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Christa Lawler, Forum Communications, Published December 14 2012

Filmmaker likes Northland for next project, ‘Duluth Is Horrible’

DULUTH, Minn. - No offense, Duluth. A San Francisco-based filmmaker means no harm with the title of the movie he wants to make, “Duluth Is Horrible.”

Vincent Gargiulo has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 in 30 days to make a 20-minute film composed of semi-autobiographical vignettes set in Duluth. Gargiulo, who has a feature-length film, a few shorts and two videos that have gone viral, plans to live and shoot in Duluth in February and use a local cast and crew if he gets his funding.

Gargiulo had already written the movie when the title came to him in a dream. He tested a few other location names, but Duluth felt right.

“I didn’t even know where Duluth was,” he said in a phone interview. “I just came up with the name ‘Duluth.’ I looked it up and, sure enough, it was in Minnesota. I thought, ‘Well, it looks OK, actually. It doesn’t look horrible at all.’”

The movie is a dramatic comedy with loosely connected stories about a breakup, a zookeeper on an online date, cat complaints, karaoke, multiple Carmen Mirandas, car rental and magic. It’s not actually about Duluth, it is just set here.

“I think the title kind of brought along what kind of mood I wanted to set in the film,” Gargiulo said. “It’s about love, relationships and trying to figure out how to connect with different people,” he said. “I think, to me anyway, it sounds a little lonely, a little exotic.”

Gene Shaw of VisitDuluth said for people who haven’t been here, sometimes today’s Duluth is confused with its industrial identity from the 1940s and ’50s. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, though.

“Most of the time when we get people who have never been here before, they’re usually favorable,” he said. “They are, especially, when the lake is at her majestic peak.”

Shaw said it might be hard to get funding from locals with the title Gargiulo has chosen.

Last year, Milwaukee-based multimedia storyteller Adam Carr made Duluth’s identity his winter work with the experiment “January in Duluth.” Carr knew a bit about Duluth from a college roommate and he knew of the band Low and the comedian Maria Bamford.

Before settling in, Carr said he thought Duluth meant quirky and isolated.

“That’s been validated by pop culture — ‘We’ll send you to Duluth’ as being banished to the far reaches,” he said.

His advice to Gargiulo, who would be in town for a similar length of time:

“Jump in Lake Superior and bob around like everyone else does,” he said. “Metaphorically speaking.”

Gargiulo works in video production by day and has been making films by night since he graduated from San Francisco State University in 2004. He cites Monty Python as his top influence, but for this project he is also channeling Swedish director Roy Andersson. He’s into surreal, silly comedy.

His most famous bit is a piece from his feature-length film “Chicken in the Shadows,” a story about an old music duo on a less-than-flashy reunion tour. The video for “Taste the Biscuit” landed on George Lopez’s late-night talk show on TBS and went on to get more than 135,000 hits on YouTube.

About a month ago his video “David’s Pizza Commercial” also snagged a bit of attention. The retro-style video from Gargiulo’s film “KNFR from 7:00-7:30” features a man dancing to synth music and singing, “When I get a serious craving/for something I want to eat/I need some cheese, tomatoes and olives and maybe even some meat/I need some pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza.”

Gargiulo said of his level of success: “I explode for a bit, then I implode, then I explode again.”

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing fundraising platform where artists submit proposals and solicit the amount of money needed to complete the project. Only projects that reach the monetary goal are funded. If an artist falls short, backers don’t pay.

Gargiulo has raised more than $600 with 22 days to go in his campaign. He said he will probably find a way to make the film even if it doesn’t get funded — but not on the same timetable.

“I have a small (fan) base,” he said. “It’s not many rich people so, you know, we’ll see.”

He said he received a donation of $1.46 from someone from Duluth who messaged him: “Stay away from Duluth.”