Oscar nominees -- are they really Minnesota's?

Juno and Beeker
Juno (Ellen Page) and Beeker (Michael Cera). the father of her child, in a scene from the movie "Juno." It's up for several Academy Awards in Sunday's Oscar celebration.
Image courtesy 20th Century Fox

This is a story about two hit movies. There's the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men," about the fallout from a drug deal gone bad. And there's "Juno," about a pregnant teenager with a gift for one-liners.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody set "Juno" in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. "No Country for Old Men" is the latest movie from the Joel and Ethan Coen, who grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. They have all generated a lot of media coverage, including on MPR, about local talent made good.

But here's a reality check.

Diablo Cody
Diablo Cody's film, "Juno," has been nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture. The story involves a pregnant high school junior who decides to have her baby and give it up for adoption, and it's set in Minnesota.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Neither film was made here. The Coen brothers haven't lived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in years.

Diablo Cody famously wrote the script for "Juno" in the coffee shop of a Target store in Crystal. But she made it clear on a recent visit that there's nothing temporary about her move to Los Angeles.

"I don't want to leave. I love LA," she said.

So what do these claims of a local connection with Oscar nominees really mean?

"I guess I would say it's fun, but it always strikes me as the sort of thing that a place that wants to be someplace else does, not a place that's secure in itself," says media analyst David Brauer.

Brauer believes local claims on the Coens are a stretch.

"[Diablo Cody is] not really one of us anymore. ... We were a stepping stone to something much bigger."

Turning to Cody, Brauer says she clearly made her name in Minneapolis. She worked at City Pages and wrote "Candy Girl," her memoir about being a stripper. Yet, Brauer says, it's also clear that Minnesota was just a stop along Cody's career path.

"She's not really one of us anymore. Like many jobs, we were a stepping stone to something much bigger," Brauer says.

Of course, Cody says she will always write about the Midwest, and much has been made of the Coen brothers' enduring Midwestern sensibilities in their storytelling.

Robb Mitchell says that's important. He runs a screenwriters workshop program which showcases film scripts in development through live readings at the Guthrie Theater.

Mitchell says after working in New York and London, he believes Minnesotans want affirmation.

"People here feel like we are really not valued in the culture," Mitchell says. "Seeing those Minnesotans up on the stage, seeing even the Coen brothers, who -- their aesthetic sensibility in their way of thinking is still very strongly rooted here in Minnesota, or to see stories like Diablo Cody's get nominated, I think it just gives people confidence."

Lucinda Winter
Lucinda Winter says as executive director of the Minnesota Film and Television Board, she effectively acts as the state's film commissioner.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Mitchell says a hit with any particular flavor makes Hollywood hungry for more, so it makes it more likely that Minnesota projects will get more attention.

That's exactly what Lucinda Winter hopes.

"Publicity is a good thing. I'm in the business of promoting the state. This could not be better for me," says Winter, executive director of the Minnesota Film and Television Board.

The board is charged with attracting moviemakers to the state. Winter says what she is trying to do is create an environment which will draw filmmakers like the Coens and Cody back to Minnesota.

"Not necessarily come back here and buy a house in Brooklyn Park and return to their former life," she says. "But come back here and see this as a viable place for them to work and produce, while they are at the top of their game."

Winter will get at least part of her wish this summer. The Coens plan to shoot a dark comedy in Minnesota called "A Serious Man." It's about a Jewish professor in the 1960s. Local filmmakers anticipate a financial ripple effect just as they did when the Coens shot "Fargo" here.

However, Winter is a little frustrated that Diablo Cody's next script, "Jennifer's Body," will be filmed in Canada. It's a horror comedy about a demonically possessed cheerleader in small-town Minnesota. Apparently, it's just cheaper to shoot north of the border.

So, it's Oscar night on Sunday, the biggest night in the Hollywood year. But for the rest of us, media analyst David Brauer says it's important to remember one thing.

"The Oscars are entertainment," he says.

Brauer says if Minnesotans are having fun because of these Minnesota connections, there's nothing wrong with a little Midwestern pride.

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