IF YOU'VE EVER been passed over for a job, you're familiar with the mealy-mouthed consolation, "with so many outstanding and qualified applicants, it was difficult to make a final choice." Apparently, that was genuinely the case when it came to selecting three projects to receive the first round of loans dispensed by The Minnesota Blockbuster Film Fund. Out of the 10 finalists, winnowed from a pool of more than 70 submissions, the L.A.- and New York-based judges insisted on dividing the $75,000 fund among four projects rather than three. The winners are Wendell Jon Anderson's With or Without You, a humorous drama about two opposites who become birth parents; Blue Earth, by Julia Rask, a story about the polarization of a farm family and an entire rural community when one of its most respected members refuses to die silently from AIDS (inspired by a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Pioneer Press); Tooth and Nail, Blue Kraning's tale about a jaded, working class St. Paulite who finds that his new focus of idealism--abandoning the city to go "live off the land" in the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula--is nothing like he thought; and Paul Zehrer's thriller The Threshold, which opens with the mysteriously aided escape of a man on death row, and follows his subsequent search for his daughter lost 10 years earlier.

If there's a link among these films, it's that significant portions of Tooth and Nail, Blue Earth, and The Threshold take place in rural settings--definitely a refreshing coincidence, if not an outright trend in regional filmmaking. You may also be familiar with previous work by those three filmmakers: Locally, Kraning's award-winning The Man Inside has been screened at several Twin Cities venues over the last couple of years, as well as at festivals around the country. Rask's 1988 drama, An Uncommon Bond, won a regional award for Best Drama and screened on local television in 1988; Paul Zehrer's first feature, Blessing, received enthusiastic reviews nationwide and had a run earlier this fall at U Film Society.

In addition to an $18,750 loan from the Fund, each project will receive 7,600 feet of film from Eastman Kodak, editing time at Vaughn Communications, lab services from Chicago's Astro Labs, and consulting and advice from the Blockbuster Steering Committee. Also of note: Now the Fund is officially known as The Minnesota Blockbuster-McKnight Fund. The McKnight Foundation, which used to administer grants for "high" art films and videos in the state, has channeled some of its resources into this new venture. Congrats all around.

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