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Alumni Profile

Mark Brodin '88: A Tale Worth Telling

Mark Brodin '88

Like others of his generation raised in America's heartland, Mark Brodin '88 left his home in rural southwestern Minnesota for college and then opted for city life, settling in Minneapolis. However, his roots as well as his feelings for the area where he spent his childhood run deep. When Brodin heard that the small Lutheran church in Delafield Township where he and five generations of his family had worshipped was closing and that the building was to be moved to a historical site 22 miles away, he felt a need to document the story.

The result is an engaging one-hour documentary titled Delafield that earned Brodin a 2003 Emmy Award from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Funded by the Independent Television Service, Delafield has aired on public television stations in 10 states thus far. (Visit www.itvs.org/delafield for air dates.)

Producing a film about a church in farm country was a natural for Brodin. In addition to growing up on a farm, he majored in religion at Augustana College before coming to Berklee to study audio engineering. He subsequently pursued graduate studies in music production and engineering at Minnesota State University, Moorhead and opened a studio in Minneapolis, where he produces audio and video projects for a range of corporate clients and where he produced four musical albums last year.

"The Delafield story is very close to me personally," Brodin says. "The church was just a building out in the fields of rural Minnesota. It was not connected to a town or a larger organization, but it was a center point of a community. When I first heard about the closing, I thought that's too bad. But then I couldn't get it out of my mind. I wondered what the closing signified to the community. It seemed like something to pay attention to."

Brodin began to document the history of the church and more. The end product captures lots of local color and interviews with family members and former neighbors interspersed with historical shots and panoramic landscapes. Delafield is not a mere sentimental look back at the demise of a community icon, but rather a compelling statement about rural decay and the dramatic economic and social changes taking place in the farm belt.

Brodin put up his own money to hire veteran videographer and editor Steve Flynn and others to capture the first 40 hours of footage. "We filmed the 125-year anniversary of the church and, coincidentally, showed up the Sunday the congregation voted to give the church building away," says Brodin. "We documented the final service in the church and later filmed workers cutting the building away from its foundation and hauling the church on a flatbed truck to its new location. After that, we stopped working on it for about a year."

After Brodin began shooting, he wasn't really sure what the outcome would be. To him, the demise of the Delafield church was emblematic of the demise of an important way of life and flowed naturally into the larger issues of rural depopulation and the difficulties of agribusiness in the Midwest. In one segment, Brodin portrays visits from politicians, including the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, who listened intently as farmers spoke of their travails.

Receiving funding from ITVS and a regional Emmy validated Brodin's feelings about the importance of the story. "Other documentaries about rural decay are framed as tales of quaint old communities that are changing," Brodin says. "I'd like the public to know what's really happening out here. The question I am posing is, do we want to see these areas preserved, or do we want to let them go? It needs to be a public debate, but the question is not really being asked."

The film has stimulated discussion among parties ranging from religious denominations with connections to rural areas to farmers unions that show the film at conventions and other meetings. Additionally, Brodin is cultivating contacts in Japan and Europe to air the show internationally.

Will he make another film? "I am interested, but it's a long-term endeavor," Brodin says. "It was six years from when I started making Delafield to the regional Emmy Awards. It is hard to keep the momentum through the lean times. Actually, I'd really like to do a fictional movie, because in that genre you control what the characters are saying. It's the antithesis of taking what was said in an interview and making it work within your piece. That's difficult and time-consuming."

Currently, Brodin is focusing on his studio business, working on corporate projects and video editing. "I also do live sound for a local group called the Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble," he says. "A combination of work interests is the best way to keep going between the big projects."