A Minneapolis native has been working on a documentary about the community of Knife River for the past two years and is preparing to launch a funding campaign to continue the project.
Twin Cities-based film projectionist and documentary filmmaker Justin Ayd has been traveling up to the North Shore since he was 6 months old. But it wasn't until a visit 12 years ago that he had the idea of shooting a documentary on part of the area.
"I was up here with a friend and a cousin who lives up here and we were scouting locations for my friend's film," Ayd said. "We were driving all around the area when we decided to stop in at Mel's Fish in Knife River. To our surprise, it wasn't a fish place any longer, but the Great Lakes Candy Kitchen. And it was just this fascinating transition which stuck with me."
Ayd visited with the owners of the then new candy shop and kept their story in mind while working on other various short documentaries. Following the premier of his 9-minute short film, "The Man in the Booth," Ayd began looking for a feature-length documentary he could shoot partially on film and thought back to his Knife River experiences.
"I'd been thinking about it for almost 10 years and decided, let's just jump into it and see where it goes and what we can do and hope the pieces fall into place as we go," Ayd said.
After doing some scouting, talking with cinematographers and locals, Ayd launched his first Kickstarter online crowdfunding site in June 2017. He asked for $3,500 to pay for travel expenses, equipment rental, cinematographers and to shoot partially on film. He ultimately raised $5,700.
And so began the two-year process of traveling up to Knife River, finding interview subjects, shooting b-roll of the changing weather and so on whenever Ayd had three or four days off in a row. In the process, Ayd has found subjects mostly by talking with community members.
"Once people had an idea of what we were trying to do with the documentary, they'd say, 'Oh, you should talk with so and so,' and call them up right away," Ayd said. "We expected some hesitation from people since we're not locals, but so far, they've warmed up to us fairly well."
Ayd's not 100 percent certain what direction his documentary will go yet, but he knows he wants it to be a "snapshot of this time in a historic small town."
To capture that feeling, Ayd has shifted to filming more of the documentary on 16-millimeter film. As a projectionist, he's handled various sizes of film and wanted to shoot the film partially on digital cameras and partially with film cameras.
"At first the plan was to shoot a lot of exterior structures on the 16-millimeter then shoot inside digitally," Ayd said. "But once we got our first few rolls of film back and digitized, my cinematographer and I loved how it looked so much that we decided to try and shoot more on film. We wanted that texture and all the random grain and dirt that you get with a digital scan of 16-millimeter."
With that in mind, and a longer shoot scheduled for later this spring, Ayd plans to launch another funding campaign, possibly through Kickstarter again, in the middle of February.
"It's more expensive to shoot on film and we'll need some help to be able to do that," Ayd said. "But it'll also allow us to be more focused and deliberate about what we shoot.
Local producer Mike Scholtz, known for documentaries such as "Wild Bill's Run" and "Lost Conquest," recently signed onto the project.
To find out more about Ayd's project, visit H8C Productions on Facebook.