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Documentary filmmaker calls Lake George home

A scene from “Mardi Gras on Ice,” a documentary about the Eelpout Festival in Walker, directed by Virgil Bakken and recently shown at the Headwaters Film Festival. (Submitted photo)


“All you need to be a filmmaker is a laptop and a camera,” says local filmmaker Virgil Bakken.

His Lake George-based studio, Montage Creative Group, specializes in documentary and corporate media production.

Bakken spent part of his 25-year career as a writer, producer and director of film, television and corporate promotion in the Twin Cities.

“Medical and corporate training videos were my bread-and-butter when I worked full-time in the Cities,” he said.

Then he and wife Robin decided to move “somewhere within three hours” of their White Bear Lake home.

After several years of searching, they found a cabin on the shores of Lake George.

“We just love the neighborhood,” said Bakken.

He especially enjoys hiking the North Country Trail and in the Paul Bunyan State Forest.

Bakken spent his youth hunting and fishing on his parent’s property, which is near Forestedge Winery and only 12 miles from his cabin.

Lake George, he noted, is at an epicenter – a mere 25 miles from Bemidji, Walker and Park Rapids.

“We are in the middle of all these great, little cities,” he said. “If we want ice cream, we go to the MinneSoda Fountain. If we want Italian, we go to Necce’s.”

Bakken, who has a doctorate in communication studies, is a professor of mass communication at Bemidji State University. He’s taught at BSU for 10 years and currently serves as the department’s chairperson.

He previously taught at Bethel University and Northwestern College.

His BSU courses include digital cinema, screenwriting, singe camera field production, directing visual media and a documentary film workshop.

Bakken also launched the Headwaters Film Festival, which recently hosted a 33-film student competition and feature screenings on the BSU campus.

“The goal was to create something to engage the community and campus both,” he said.

Roughly 300-400 people attended the third annual film festival, said Bakken.

All the screenings were free and open to the public.

The student film competition garnered 33 entries from filmmakers in the U.S. and around the world.

A dozen countries were represented at the 2015 Headwaters Film Festival, including Germany, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Greece, Iran, India, Poland and China.

“It’s grown every year,” he said.

This year’s grand prize winner was from Spain.

The 2015 festival was also notable for being an entirely student-run event.

More information can be found at

Bakken directed one of the festival’s entries, a short documentary called “Mardi Gras on Ice.”

It was shot at the International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker.

Bakken assigned two student crews from BSU to go out onto the ice to capture handheld footage.

“We took my old ’97 Chevy and put tripods in the truck bed,” he said. “We went into shacks to talk to anglers.”

As the crew was leaving the Eelpout Festival, the front axle on Bakken’s truck broke. Fortunately, one of the students was able to fix it.

Interviews were conducted with local scientists and subject matter experts as well to give context to this colorful event.

“It’s pretty fun,” said Bakken of the film. “It’s meant to be ironic, kind of tongue-in-cheek.”

The footage, professional photos and music from local artists were edited and finished in Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Pro and Encore.

“I love telling documentary stories on local culture,” said Bakken. “It’s much like short story writing. What I love about ‘Mardi Gras on Ice’ is you can’t find it anywhere else.”

A five-time Telly Award winner, Bakken said his film work now is largely for non-profit organizations or independent documentaries.

Founded in 1978, the Telly Awards honor film and video productions, groundbreaking online video content and outstanding local, regional and cable TV commercials and programs.

Thanks to a superior broadband Internet connection and YouTube, “I can work with clients from a distance,” said Bakken.

Samples of Bakken’s work are posted at tageCreativeGroup.

Surrounded by Norway pines and the clear-blue waters of Lake George, he adds, “There’s nothing as beautiful as here.”