DULUTH — Evelyn is a terrible person. She works at the Fry Weenie at the Minnesota State Fair, but she wants more than the seasonal food stand. She wants to be Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the winner of the annual Dairy Princess competition.
Princess Kay, famously, gets her likeness sculpted in butter — which is then exhibited at the state fair. For Evelyn, this is not an attainable goal.
“Nobody loves the state fair more than me,” said writer Jean Sramek, then reconsidered. “I’m in the Top 100, I’d say.”
Sramek, of Duluth, uses the fictional late-summer scene in Falcon Heights, Minn., as the setting for her script “Butterhead” — one of a handful of locally-created pieces that will be featured during Catalyst Content Festival, which starts next week at downtown venues.
Representatives from Netflix, Hulu, and the voice of Bart Simpson are among the players in the entertainment biz who will be in town for the five-day festival. There will be events ranging from live podcasts to documentary screenings to appointment-only network meetings, Q&As and seminars about networking or casting.
“It means Hollywood is coming to you,” said Philip Gilpin Jr., the event’s executive director, an L.A.-transplant who moved to Duluth about a year ago. “Literally, the purpose of the festival being here is so that creators can come here and meet industry professionals they need to advance their career.”
Much of the festival's programming centers on showcasing the selected submissions. Gilpin said that about 800 projects — documentaries, dramatic series, reality programming, pitches — were entered for consideration and 60 were picked, many with Minnesota ties.
Each piece was selected based on meritocracy, Gilpin said.
Catalyst Content Festival runs Oct. 9-13 at downtown venues between the Fitger’s Complex and old City Hall. Day and event passes are available for purchase at catalystcontent.org.
Sramek is a fan of dark comedies, the kind of shows where other viewers can't find a single likable character. Evelyn's quest for Princess Kay will include a go-round with the mean girls, curling irons and pomade, maybe even Satan.
“I like stories where bad things happen to bad people and good people, sometimes,” said Sramek, who also wrote the sitcom "Old Lifty," a story about the lift operator for the Aerial Lift Bridge. “I get a catharsis from dark stories.”
This one is described as “a tale of inadequacy and revenge, of weenies and the occult.”
Local actors like Nathan Payne, Victoria Main and Shannon Laing will read 10 pages from the script at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at Fitger's Spirit of the North Theater.
“I would like to see this be more than a script,” Sramek said. “I’d like to see it be a film or a series or something. I’d like to make it. I’d like to get it off the page.”
Katie Lindow and Megan McGarvey, who both studied digital cinema, were collecting film footage before they had ever heard of Catalyst Content Festival. They were students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2017 when major cutbacks were made to the school’s fine arts programs. Twenty-five programs were suspended.
“We shot student protests and forums,” Lindow said. “We had no idea what we were going to do with it. We just thought if we were going to do something, we’d need this footage.”
What started out as anger has turned into “Outsourced: The New Wisconsin Idea,” a 40-minute documentary about the future of higher education in all of Wisconsin. They added interviews with administrators and politicians and drew back to look at the bigger picture.
"Outsourced" screens twice: at 12:10 p.m. Oct. 10 at Zinema 2 followed by a Q&A, and at 4:20 p.m. Oct. 12 at Teatro Zuccone.
Jeffrey T. Larson project
Larson’s project starts with an affinity for the aesthetic style of “Chef’s Table,” a Netflix Original Series that highlights a different professional chef on each episode.
“It’s beautifully filmed,” the founder of the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art said. “The way it’s filmed is so cutting edge and dramatic.”
So why not a variation featuring artists?
Larson, who is among a group of artists working in realism, was the filmmakers’ first subject. The hour-long episode tells his life story, and the sacrifices he’s made. It includes interviews with people in his life. Each episode would focus on a different artist.
The project was created with another target in mind — then Catalyst came along.
Larson described himself as a little cog in the project, and humbled that he’s the subject. But he likes the idea of showcasing the realist movement.
His ideal scenario from this festival: “I guess we sign with Netflix for a multi-year deal,” he said.
‘Take it With You’
The local-local-local podcast, created by Blake Thomas and friends, is in its sixth season and is one of four to gain entry in the festival. The gist: a group of friends who met at a fictional Duluth tavern, have all sorts of loves, hates and wacky adventures. Sometimes there is spontaneous song.
The crew, which records in front of an audience, will back-track to the second episode of this season — which has featured a single, continuous storyline with an Old West theme.
“It’s a cool opportunity for ‘Take it With You’ to be able to get ourselves in front of a bigger audience,” Thomas said.
What’s in it for you, the fans
As an arts aficionado, Catalyst Content Festival is a first look at projects and artists that could, in time, show up in your Netflix queue.
“It’s the Iowa Caucuses of television, I guess,” Gilpin said.
Of the 150-or-so industry biggies set to descend on Duluth, many are behind-the-scenes and probably unrecognizable. But Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at the NorShor Theatre. Wayne Federman, a comedian and podcaster behind “The History of Standup,” is scheduled to be at the festival; so is Navid Negahban, an actor from “Homeland.”
Gilpin, who has been living in Duluth for a year, has now experienced a local truism: delayed ticket-buying. He said the festival, about a week out, has sold 80 percent of its tickets and that less than 10 percent of those sales were to Minnesotans, not to mention Duluthians.
“My concern is that we want Duluth to feel included and to have the doors open,” he said. “There is a legitimate chance that some events might be sold out.”
What’s in it for you, as an artist
There are anecdotes from events past: an actor-writer-director who won a best of festival award a few years ago is making her feature film directorial debut this year; two women clamoring for a meeting with an exec unknowingly befriend her, off-hours, while she’s eating an apple beneath a tree.
These things happen, according to Gilpin, but they also take time. This isn’t like a Sundance Film Festival, where works are screened in entirety. Much of the festival centers on ideas that are still in pieces. It could take years to see movement.
Lindow said she and McGarvey have been matched with industry insiders for one-on-one meetings. Outside of that, the latter is looking forward to networking with peers who know the struggles of telling stories with small budgets.
Thomas said he is trying not to think about what could happen. But he likes that Catalyst Content Festival is based in Duluth — and that there is a chance to stay connected to it.
“This is a festival that is going to keep happening annually,” he said.
There have already been event-specific workshops leading up to the festival, and another is planned for afterward.
“The thing that is important to me,” said Riki McManus, of the Upper Minnesota Film Office. “It’s not just the five days, but the whole impact it’s going to make on our city for years to come.”