Al Milgrom has fond memories of growing up in Pine City.
“A lot of them,” Milgrom said. “Sports, the old swimming hole, being involved in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Like a lot of Pine City kids, things circulated around sports and sports figures. Of course the county fairs, being in the high school band, the Depression era."
Milgrom has gone on to carve himself out a place as one of the leading lights of foreign and independent filmmaking in the Twin Cities, and will bring back stories of his experiences – and a few of his films revolving around the Pine City area – when he returns this Saturday at the Highway 61 Film Festival at 6 p.m.
After graduating from Pine City High School with the class of 1940, Milgrom joined an Air Force photographic unit, and served from 1943-46 in Japan right after World War II. He then returned to the University of Minnesota to finish a degree in journalism.
He worked as a newspaper reporter and editor from 1947 to 1960 for the Stars and Stripes in Europe, and also worked for stretches at the Pioneer Press, the Washington Post, and the Star Tribune.
And then in the mid 1960s he began teaching at the University of Minnesota, and founded the University Film Society in 1962.
Milgrom said his love of film started in Pine City.
“I remember seeing Charlie Chaplin films with my father when I was three years old,” he said. “The Family Theater, that was really a big social center.”
He became deeply interested in film as the post-war filmmakers from around the world began coming up with new ways of using film to express meaning.
“‘The Bicycle Thief’ is as important to film as Mark Twain is to American literature,” he said. “There was no way to see these films, especially international films, in many American cities because they were not being distributed. I wanted to see it.”
Others did too. They started showing films on weekends, then Wednesday through Saturday, and finally every day.
“We were able to get a lot of the films that were either talked about or were stylistically breakthroughs that we would never have had the chance to see otherwise,” Milgrom said. “Once you start a society you have bills – it’s a whole other animal. You had to have a membership, publicity, get reviews. But there wasn’t a whole lot else going on in town available in those days, for a couple of decades.”
In 1983, he helped found the festival that is now the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, and still acts as Artistic Director. He has been honored with the the Ordway’s Sally Award in 2007, and April 14 was “Al Milgrom Day” at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Now, though, he is most interested in making films of his own – and will bring a few of these projects up to Pine City.
“One of these is the ‘Czech Heritage Project,’” Milgrom said. It includes old footage of the Sokol Camp in Pine City.
“I’ve got some clips of some Pine Citians of my era [who grew up in] the 1940s,” he said. “These guys are sitting around reminiscing at a local restaurant. They talk about certain town characters from that era.”
Milgrom still travels the world, visiting film festivals and seeking great new films.
“It was a way to help know what was going on in the world,” he said. “You don’t just let the film wash over you – film is a means of knowledge.”