dir. John Hanson/Rob Nilsson, US, 1978, 35mm, 95 min. – New 35mm print!
An Artists Public
Domain/Cinema Conservancy release
Northern Lights dramatizes the story of the North Dakota farmers who founded the Nonpartisan League in the early 1900s. The League (one of the most successful, yet little known, Populist movements in US history) was organized by immigrant Scandinavian homesteaders. It was not aligned with Democrat or Republican parties, and existed on a platform of Socialist values in opposition to the monopolization and control exerted over their labor by bankers and suppliers. Framed as the reminiscences of the 94 year old (at the time of filming) real-life Nonpartisan League labor leader Henry Martinson, Northern Lights illustrates the forgotten history of the pioneer workers of the prairies - men and women who organized (in the American tradition) for their rights and fair practices.
Directors Rob Nilsson and John Hanson, who share North Dakota heritage, filmed in the actual locations of the events, capturing the distinct beauty and harsh reality of the prairies. Northern Lights, in its production and release, was a landmark of American Independent Cinema. Made with professional and non-professional actors and produced by the collective Cine Manifest, Northern Lights was released completely grassroots in North Dakota and Minnesota before going to the Cannes Film Festival, then touring the rest of the United States. As both a history of the Nonpartisan League, and nascent example of the American Independent Cinema movement of the late 1970’s, Northern Lights is full of parallels between the story of the League and the making of the film. It is also, of course, as relevant now as it ever was.