Don’t get me wrong: The Rock is one of the greatest living actors. Still, sometimes you want to see the kind of movies that he would never star in. You’re living in the right place for that, because Bismarck is home to the Dakota Film Festival.

The Dakota Film Festival will take place April 2nd through 4th at the Belle Mehus Auditorium. Dakota Media Access and volunteer groups present the annual festival to show great recent films, spanning everything from Academy Award winners to local filmmakers’ work.

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“There are thousands of other film festivals across the country. When we started ours nine years ago, we asked ourselves how we could make it unique,” said Mary Van Sickle, executive director of Dakota Media Access. “We decided to encourage local filmmaking, and show that you don’t have to move to Hollywood for a job in storytelling, acting, lighting, or audio. The Dakota Film Festival gives a creative outlet to people in our community.”

“This isn’t your father’s film festival,” Mary continued. “There’s nothing snooty about it, and we feature a huge variety of films daily. You may not like the one you’re watching at any given moment — but at least you know it’s going to end soon anyway!”

Thursday night begins the Dakota Film Festival with a screening of two films by Japanese American director Masanori Baba. Seed: The Life of the Rice King and His Kin tells the true story of Keisaburo Koda, an immigrant to America who rose from farm laborer to successful rice farmer only to become interned during WWII, as well as that of his grandson who now runs his farm. The Oak Tree & Onigiri also explores Japanese American internment, this time through the fictional story of a young girl and the shred of permanence she finds in the form of a tree she had planted with her lost father. Masanori Baba himself will attend the screening to take questions from the audience.

Friday night is the festival’s biggest screening. It shows as many as 17 short films, comprising the very best of the more than 100 submissions made to Dakota Media Access beforehand. Any genre goes on Friday, with a healthy mix of horror, comedy, animation, and more. No titles have been selected at the time of reporting, but previous years’ festivals have featured films such as locally-made mockumentary To Be or Not, Oscar winning suspense drama Skin, and New Zealand cartoon Fire in Cardboard City. With many shorts filmed right in the Bismarck area, you may just recognize someone you know on-screen!

The Saturday matinee features more locally produced shorts, as well as the entries to the Dakota Film Dash competition. To participate in the Film Dash, filmmaking teams must have picked their genre out of a hat and then incorporated one common prop and line of dialogue into their short films. They create their shorts over the course of about ten days, and the quality of their entries is universally impressive. Can you pick the winning film before it’s announced?

If you would like to see passion projects instead of by the numbers Hollywood blockbusters for a change, any one of the festival’s screenings will make for the perfect outing. For more information about the big event, please visit


By David Scheller