Can Duluth Become the Next Sundance? Red Herring Meeting Showed How It Could Be Done

“Welcome to the Northland” Photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash

Everything starts somewhere. Ideas are planted, and if the soil is good and conditions right, the garden will bear fruit. It all begins with seeds, which must be nurtured.

Saturday afternoon Katie Strand and Philip Gilpin of ITVFest. the Independent Television Festival, hosted an informational meeting at the Red Herring Lounge for the purpose of planting a seed in the hearts of a cross section of influential Duluthians with media connections.

The concept makes sense, actually: to create a Mecca for independent television producers. According to Philip Gilpin, “There are thousands of film festivals out there, but there is only one festival that focuses exclusively on independently produced episodic programming, and that’s ITVFest.”

The first Duluth ITV Festival is already inked for this fall, so Gilpin and Strand were not selling the October event. Rather, their aim is to awaken Duluth to the possibility of becoming to independent television what Park City has become to independent film. There are seemingly countless film festivals, but since 1978 Sundance has become the most prestigious. The aim was to enable creative film makers to gain support outside of the stifling Hollywood film industry. The goal of Sundance was to showcase strictly American-made films and highlight the potential of independent film. Indirectly, the festival also increased visibility for filmmaking in Utah.

In the same way, there are creative people working on television projects that just can’t get past the “suits” in their Hollywood screening rooms. Having just finished reading a book about the Seinfeld show and how it nearly failed to get off the ground because the decision makers did not understand it, it’s easy to see why there is a need for a system outside the system. (The book is called Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything.)

I’ve been to Park City a few times on business, and what you see there is a town that feels both quiet and quaint, un-sullied by the success of its film festival. Sundance may be internationally reknowned, but it has not altered the character of the town. A lot of wealth has been generated, but no visible scars to the community.

Katie Strand & Philip Gilpin. (photo by author)

The “Aha” moment for me during this presentation was when Philip Gilpin noted the sea change that has occurred in media. Hollywood once held all the cards because they had the distribution channels nailed down. This is how they controlled the movie industry. With the emergence of YouTube, that has all changed.

All this has been turned on its head with the advent of the Internet. This is why Netflix has budgeted 7 billion dollars to produce movies in 2019, not just distribute them. Just as Craigslist killed classified advertising in local newspapers (the damage from this revenue drain has been enormous), so has YouTube altered the media landscape.

“There are currently 3 TV festivals in the U.S.,” Gilpin stated. “YouTube has been a Hollywood disruptor in a very real way. Major names are now creating innovative work, outside the Studio system. It’s a new era in television. If Duluth wants it, they can be what Park City is,” he said, adding, “A major agency wants to invest a million dollars toward this.”

At this point Katie Strand presented, beginning with a brief overview of her career. Strand noted that she is originally from Duluth and has spent the last 15 years in L.A. in television production, with production manager credits for Trading Spouses (2004) and producer for the show Nanking (2007). She’s has six other credits for various roles in the production of other programming.

As a Hollywood insider, she began to notice that more and more work was being outsourced. Because of the competitive nature of the business, she reiterated a point that Gilpin said was being addressed in St. Paul, the seat of Minnesota government. “Tax incentives are needed.” Duluth has much to offer. We have the talent and we have that invaluable Midwest work ethic.

Inside the Red Herring Lounge.

Interested parties were scattered throughout the Red Herring from 2–4. “Television is essentially about telling stories,” she said. “Duluth will become the vetting system for television.”

One of the first needs will be to create a resource guide so that television producers can use for calling in talent. Movies and television are created not by stars but by the 97% who are working behind the scenes. Another facet of the project will be the creation of a Television Training Institute.

Key pieces for implementing the vision include an infrastructure census and funding. Mr. Gilpin indicated that ITV was created 14 years ago based on the conviction that television and the Internet would merge and become one. Hollywood became slow to adapt, hence the rise of independent television.

The audience at Red Herring consisted of a virtual who’s who of people involved in media in one capacity or another. Karen Sunderman, Brian Barber, Joellyn Rock, for example. Emma Pardini (Great Lakes Aquarium) and Haley Hedstrom (Lake Superior Zoo) were among the many others with tangential interests. Richard Hansen, passionate founder of the DuSu Film Festival, SOLVE and original co-founder of the PROVE Gallery, helped promote this informational meeting on behalf of the community.

Viktoria Capek of Fox21 was on the scene early to capture footage on the event. (Trivia: Ms. Capek is new to our town, from our sister city Duluth, Georgia.) It’s 22 below as I write this so that right now I’ve got Georgia on my mind.

The ITV Festival will be an interesting story to follow this year. One facet of this year’s planned October event that wasn’t mentioned, though alluded to, was the road construction taking place on Superior Street in front of the Zeitgeist. Mother Nature will have her say with regards to how complete the disruptive road project will be. Certainly the other pieces look like they’re in place. The community has much to offer. I will keep you posted.

Related Links

Duluth Snags National TV Festival
StoryWorld 3.0 : Topics, Talks & Titles — Philip Gilpin, Founder ITVFest

Originally published at on March 3, 2019.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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