By Mattie Hanson
Most people remember family vacations and the long hours spent in the car ride to the Black Hills or Disney world.
Instead of vacation trips, Emily Beck, 33, vividly remembers driving with her family to the movie theater in 1993 to see “Jurassic Park” when she was 11.
“I remember what I was wearing,” Beck said. “I remember that my mom let me get a large popcorn, which was super indulgent. I felt so fancy that we all got a large popcorn to share.”
The films Beck saw at a young age with her family, like “Jurassic Park” and renting “Star Wars” repeatedly with her family, ignited her passion for film and eventually earned her a career in the film world. She is executive director of the Fargo Theatre. Standing out as Fargo’s most photographed iconic attraction with its Fargo marquee, the theater at 314 Broadway serves functionally as one of downtown’s main attraction by drawing people to see its selection of lesser–known films on its big screen.
Growing up in Fargo, Beck moved to Valley City with her parents and older sister, Molly, when she was 6. When it came to selecting colleges, she decided to move back to Fargo to attend Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2001 and has lived there since. While attending MSUM, she studied film with an emphasis in history and criticism with a minor in English writing.
“I’ve loved film my whole life and that’s why I studied it,” Beck said. “After seeing a great movie that would set my brain on fire, I’d want to talk about it with my friends.”
Two of her favorite films — that ignited discussion in her friend group — are Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film “Lost in Translation” and Michel Gondry’s 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Both came out in theaters while she was at college and they made an indelible mark on her.
From the start, Beck knew studying film was the right choice for her. Having an attraction to horror films and growing up loving the “Star Wars” movies, she expanded her film horizon by watching old black-and-white classics like Charlie Chaplin films in her classes at MSUM.
Two of her film professors made a huge impact on her life and helped her prepare for her present job.
“Tom Brandau and Rusty Casselton changed my life,” Beck said.
Brandau is still a professor in the MSUM Film Department and she considers him an important mentor in her life. Casselton began teaching during Beck’s freshman year at MSUM. There, he developed the film major and was known for his efforts in film restoration and preservation. In 2007, Casselton passed away at age 53 from complications from a procedure to shrink cancerous tumors on his liver. When he passed away, his wife let a few students who were close to him select little things from his office. Beck chose his Mickey Mouse mug that held his pens and pencils.To this day, she has that mug in her office at the Fargo Theatre, serving the same purpose.
“I just think about him every day that I see it,” she said.
During her classes with Casselton, Beck made silly short films with her guinea pigs, but she never felt like she got the knack for filmmaking.
“Rusty always said, ‘Even if you don’t want to make movies as your career, you should make them so you understand what it takes to do that,’” Beck said.
She never wanted to make movies, but learning what went into making a movie gave her a new appreciation for films. Casselton told her that she could turn her love for films into a career, saying the possibilities were endless.
“He was like, ‘You could run a film festival, work at a cinema or become a film critic,’” Beck said. “So he really kind of showed me how to channel that into a career path.”
She began working at the MSUM theater box office where she learned how to work with audiences and ticketing. After that job, she worked part time at Marcus Theaters during her last two years in college. Then, graduating in 2006, she continued to work at Marcus for two more years, but full time.
Two years later, she began working at the Fargo Theatre, eventually becoming executive director after Margie Bailly retired. Beck knew she wanted to stay in the Fargo area, and the theater was only a place she had dreamed of working so she was happy to accept the job.
She laughs and says, “They didn’t tell me that (I was being trained in for executive director) for three whole years,” Beck said.
She’s thankful the film department at MSUM helped prepare her for her job at the Fargo Theatre.
“I can honestly say that what I learned there has helped me,” she said. “Probably almost every day here especially when it comes to film booking and understanding the industry.”
Fargo Film Festival launches March 15
Beck has directed the annual film festival every year since she started working at the Fargo Theatre in 2008. The theater turns 90 years old on March 15 and will host its annual Fargo Film Festival during that week. #HappyBirthdayFargoTheatre The festival gives filmmakers the opportunity to submit and show their work. The Fargo Theatre will provide the venue for most of the screenings, but the festival will takes place in other venues throughoutFargo-Moorhead as well. Some film categories submitted include, animation, documentary, narrative or student and awards or honorable mentions are given for the categories. #FargoFilmFestival
Starting work at the Fargo Theatre in the fall, Micaela Gerhardt, 20, caught Beck’s love for film, developing an interest in independent and foreign movies that she didn’t have before.
“Emily’s passion for movies is really evident and I appreciate all the work she puts into getting really good movies here,” Gerhardt said. “Emily likes to hear what we (workers) think of the movies and then we’ll compile a list of staff favorites.”
Beck could talk about films all day with her employees, family and friends. She loves how movies have filled her with memories that have defined the moments in time that she saw them.
“I like that I get to work at a place that can do that for (inspire) other people now,” she said.
Seeing “Jurassic Park”in theaters as a child up to her favorite films “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant” from this year, are movies that are continuing to define Beck’s life and love for films.