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Bemidji is 'Fargo': From characters large and small to the town itself, a fictional Bemidji plays a large role in new, much-anticipated FX television series

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BEMIDJI — Crime. Corruption. Murder.

Ah jeez, it’s happening in Bemidji.

A fictional Bemidji that is.

About half of “Fargo,” the 10-episode FX Television series adaptation of the 1996 Academy Award winning film from the Coen brothers, takes place in a fictionalized Bemidji, according to the show’s writer and producer, Noah Hawley.

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There were some key aspects as to why Bemidji was selected for this “Fargo” universe.

“I think the biggest thing was that Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are actually in Bemidji. The size of the town and it’s location (were ideal),” Hawley said in an interview with the Pioneer. “One of the things I really liked about the movie that we tried to emulate was this sense of the towns in winter in Minnesota and North Dakota really become these islands in this ocean.

“A lot of what happens is ‘people come to town and they leave town’ and there’s this sense of outside elements coming in and turning a town on its head that I really wanted to play with. And Bemidji struck my fancy.”

The show primarily takes place between Bemidji and Duluth, a concept of the small town and larger city dichotomy that Hawley said he found interesting. Still, much of the show takes place in a fictionalized Bemidji.

“The entire first episode takes place in Bemidji. And at least half of the entire series is set in our fictionalized Bemidji. Which is actually Canada. As it usually is in this day and age,” Hawley said with a laugh, referring to the fact that many U.S. shows are actually filmed in Canada for cost reasons.

Bemidji’s famous Paul and Babe statues make an appearance in the series, but in a slightly different way. No exterior shots were filmed here.

“We made our own (Paul and Babe). But based on the ones there. There was a great old postcard that our art department found that we copied and featured,” Hawley said. “Our placement is different from your placement, but it was more about the impact visually than the accuracy. I hope we captured some of the spirit.”

Pitching the show, homage and timelessness Hawley said he presented FX with the idea of re-imagining “Fargo” with a interesting take.

“In my pitching the show to FX, I said it was the best of America vs. the worst of America. Yes we have problems, but look who’s solving them,” Hawley said. “I think that’s what made the movie so great and what was great about re-imagining the movie and really trying to show the best of people as they come into conflict with some really dark elements.”

There was a balancing in paying homage to the source material, Hawley said, and making it something different.

“It’s about striking that balance. There’s a difference between making a 10-hour movie and making a two-hour movie. There’s a dramatic structure and a gravity that you need to have to support that many hours of storytelling,” Hawley said. “You can err more on the comic side, but I felt if we were too comic, then the stakes would go down for people, they wouldn’t be as worried about these characters as they are when the thread of violence … are explicit.  So there’s definitely a balancing act.”

The film, which came out in 1996, has a feel of timelessness, Hawley said, because the story and characters are somewhat universal.

“At the heart of it is that the story they’re telling is universal to some degree. It’s about a sort of desperate, greedy amoral man who does a terrible thing — puts a terrible crime in motion. You have a small town cop who takes on a case unprepared for the depths that it will take her. It gets harder and harder in this day and age to make something timeless,” Hawley said.

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Joe Froemming
Joe Froemming is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephBemidji
(218) 333-9792
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