If you grew up in the Twin Cities with an interest in movies, you may have heard the name Al Milgrom. I have always heard the name Al Milgrom. It has a weird connection to movies, and it has always intrigued me. In John Pierson’s book about the indie film scene, Milgrom makes a noteworthy appearance. Early in the book Pierson describes being snubbed by Milgrom when he didn’t invite him to dinner with German director Wim Wenders.
He wasn’t just irascible, he was rude. Tim Grady (Former president of U Film Society) stepped in and took care of me. We profiled Milgrom lovingly on Split Screen 22 years later. No hard feelings. – John Pierson
The Coen brothers name checked Milgrom in their film Inside Llewyn Davis. This kind of recognition can lead to mythical status for some of us junior cinephiles. More important than any pop culture reference is how Milgrom changed the cultural landscape of Minneapolis and St. Paul starting in the ‘60s. Milgrom founded an institution, the University of Minnesota’s U Film Society, that regularly brought hard-to-see films from around the world and ran them at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis for all of us to see.
Milgrom fought with our journalists when they gave one of his films a review he felt was unfair. He was a master of grassroots publicity, finding local émigré communities who would come see cinema from their homelands. Milgrom wrote most of the program notes for the Film Society and was notorious for the slides he hand-typed and projected before each feature.
After doing this for more than 20 years, Milgrom decided this town needed a film festival. He had been attending festivals all over the world and created the Rivertown Film Festival — later called the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. After running the festival for years, Milgrom parted ways with the University of Minnesota and embarked on a career following his true passion – filmmaking.
Al Milgrom reminisces about the time Jean Luc Godard came to St. Paul
“It’s not porno – this is art film!”
In 1978 the U Film Society booked the notorious film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, by respected Italian director Pier Paolo Passolini. A Minnesota legislator, thinking the film included pornographic elements, brought police to the screening and made a citizens arrest of the society’s president.
Archival footage for this piece came from past KTCA programs — notably a feature on Milgrom from NightTimes Magazine produced by Deanna Kamiel and photographed by Tom Adair as well as a feature from News Night.