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William Loeffler, Forum News Service, Published February 27 2014

Sundance winner with ‘Fargo’ ties expected to be shown in Twin Cities

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - For one film, the road to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival went through “Fargo” and the Twin Cities suburbs of south Washington County.

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” features scenes that were shot last year on farmland in Cottage Grove, multiple Newport locations and the Afton Alps ski area. The film recently screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score.

Now the question is: When do Minnesotans get to see it?

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” likely will be shown in the the Twin Cities sometime this year, said Anne Healy, a St. Paul resident who served as location manager on the film. She said the film is making the rounds of the festival circuit. It was recently featured at the Berlin Film Festival and will screen in March at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

“I think after that we should have a preview here,” Healy said. “They’re just caught up in this festival thing.”

One possible spot for the local premiere of “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, which runs April 3-19. Festival coordinator Eric Wilson declined to reveal if “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” would be in the lineup, citing the need for confidentiality prior to releasing the festival line-up in March.

The film’s creators, David and Nathan Zellner, were inspired by “Fargo,” a 1996 film noir that was shot in Minnesota by another pair of brothers. Minnesotans Joel and Ethan Coen used their home state as the backdrop for a story about a botched kidnapping and its gruesome aftermath. In the film, a satchel containing $920,000 in ransom money is hidden by one of the kidnappers and never seen again.

“Fargo” opened with a claim — long since debunked — that the crime was based on a true story.

The Zellner brothers based their script for “Kumiko” on an urban legend about a woman who believed that “Fargo” was factual, and that the ransom money could be found by analyzing clues from the film.

“Kumiko” stars Rinko Kikuchi as a lonely Japanese woman who travels from Tokyo to Minnesota to find the fictitious fortune. She watches repeated scenes from “Fargo” on her VCR, obsessing over a scene in which one of the kidnappers, played by Steve Buscemi, buries the ransom money by a fencepost on the snowy prairie. Armed with a treasure map, she ventures out into the frozen wastes to one particular location along a lonely road, counting fence posts in search of the “X” that marks the spot. She finds a place that bears an eerie resemblance to the location of the stashed loot in “Fargo.”

“Kumiko” did well at Sundance. Scott Foundas, chief film critic for Variety, reviewed the film at Sundance and called it “a wonderfully strange and beguiling adventure story comprised of buried treasure, hand crafts, and a possibly unhealthy obsession with the Coen brothers.”

Healy, who scouted locations for “A Simple Plan,” another Coen brothers film noir that was shot in Minnesota, says the Zellner brothers wanted to film in a spot that was a dead ringer for that scene in “Fargo.”

She says they found that place in south Washington County.

“Even though they made me drive all the way up to East Grand Forks, the same place as Steve Buscemi buried the money, we recreated that along Manning Avenue,” she said.

“Kumiko” also filmed at Newport Drug, Bailey School Forest Park and the Boyd Motel in Newport. And future film trivia buffs take note: “Kumiko” also shot at the North Pole Restaurant — just across Highway 61 from Tinucci’s Restaurant, where a scene from “Fargo” was filmed in 1995.