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John Lamb, Published March 06 2014

Bakken in focus at Fargo Film Festival

FARGO – Those trying to find work and a better life working in the oil fields of western North Dakota have to struggle with the elements, finding housing and hostile attitudes.

Filmmakers trying to capture that life face the same struggles.

A panel discussion Thursday afternoon featured tales from three people who have worked on documentaries about life in the Bakken.

“The logistics of shooting in Williston were harder than shooting in Pakistan,” said Roy Hammerling, a professor in the religion department at Moorhead’s Concordia College who is aiding his son Jeremiah in a piece, “My Country No More,” about life in the oil fields.

“The oil companies don’t want you or need you there,” added Isaac Gale, a Minneapolis filmmaker whose 11-minute “Sweet Crude Man Camp” was screened Thursday night.

Gale accompanied photo journalist Alec Soth to Williston on an assignment from the New York Times. They were there for eight days, but he said he didn’t get any interviews until the final two days because it took time to find people that were comfortable talking.

He recalls stumbling across a party of oilmen in the hotel he was staying in with Soth. The two asked a group of oil men if they could film them and were forcefully denied.

“I think people were skeptical about having a camera in their face,” Gale said.

One unnamed subject Gale found to talk did the whole interview in the cab of the truck where he sleeps in a sweatshirt and stocking cap, as opposed to a man camp, which can charge $150 a night. The unnamed man cheerfully describes how he’s working to get himself out of debt.

“He had this beautiful spirit about him. A lot of people are making the best of a bad situation,” Gale said.

J. Christian Jensen, whose 19-minute documentary “White Earth” was also screened Thursday night, arrived in western North Dakota in the middle of winter ready to make a movie. What he lacked was a place to sleep. He ended up staying with a bartender he befriended or in his car.

“I found local people were very nice and willing to bend over backwards to help make this film,” Jensen says. “I found that to be a real admirable quality in the people, doing their best in tough times.”

Jensen’s film won honorable mentions for Student Film and Best in Show and won for Best Cinematography.

He said he hopes his short film, which focuses on the children of the area, gives the viewer a different look at what’s happening in western North Dakota

“It’s not all good. It’s not all bad. But it’s certainly interesting,” he says.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533