Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating May Day, Czech style May 3, 2019

Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

MAY IN MINNESOTA. Oh, how I love thy greening, they earthy scent, thy springing of new growth into the landscape.

These early days of May carry winds of warmth, clouds of rain and cause for celebration. In the small southern Minnesota Czech community of Montgomery, folks welcome spring on Saturday, May 4, with the annual Czech May Day Celebration.

It begins with the noon raising of a traditional Czech May Pole followed by a ribbon dance around that pole.

 

The New Prague Czech Singers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Music by the Czech Concertina Band adds to the festivities which continue until 5 p.m. at the corner of Vine and First Streets. Other activities include a car roll-in, wagon rides and face painting.

No celebration is complete without food and drink—in Montgomery authentic Czech beer and cuisine. Chicken paprikash with dumplings, pork, dumplings and sauerkraut and jitrnice (sausage) sandwiches. For the non-Czech foodies, a hot dog stand will be open.

 

Kolacky, a Czech pastry. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A bake sale also offers the popular Czech kolacky, poppy seed buchta, zeiniky and bread. And, no, I don’t pretend to know what those are except for kolacky, which I’ve eaten.

So if you want to experience the Czech culture while simultaneously celebrating spring, head on over to Montgomery on Saturday.

 

Singin’ in the Grain promo photo from Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival website.

 

And then, on Sunday, learn even more about the Czech in this region of southern Minnesota by attending the screening of the newly-released documentary, Singin’ in the Grain—A Minnesota Czech Story, at 1:30 p.m. in the New Prague High School auditorium.

 

FYI: Czech May Day attendees are advised to bring their own chairs due to limited seating. And, in the case of inclement weather, listen to KCHK radio for updates.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Czech film coming to New Prague April 26, 2019

Singin in the Grain promo photo from Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival website.

 

A DOCUMENTARY FOCUSING on 45 years of Czech culture and heritage in my region of southern Minnesota is coming to Czech country next weekend.

 

Source: New Prague Area Community Education Facebook page.

 

The film, Singin’ in the Grain—A Minnesota Czech Story, shows at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 5, at the New Prague High School Auditorium. General admission tickets for the event offered through New Prague Area Community Education went on sale earlier this week.

For more background on the film co-produced and co-directed by noted Minnesota filmmaker Al Milgrom and Daniel Geiger, click here to read my previously published post on the documentary.

Also click here for more info, including ticket info.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Singin’ in the Grain” documentary celebrates southern Minnesota’s Czech heritage April 2, 2019

Singin’ in the Grain promo photo from Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival website.

 

HERITAGE. WHAT’S YOURS? German? Irish? French? Scandinavian? How about Czech?

 

Clarence Smisek, photographed at the August 2011 Veseli Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The heritage, history, stories and music of the Czech people of southern Minnesota focus a documentary, Singin’ in the Grain—A Minnesota Czech Story, debuting on April 6 at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. I spoke recently with noted Minnesota filmmaker Al Milgrom who co-directed and co-produced the film with Daniel Geiger.

 

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky at Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery, a small town which calls itself the Kolacky Capital of the World. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In our 45-minute interview, Milgrom shared his excitement about this documentary with filming spanning from 1974 until just weeks ago and centering on the communities of Montgomery, New Prague, Lonsdale and Veseli. All hold a strong Czech heritage well known in this area of Minnesota, but not necessarily elsewhere in the state. Milgrom calls this regional Czech culture a hidden treasure and wants others to expand their knowledge of Minnesota’s cultural identity by viewing his film.

 

The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church photographed during the August 2011 Veseli Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The Eddie Shimota Band performs at the 2011 Veseli Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2011.

 

The film’s storyline follows the Eddie Shimota, Sr., Polka Band and three generations of the Shimota family. But this documentary is about much more than a single family or a single band. The filmmakers showcase the Czech culture and heritage via the Veseli Ho-Down, an annual event at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church; Montgomery’s Kolacky Days; New Prague’s Dozinky Festival; St. Paul’s Sokol (Czech-Sloval Protective Society) Hall; music from groups like the Czech Concertina Club; and much more. Even via an interview with two bachelor farmers from Union Hill.

 

Kolacky, a fruit-filled Czech pastry, were among the many ethnic baked goods sold at the 2011 Veseli Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Although I’ve not seen the film, I am familiar enough with the area’s Czech culture to understand the background of this film. I recognize Czech surnames. I’ve eaten more than one kolacky, attended the Veseli Ho-Down complete with polka mass, heard area Czech bands, visited Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery…

 

Photographed at the August 2011 Veseli Ho-Down, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Milgrom’s film covers the Czech heritage, efforts to continue traditions, generational assimilation, symbolic ethnicity and more. He noted, too, the evolution of Czech music from polka/folk to more gypsy-like with a beat differing from Old Country style Czech.

 

The New Prague Czech Singers perform in their mother tongue at the August 2011 Veseli Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Music is integral to Singin’ in the Grain, a take on Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. Milgrom describes a scene of locals working in cornfields, polka music pulsing in the background. That visual and audio alone are enough to interest me in the film.

 

The New Prague Czech singers perform at the August 2011 Veseli Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Milgrom’s interest in this culture sparked when he was a child growing up in Pine City among many, as he calls them, Bohemian kids. His high school band played Czech folk songs. And when his interest in photography and then filmmaking developed, so grew his appreciation of Czech filmmakers with their unique take on filmmaking that included a wry humor, he says.

 

A sign several miles from Veseli directs motorists to the Ho-Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

It’s easy to embrace this experienced—he’s pushing age 97 with more film ideas in the works—documentarist’s enthusiasm for Singin’ in the Grain. Audiences, he says, will have a lot of fun watching this film packed with music and dancing. From Veseli, which he calls “a hidden little town somewhere in the hills,” to New Prague and places in between, Milgrom has spent nearly 50 years working on this film, gathering 100 hours of footage now condensed into this 109-minute documentary.

 

A mural in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

While the film debuts this Saturday at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Festival at St. Anthony Main Theater, Milgrom hopes to eventually bring the documentary to rural southern Minnesota, to communities of strong Czech heritage.

 

FYI: The April 6 showing of Singin’ in the Grain is sold out, but tickets may still be available for a 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, screening at St. Anthony. The documentary also screens at noon on Thursday, April 18, at the Rochester International Film Festival in Rochester, Minnesota.

Milgrom’s credentials include founding and serving as artistic director of U Film Society and co-founding the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival and much more.

Daniel Geiger also has an extensive film background with work on feature films such as Fargo, North Country, Purple Rain and more.

CLICK HERE to watch a short clip from Singin’ in the Grain.

CLICK HERE and then click here to read posts I wrote on the 2011 Veseli Ho-Down.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling