its building through June as well as a replica of the machine they wheel around to local events, like last week's marathon.

But there are also plans in place to start an annual festival honoring the Coen brothers' film the best way we know how - by projecting the iconic film on the side of the Radisson.

Unlike the last time this happened - in 2006 - the outdoor screening won't be held in the death grip of a Fargo winter. The planned festival will be staged in late September - when there's only a 67 percent chance it will be snowing.

Regardless of weather, it's a big move for a city that's had a love/hate relationship with the movie that, kind of, defines who we are to the outside world.

"I think a lot of people really do embrace the movie," says Dan Altenbernd, chief operating officer at H2M and one of the people behind the "Fargo" festival. "You do have some naysayers out there. But I don't know what they're scared of. It put us on the map to a certain degree, in a fun way."

The FMCVB feels the same way, which explains why the group's on board with the "Fargo" festival.

"It's time to move on and embrace the movie," says Brian Matson, marketing manager at the FMCVB.

That would put us at pace with the rest of the world, because, according to Matson, the visitors who come to town and see the wood chipper or hear our homegrown accents get so excited that you'd think they were voted the next "American Idol."

"They love it," Matson says.

And, personally, I think people will love the "Fargo" festival, partially because I think the haters are a minority with a loud voice - most people tend to be pretty ambivalent about "Fargo," and partially because by celebrating "Fargo," we begin to own the stereotypes that have come to define us.

That's why it's good that the long-range plans for the "Fargo" festival are to tie in downtown businesses with various movie-inspired events and eventually become a big enough draw to entice the movie's cast and crew to come in for panels.

The people who hate everything will think this is a stupid idea and that no one will care. Perhaps, but for a point of reference, you might want to check out the Lebowski Fest, an annual festival in Louisville, Ky., that celebrates another film by the Cohen brothers, "The Big Lebowski."

That festival, which takes place every July, has grown to become a magnet for thousands of "Lebowski" fans, who dress up like the movie's characters while bowling, drinking White Russians, listening to bands and having a good time.

Could our "Fargo" festival grow to similar proportions and became

an annual draw for people who can't wait to dress up like Marge Gunderson or Jerry Lundegaard? Or could it bring people to town who can't wait to compete in a "Fargo" accent contest?


The only way to find out is to let the festival happen and stop worrying about whether the movie is good or bad for Fargo's reputation.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518